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Biggio responds to Humphrey's 'trains for war' article

EDITOR'S NOTE: Colonel Charles P. Biggio Jr. (USA-Ret) served in the military for 34 years — including three years as an enlisted man (EM). After OCS he joined the 99th in November 1942. He soon became battery exec officer of C/372 and remained in that job as a first lieutenant until July 1945. In combat, he also served occasionally as an artillery forward observer — and was on Elsenborn Ridge with F/394 as an FO during the crucial phase of the battle.

After the war, he was commissioned in the regular army — and spent years commanding troops from the battery level on up to a group HQ (four battalions), attending the best Army schools, and finally as a senior planner in the Pentagon. During his army career, his most memorable experiences as a soldier were those he had in the 99th Infantry Division.

Biggio retired after nine years as a full colonel in 1973, and subsequently spent years researching and writing on the role of the U.S. Field Artillery at Elsenborn. He is a longtime active member of the 99th Division Association and a frequent contributor to the Checkerboard.


Contributing writer

Jan. 1, 2006

Dear Editor:

I am keenly interested in what Robert Humphrey has to say about my old 99th Division — and would like to comment on his article: "The 99th Infantry Division Trains for War," which appeared in the Checkerboard, fifth issue 2003. I plan to comment on the other articles in his series at a later date.

In my view, the "Trains for War" article presents a distorted picture of the training which actually occurred in the 99th. It is distorted because the author focuses his attention almost solely on the relative few disgruntled privates in the infantry — thus making it appear that they represent all of the lower-ranking members of the division. Nevertheless, there are passages near the end of the article which are quite poignant — like the segment where the soldiers say their "good-byes" to their parents, and their different responses about going to war.

However, before I go on, I want to assure your readers that my criticisms do not derive from any prejudice that I have for civilian college professors — but are based solely on my understanding of military matters and on my research on the questions raised in this article.

Professor Humphrey tells us he is a civilian college professor of American History and Communications Studies. From his texts, he is evidently a scholarly academic who is erudite and writes very well — who knows how to conduct interviews and who has a special affection for college students. Professor Humphrey is a member of one of America's most honorable professions. As a longtime student I have developed a deep admiration for college professors — among these are distinguished professors like William S. Livingston, now senior vice president of the University of Texas and a former member of the 99th, who is a cherished friend.

Humphrey admits that he has no military experience himself — yet, in his article he is writing on a subject which is primarily military; i.e., how best to train young, inexperienced men to be combat soldiers in a short period of time. Humphrey is right in pointing out that there have been others who have written good military histories without having actually served in the Army. However, those military historians had spent years researching their subjects and reading the writings of the best generals and military thinkers who have studied the military campaigns of the past, and who have reached a consensus on military principles, training, and methods. I consider it unfortunate that Professor Humphrey seems to mirror the disdain for the military that shows so clearly in the complaints of these inexperienced privates who seem to believe that they knew more about military training than the U.S. Army and the officers and sergeants of the 99th Division. Moreover, he bases his narrative on the memories of men who are writing them some 60 years after the fact — and when most of those they have accused (by name) are long dead and cannot respond to their serious allegations.

A case study — not a division history

One would think from the title that this article contains a broad overview of the training of the main elements of the 99th Division (including the infantry, field artillery, and combat engineers) during its 16 months of stateside training. Instead, Professor Humphrey provides us with a case study of the experiences of a small group of young soldiers who were given infantry training by the 99th during only the last five months of the division's training. This is the story of the personal problems these young soldiers encountered in their training. It is not the story of how the 99th Infantry Division trained for war, and I suggest that a more appropriate title for this story would be, "A Case Study of the Trials and Tribulations of Some ASTPers in World War II."


The young soldiers who are the subject of the "Trains for War" article, in 1943-44 had been sent by the U.S. Army to various colleges for training as specialists in various fields as part of the "Army Specialized Training Program" (ASTP). By late 1943, most of the ASTP could no longer be sustained when Army personnel shortages threatened to impede military operations — and when thousands of replacements would be needed for the impending Normandy campaign. The War Department was forced to curtail the ASTP and to send many of the soldier-students to the divisions to provide the urgently needed replacements. In February and March 1944, some 70,000 ASTPers were sent to infantry divisions to fill their shortages of infantry riflemen. Two thousand five hundred and sixty-six of these ASTPers were assigned to the 99th Division as infantry replacements. Humphrey's "Trains for War" article mainly tells the story of the problems encountered by these men during their five months of training with the 99th.

