Spencer recalls another time and place
By DAVID SPENCER F/393
3524 Ascot Ct., Kettering OH 45429
The following article covers the first days of Army life. The world I had been brought up in was a small one. I had only been in three counties of Kentucky prior to this. Many people back then had never left the county they were born in during their lifetime. My world was the hills of Greenup County, Kentucky. I had been in Ohio and Michigan and as a child my father and mother had moved to the state of Washington for a couple of years, but I have little memory of this event. Leaving the little world of mine was something I was not prepared for. When you read this, you will surely say I was not that dumb. Well, I guess I did add a few things to it. The uniform they gave was true and the rest of the events all were true.
March 1, 1940
At this date and time I had reached the age to register for the military draft. A war was raging in Europe, Hitler and his war machine was overrunning the neighboring countries like falling dominoes.
There was a place set up in a one-room school house at Argillite KY, that was my place to register. A man by the name of Ed Justice was in charge. Unlike the unrest among the young of today, there were no protest demonstrations, carrying cars, and shouting slogans. There was just a steady flow of young men and women eager and willing to fight and die for their country.
After I registered, it was back to my father's farm at Buffalo Creek KY, to help raise a crop for the winter on those rugged hills. Life was not easy for mothers and fathers of that era.
The summer came and went. I soon became restless as one by one my friends were called to duty. It was now winter and no greeting from the president had come in the mail so I made a trip to the county seat only to be told there was a three-month waiting list. Yes — a three-month backlog of young, healthy boys waiting for a call from the local draft board. So I just signed up as a volunteer and it was back to the hills to sweat it out.
It was almost three months before I received my greeting from the president. It read, "Greetings. You have been selected to serve in the Armed Forces of the USA." My orders were to report to my draft board on Feb. 28, 1941.
I can remember that day like it was yesterday. I was very excited. But the sadness and hurt that was written all over my mother's face was something I never forgot. The morning I left, Mother cried and my father gave me a hearty handshake with a few words of wisdom concerning my new occupation.
I can remember I just had two pair of shoes, one pair of brogans for work on the farm and the other was a pair of wing-tipped slippers that were two sizes too small. I had feet like a sled runner. They were 13-EEE and I was very self-conscious about them but this bit of pride was about to end.
After a short trip to Greenup KY, with my father by horse and buggy, I reported to my draft board and presented my orders to them. In a couple of hours, me and a half-dozen other boys were on the noon train heading for the induction center at Huntington WV. As I recall a few names, there was a Porter boy from South Shore KY, a Worthington from Greenup, and a Pitts from Tygart Creek.
Arriving at Huntington a short time later, we were herded onto a bus along with many others. We were taken to get physical examinations. There I found big feet was no excuse for entering the Army. I quickly saw I was not the only one with big feet, and with all those ol' boys in their birthday suits that room smelled like a skunk that had been highly disturbed.
After a series of bending and spreading, poking and jabbing, humping and jumping, I along with the others were pronounced physically fit. The next order was the swearing-in which was soon over whether or not you said "I do" or "I don't." So in a matter of time, we were loaded on a train headed for Fort Thomas KY.
It was there we were given what they called an IQ test of which I made a grand total of 85 (whatever that meant was of no concern to me at that time). Some of the questions got my "brier hackles" standing on end and I just put down "It's none of your so-and-so business." Boy was that the wrong answer.
After losing that round, I found myself getting my new wardrobe which was all World War I duds. The uniform issue consisted of a pair of size-14 shoes, wrap legging, britches, shirt, an overcoat that looked like it had been through the Battle of Bull Run. And there was a jacket that was two sizes too small and had no collar. In fact, it looked like a straight jacket.
After all that fine-looking olive drab, GI clothing was stuffed into a bag with a drawstring on one end. It was off to the barracks to get dressed like a real dogface.