Since the issues raised in this article requires some knowledge of the ASTP, I have summarized the program below for those of your readers who may not be familiar with the ASTP. My sources for this summary are the U.S. Army's official history of the ASTP, and the best books that have been written about the ASTP. These sources are:

(1) The official Army version:

a. "The Procurement and Training of Ground Combat Troops," Dept. of Army, 1948.

b. "The Organization of the Ground Combat Troops," Dept. of Army, 1947.

(2) Selected secondary sources:

a. "Scholars in Foxholes," Louis E. Keefer, 1988. This is the most comprehensive book on the ASTP, and it includes their experiences in college, divisional training, and in combat.

b. "Infantry Soldier," George W. Neill, 2000. A stirring, well-written personal account of an ASTPer in the 99th — in training and in combat.

c. "The Shock of War," Joseph C. Doherty, 1995. One of the best accounts of the 99th division in combat — and an excellent summary of the ASTP and his experiences in the program.

Summary of the U.S. Army's ASTP — 1942-44.

When Europe was plunged into WWII in September 1939, the U.S. Regular Army totaled only 178,400 men of whom only 13,400 were officers — and it could field only 10 active duty divisions. To defeat its two powerful adversaries, Germany and Japan, the nation embarked on a full scale mobilization which peaked in March 1945, at 8,157,386 men and 91 divisions.

Responsibility for the success of this huge expansion of the army fell heavily on the 13,400 professional officers of the Regular Army who were faced with countless problems to solve in the areas of planning, procurement of modern weapons, logistics, intelligence, individual and unit training, and personnel. In the training area alone there were big problems involving the training of millions of civilians to be good enough soldiers to compete with the more experienced Germans and Japanese — and how to train the officers to lead them.

One of the problems in the training area was how to provide the thousands of the specialists who would be needed by the Army to prosecute the war. The ASTP was one such program. Its genesis was in 1942, when the Army realized its own training facilities were inadequate to provide the Army with the specialists it needed in engineering, medicine, dentistry, and foreign languages.

The concept. The idea was to send selected enlisted men with high IQs and aptitude to college for specialist training. The soldiers would be drawn from both the active Army and from the new inductees. To be eligible, the soldier had to be under 22, have an AGCT score of 110 or more (later raised to 115) — and have completed Army basic training. In college they would be on active duty, in uniform, under military discipline, and receive regular Army pay. Initially, soldiers were asked to apply for the program — but later, all men were screened for eligibility.

Mixed reactions. The colleges, who were hurting for students, were happy to participate and urged the War Department to implement the program. However, there was considerable opposition to the program from the beginning from influential Army officers like Lt. General Leslie McNair who commanded the Army ground forces. His opposition was based on the argument that the program would drain the Army's combat units of the bright young men who were needed for their leadership potential. Field commanders often sided with Gen. McNair because the program would require them to give up some of their brightest soldiers.

Policy issues. During the planning for the program there was considerable debate over whether this should be an officer or a specialists program. It was finally decided that it would provide specialists for the Army, not officers. However, the army did not discourage the notion that after completion of the program the ASTPers might be eligible for OCS. Not many of them actually became officers in the army. However, many were very successful in later life and a few became nationally known, such as Henry Kissinger, Mayor Ed Koch of New York, Gore Vidal, and George Kennedy (the movie star who served in the 99th).

A program in flux. As noted earlier, from the beginning there were differences of opinion on the ASTP — and even after it got started Gen. McNair continued to argue that the college students could be better used in the combat divisions. Moreover, the program's stability was threatened by outside influences over which the Army had no control such as: (1) Congress refusal to approve General Marshall's recommended force level — thus providing the Army with fewer men than it required from a military viewpoint. Had Gen. Marshall's force level been approved, it would not have been necessary to curtail the ASTP because replacements would have been available at the end of 1943; (2) Congress also allowed liberal exemptions to the draft resulting in fewer men being available as replacements; and (3) Mounting casualties (mostly infantry) after the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, began to put a strain on the Army replacement system.

The Army's replacement problems

By the summer of 1943, the Army had real problems in providing trained replacements to the combat units in the field. The Army finally had to resort to stripping infantry privates from the divisions being trained in the U.S. in order to provide the needed replacements. Of course, this meant that the units which had been stripped (like the 99th) would themselves have to be provided with replacements before going overseas.