Well sir, the first item of clothing I pulled out of that bag was an undershirt, next was a pair of shorts. That undershirt looked like a petticoat with the bottom shot off. Now for the shorts. I never found any legs or trap door like the long handles I was used to wearing. Next I put on a pair of flea-bitten, itchy, moth-eaten World War I hand-me-down britches called "Put-tees." I thought I was going to have to put axle grease on my feet to get them through those funnel-legged things.
I didn't want to be too dumb about the situation I found myself in at that moment, so I asked the ol' boy on the bunk across from me what these strings on the legs of these britches were for. I was told they were to be used like my shoe strings, the only difference was that you started lacing those peg-legs from the top down and tucked the neatly tied bows up under the bottom of the funnel legs.
After that bit of dressing was done, I thought to myself they surely don't want a dog-faced soldier running around with no covering between the bottom of his britches and the tops of his shoes. I didn't want to act any dumber so I looked into my bag and came out with two rolls of olive drab cloth which I took to be patching material for my uniform when I was on the battle front and got my uniform ripped on barbed wire. I wasn't long in finding out that two rolls of olive drab cloths was the connecting I needed between the legs of my britches and the tops of my shoes.
There was a real knack to wrapping those leggings where you wouldn't come out with too much or too little wrapping left. The only thing I could figure out was the enemy must have invented those things because if you got them wrapped too tight and got them wet, they would shrink up, cutting off the flow of blood to your feet. That would cause gangrene to set up under your toenails.
After all that trouble connecting my waist to my feet I then put on my shirt and a real battle began trying to get that tie on. I either had too much of the little end left or too much of the wide end left over. But with the help of a friend that battle was won and I began to look like a real 1918 doughboy.
The last item was a thing they called a cap that looked like half of a pone of skillet-baked corn bread. The only thing that kept me from being cut off from the outside world was my ears, which stopped the downward motion.
It was along about this time my patriotism was about used up and a pair of bib overalls and clodhopper shoes with a straw hat was much more appealing to me. But as the old saying goes, "I was not behind the plow but was in the Army now!"
March 1, 1941 — Today is my birthday. But there was no cake with candles or a happy birthday song. It was "hup, two, three," fall in here, fall in there. What a way to spend a birthday. Just to think, if Hitler hadn't gotten so greedy, I would have been home making ready for a crop of corn.
March 2 — I am on KP. I started at 4 a.m. and how was I to know the police duty I volunteered for was kitchen police? That was Army lesson number one. Never volunteer for anything.
We stood formation for hair inspection and a big burly sergeant pointed straight at me and said, "You, boy" get that hair cut. I thought I looked pretty good. I had just paid a quarter in Greenup a few days earlier, which the barber had said was a GI haircut. But when that barber at Ft. Thomas got through, I could see a comb and brush would be useless for a spell.
March 3 — We loaded on buses and were taken to Newport KY, and headed west. Our destination was Ft. Lewis WA. That was the base where we were to take our basic training. For the next few days a train coach was our barracks. We took the northern route and during that trip there was an event I never forgot. On the last night of our journey we were going through a solid wall of snow on either side of the track that was 12 to 15 feet high.
The next morning when I woke up, we were going down a valley where the early spring flowers were blooming and clear water was rushing down a small creek beside the track.
March 6 — It was drizzling rain when we unloaded at the Army base at Ft. Lewis WA. We were divided into companies. I was in Company I, 7th Inf., 3rd Division. Pitts, Worthington, and Porter were in the same company. A few days later Pitts was transferred to a heavy weapons pack mule battalion. It seemed Pitts just couldn't get the hang of marching in step with the rest of the fellows.
In a few days after I had gotten rid of my WWI uniform, we got down to some real basic training and that sergeant we had was the meanest man I had ever seen. I thought I had met some real mean fellows back home when they had a tad too many snorts of that Kentucky corn squeezings. But that sergeant didn't need to be intoxicated to be nasty. He was a natural born skunk.