By the summer of 1943 the situation became so desperate that discussions began in the Pentagon about the reducing the size of the ASTP. Since there was an Army officer surplus at that time, Secretary of War Stimson instructed all army units to refrain from even suggesting that ASTP men would go directly to OCS from the ASTP. Instead, they were to be told they would be assigned to a unit where they would have to compete with everyone else for selection to OCS.

The replacement crisis

By December of 1943, the replacement situation had reached crisis proportions and the Secretary of War decided to scale down the ASTP to 125,000 by April 1, 1944. He announced that after that date the size of the program would depend on the Army's needs. By then, the ASTP students had become aware that the program was in real trouble because of rumors that had been circulating and articles in the newspapers about the ASTPs possible demise. In mid-January 1944, Gen. McNair announced that the ETO would in the next two months require 50,000 more infantry and artillerymen than could be provided by the replacement system — thus further exacerbating the crisis. Gen. Marshall was in a quandary over where to find that many replacements. He had two options: (1) he could raise the replacements by disbanding 10 infantry divisions, three tank battalions, and 26 AAA battalions, or (2) he could reduce the ASTP and send most of the soldier-students as the needed replacements.

The decision to radically scale back the ASTP

In view of the planned Allied invasion of Europe in June 1944, Gen. Marshall felt that Gen. Eisenhower would need every available division to succeed against the German Army which, by then, was a formidable fighting force which had been fighting for five years. And Gen. Marshal told the Secretary of War that he could no longer justify keeping 140,000 men in colleges in the ASTP when they represented the only source from which he could obtain the required personnel without disbanding several important combat units. Secretary Stimson accepted Gen. Marshall's reasoning reluctantly and told President Roosevelt that the program had to be scaled back sharply. On Feb. 15, 1944, the President approved and the War Department announced that 110,000 of the 145,000 ASTPers would be sent back to army line units. Between December 1943 and March 1944, the ASTP was reduced by 30,000 men and by the first of April, another 85,000 had to leave college.

The ASTPers become infantrymen

In March of 1944, most the ASTPers who had been in the engineering program and a few others were sent to the infantry divisions to provide the riflemen who were urgently needed by the divisions to bring them up to strength before being sent into combat. All of the divisions which received these ASTPers assigned most of them to their infantry regiments — because that is where their shortages were.

End of summary

Disposition of the ASTPers

That same month, the 99th Division received 2,566 ASTPers (source: "After Action Reports" of the 99th's three regiments) — and they were distributed evenly among the three infantry regiments. This brought the division up to full strength. Initially the 99th gave most of them training as infantrymen for two months — after which a very few were sent to the division artillery and to other units of the divisions. However, since these former college students had had only basic training and had not been exercising rigorously in college, the 99th was faced with the difficult task of training them to be combat soldiers and amalgamating them into the infantry companies in just five months. Ideally, the Army ground forces would have preferred that they had arrived a full year before the division sailed. But that was not possible.

Professor Humphrey's article begins with the arrival of the ASTPers in the 99th Division. The question arises: Why would Humphrey want to write another book on the ASTP when, as mentioned earlier, the ASTP story has already been well covered in excellent books by Keefer, Neill, Doherty, and others. It appears that Humphrey wanted to elaborate on what he considered to be the mistreatment of these young former college students by an inefficient and deceitful U.S. Army, and by an incompetent and unduly harsh 99th Division. He has told us in a recent letter to the Checkerboard that he wanted "to tell their story."

Pedrotti's story

It seems to me that the answer to what motivated Professor Humphrey to write about these particular ASTPers can be found in the article he wrote for the Checkerboard in 2001 (second issue) titled, "The story of Lou Pedrotti is shared with readers."

Humphrey states in this article that, in the year 2000, he had learned something very interesting about an old college professor (Pedrotti) who he had greatly admired years earlier when the two were on the same campus. He learned that this old professor (Pedrotti) had served in combat in WWII as an infantryman. Humphrey then interviewed Pedrotti, wrote up his story, and got it published in the Checkerboard.

In essence, the Pedrotti story tells us that, as a student in the ASTP he had been "promised" that he would become an officer — but instead, the program was canceled and he was consigned to the infantry by the 99th Division as a "lowly private." Upon joining the 99th, he was tormented by uneducated, earthy, and profane sergeants; he was fed bad-tasting food; and he had to train under "oppressive" conditions. Toward the end of the 99th's training at Maxey, Pedrotti observes that the sergeants and the ASTP privates had learned to respect each other and his unit coalesced into a "tightly integrated body."

Once in combat with the 395th Infantry Regiment, Pedrotti complains about the lack of winter clothing (a valid complaint indeed), but he also asserts that the food was "insufficient" and that he had no rockets for his bazooka. Soon he developed a bad case of frozen feet and was evacuated (before the Battle of the Bulge) to Paris. He recovered but was unfit for further combat duty, so he was assigned to a desk job in Frankfurt where he served until his return to the U.S. in April 1946.

Humphrey sympathizes with Pedrotti

Apparently Humphrey was deeply moved by the war experiences of the old professor he had so admired years earlier. When he became aware of George Neill's book, "Infantry Soldier," he found that Pedrotti had served in the same outfit in the 99th with Neill and is mentioned on four pages of Neill's book. Humphrey also must have noticed that there were other ASTPers who had difficulties in the 99th similar to Pedrotti's — and concludes that their stories might be the basis for a book about their experiences. Humphrey then commences to interview "over 200" former members of the 99th. To learn more about the 99th, he attends their reunions and visits their old battlegrounds.

By the year 2003, Humphrey has enough material to begin writing his manuscript and he begins publishing the chapters serially in the Checkerboard. Since the "story" he wants to write is obviously about the ASTPers who, like Pedrotti, believed that the army had broken its promise to them to make them officers, and instead sent them to the 99th as "lowly privates" where they were allegedly mistreated by sergeants who were uneducated, profane, all powerful tormentors. A bitter conflict developed between these ASTPers and the sergeants and it affected their relationship during all aspects of their training.

When one compares Pedrotti's "story" in the earlier Checkerboard with the "Trains for War" article, it is quite evident that Pedrotti's story, which apparently had a considerable influence on Humphrey, provided the basis for his later history of the 99th. In fact, Pedrotti's name is included in the "Trains for War" article 12 times.

Biggio's comments

There are, in my view, many controversial assertions in the "Trains for War" article, but I shall limit myself to just a few of them.

Is Humphrey representing the majority of ASTPers?

To understand the conduct of these young men after they arrived in the 99th, one has to realize that not all of them responded in the same way to the Army's decision to terminate their college program and send them to the infantry. There is general agreement among ASTPers and historians, that most of them were disappointed in having to make this change. However, the degree of disappointment varied and this resulted in differing responses to the training conducted for them in the 99th.

It appears that the majority of ASTPers, despite being disappointed, made the transition from college student to infantryman quite well — and were willing participants in their training. On the other hand, a minority were so devastated by the change that they arrived at the 99th hating everything about the Army — and were hypercritical of their instructors and the type of training conducted. Although the latter group were in the minority, Professor Humphrey, by featuring their complaints in his article, makes it appear that most of the ASTPers in the 99th were devastated, disgruntled, and critical of their sergeants and officers and their training. I have no scientific evidence (like a random survey) to prove that the ASTPers Humphrey wants to write about are in the minority of those who came to the 99th, but that is what I am told by the ASTPers I have known in the 99th. Moreover, this issue was addressed by Lou Keefer in his book of the ASTP on page 214 where he states that: "By far the majority of displaced ASTPers accepted their assignments, whatever they were, without particular rancor. Yes many were very disappointed. No they did not cry baby about it.(" emphasis added)

Were the ASTPers 'promised' commissions?

Pedrotti's hostility toward the Army seems to derive mainly from his belief that he was "promised" a commission when he joined the ASTP — but the Army failed to fulfill that "promise" and instead sent him to the infantry as a private. However, neither Pedrotti nor Humphrey cites an official document confirming such a "promise." I have searched the literature quite thoroughly and have nothing to support that claim. Granted, some eager recruiters may have given that impression to some of the ASTPers to get them to sign up, but that is a far cry from official Army policy.

George Neill thought that being in the ASTP would increase his chances of becoming an officer. Nevertheless, most of the ASTPers understood that they were studying to be enlisted specialists — not officers. I have asked this question of all the ASTP men I know — and they all agreed that they were not promised a commission after ASTP.