(It wasn't until three years later when I was training raw recruits that I saw the old man sergeant's action was for our own good. So I guess I too was a skunk to the recruits I was training.)
It wasn't too long before we got the hang of it and we became more like a big family. Our trips to the field and forest were like a camping trip with a few exceptions. Those 10- to 20-mile hikes to the camping area and digging foxholes in that rocky soil was no picnic.
As the weeks rolled by our leisure time was spent writing home and to our sweethearts. The letters we received would be read many times over as they always brought comfort to us.
We always had Wednesday afternoons off from training, but we had to engage in some kind of organized sports, such as tug-of-war, volleyball, or boxing. It was the boxing matches that taught me a lesson I never forgot.
One Wednesday afternoon our company was to box Company F. I was picked to represent our company. I was a big rawboned fellow straight from the hills. I told them I had never had a pair of boxing gloves on and no boxing experience at all. Rather than to be called "chicken" I reluctantly agreed.
We gathered in F Company street which was covered with redwood sawdust. My squad leader pointed out to me the fellow I was to box. He was a little fellow. I stood two heads taller than him. I said to myself, "just one round house haymaker and I will have him eating sawdust."
Well sir, they tied the gloves on me and I faced my foe in the middle of a bunch of noisy soldiers. The whistle blew and the fight was on.
He danced right up to me as if to say "hit me if you can" so I took him up on his offer by letting go with a left-hand haymaker that should have landed him over in that bunch of boys who were whooping it up. To my surprise, I only got a glove full of air. He was like a banty rooster. Every time I took a swing at him he was not there. After he toyed with me a few minutes he let go with a barrage of leather, I swore he had a dozen hands. He was all over me like a disturbed nest of yellow jackets. After about three mouthfuls of that sawdust, I said "uncle." It was at this time they informed me that he was a professional lightweight boxer. So I just chalked that up to hard-earned experience. You can bet the rest of my Wednesday afternoon sports were on the lighter side.
I was engaged to a beautiful girl back home and I had to protect her potential property. The Bible says let every man abide in the calling wherewith he is called, and boxing was not mine for sure.
As the summer turned into fall I was turning into a soldier with a liking for the Army life.
Around the middle of October 1941, a directive came down from the government which was Section X Army Regulation 615-360, which stated that anyone who would sign up for three years in the regular Army could be transferred to an Army base of their choice.
I only had four months to do of my one year draft but like the Army life and planned to make a career of it so I eagerly signed up and was transferred to the 1540th Service Unit at Ft. Thomas KY.
This service unit I so eagerly signed up for was a military police outfit. It had been eight months since I came through here on my way to Ft. Lewis, but at least I was near home and the girl I loved.
On Dec. 7, 1941, we entered World War II in a big fashion due to the calling card left by Japan at Pearl Harbor. For the next year, I fought the battle of Newport and Covington KY, and Union Station, Cincinnati OH. Wearing an MP arm band, we rounded up Japs, Italians, and Germans who were not Americans. This action was due to security reasons.
May 23, 1942 — I was up early that morning getting all dressed up in my tailor-made uniform and headed to the bus station in Cincinnati to meet the bus from Springfield OH, with the prettiest girl in the world on board. Before the day was over, she was my wife (and after 61 years she is still tops). In those days you had to get written permission from your commanding officer to marry. Failure to do so would result in a court-martial.
In the summer of 1942 I was transferred to Camp Dawson, WV, to set up a military police training camp, which fell through. On Oct. 9, 1942, I was promoted to corporal and sent back to Ft. Thomas KY. On Jan. 9, 1943, I was transferred to F/393 of the 99th Division at Camp Van Dorn MS. Me being a regular Army man, the promotions came fast and before the end of the year I was the first sergeant of the company and remained the same during the war. That war took the edge off of staying in the Army. I found out they were firing real bullets and I didn't want anymore of that kind of life.