And again I refer to Lou Keefer who states in his book: "Many ASTPers thought they might eventually become officers, that the training program was just a first step toward a commission. Much of this was wishful thinking, because the Army never really said that." (Emphasis added)

Pedrotti was in the ASTP for many months and one wonders why, in all that time, he never found out that he was in a specialists program and not in an officer program. Moreover, why is it that Pedrotti and the others are quick to criticize the Army, but never show any appreciation for being given the opportunity to go to college in the midst of the greatest war in the nation's history — when thousands of their peers were being sent to the fighting front or to the divisions training rigorously for combat. They have portrayed themselves as victims in this article, but they were actually a lot better off than many of their contemporaries who did not enjoy the kind of "honeymoon" that the ASTPers had while in college.

That the ASTPers were mistreated by the Army and the 99th

As indicated, there were mixed responses from the ASTPers to the decision by the Army to end the ASTP and to send the students to infantry divisions. And there were different reactions, also, to the training conducted by the 99th division. Most of the ASTPers readily accepted the training methods of the 99th and were proud when they completed the arduous training regimen. The minority represented by Humphrey felt they were mistreated during their training by their sergeants and some of the junior officers. It is true that the sergeants were tough on the ASTPers but sergeants are demanding and tough because it is very difficult to convert a young civilian into a combat soldier — especially when that soldier is like some of the ASTPers in his article who resented authority, were undisciplined, ridiculed their superiors, felt superior, taunted their sergeants, refused to take training seriously, and disagreed with the training regimen and methods. No sergeant worth his salt would have gone easy on those recruits. In fact, the more elite a military unit, the tougher the training. Moreover, the sergeants had been training with the 99th for almost two years, and many had previous military experience. Granted that many of them were not well educated, but one does not need a college education to become fully proficient in the duties of an infantry sergeant. The 99th's infantry sergeants were very good at their jobs, and they knew how to train young soldiers.

Humphrey makes clear how different were the backgrounds of these two groups of men — and these differences were so pronounced that some friction was bound to occur. Nevertheless this was the Army, and the sergeants were in charge and rightfully expected to be obeyed. Had the ASTPers in the article come to the 99th with the same good attitude as did most of the ASTPers — most of these reported incidents could probably have been avoided.

Obedience, teamwork, and individualism

Professor Humphrey and the group of ASTPers that he supports seem to have problems with the Army's insistence that orders are to be obeyed — and promptly. Yet without obedience throughout, the Army will not be successful on the battlefield. General George Patton put it succinctly when he defined a good soldier as one who obeys orders and is good at his job. General Lauer's slogan said essentially the same thing.

Those who follow professional football are fully aware that the Army is not the only organization that requires discipline to be successful. The coach demands obedience in pursuit of the team's objectives. Players who are disobedient and who refuse to function as team players are dealt with sternly, even though they may be All Pros. Most fans understand why this is necessary. Why then is it difficult to understand that discipline and teamwork also is required in the infantry — where the operations of a platoon on the battlefield demands a far greater degree of discipline than is needed in football.

In the Army, as in football, each soldier is expected to give up some individualism in the interest of achieving teamwork — because it is teamwork that wins battles and football games. But at the same time, the soldier or player is encouraged to exercise his individuality by becoming "the best that he can be" or an All Pro at his job. Therefore, he can demonstrate through his individual effort that he is a worthy member of the team and that his buddies can depend on him when the going gets rough.

Final comments

I can understand the desire of Lou Pedrotti, et al to have their stories published about their perceived maltreatment by the U.S. Army and the 99th Division during WWII — and I have no objection to that. However, their complaints should be given a more appropriate title.

What I do object to, vehemently, is that the stories of this small group of ASTP privates be presented as though they represent the views of most of the ASTPers in the 99th. This is a disservice to those ASTPers who handled their transition from college to the infantry quite well, who performed well in training at Maxey, and who performed admirably in combat.

Professor Humphrey has failed to provide a factual and balanced description of the training of the 99th, and instead, limits himself mostly to negative incidents reported by disgruntled privates. Notably absent in the article are the training accomplishments of the 99th.

Charles P. Biggio Jr.

Colonel, USA Ret. C/372 99th Inf. Div.

Contributing to this response were ASTPers Joe Doherty, Carl Hall, Will Young, and Harold Armstrong, and my son, Charles P. Biggio III, who is keenly interested in WWII.