Yes, I know: it should be a 48-star flag... The 115th A.A.A. Gun Battalion, 1943 to 1945

The United States (Part 1)

WE'VE had many experiences during our hitch in the army of the United States that we will always remember. Some have made strong impressions that will remain vivid, even after we are old and feeble, and will be retold and relived countless times. Who will ever forget those months at Camp Davis, North Carolina, when the 115th was new, growing, changing, learning, gradually assuming its character as the organization of which we are so proud?

For the record, activation was on the 20th of March, 1943, and those that were present swear that Group sent down a training schedule effective the 21st. The officers, many with overseas experience, and the cadre -- the majority had come from Winnemuca, Nevada and points west -- were the cheering section when the rest of us arrived. Most of us came down the coast from the Ft. Dix reception center with a short 12-hour layover in the beautiful Rocky Mount station. Soon afterwards we had our first impressions of our new home -- the water towers, warehouses, concrete ramps and rows of two story barracks ("Why, this isn't bad at all!"). We soon found out, however, that this was just the front door and we got out down at the end of Swamp Hollow.

We were assigned our own little individual section of floor to live on and keep policed, polished and scrubbed, and started an intense campaign of area beautification. What an area! We built walks, garbage racks, rifle racks, dug ditches, raked and policed, cut the weeds and painted signs. Those first two weeks we were under quarantine (we never did find out who had what), and the outside world seemed hopelessly remote. It didn't take us very long to find out that you didn't just go up to a second lieutenant, slap him on the back and say, "How's it goin' Joe?", and that when a corporal said he wanted to be able to see his face in the porcelain bowl you were cleaning, that he wasn't just beating his gums. We found out who the goldbricks were, that a private Jeep is not issued to every individual for his personal convenience, decided that army cooks in general should have been truck drivers, argued the relative merits of Brooklyn and New Jersey and increased our vocabulary by three or four choice words, which were used on every possible occasion.

One story has it that a top kick threatened to commit suicide after observing our first session of close order drill, but it was all a malicious rumor, and after hup, hoop, heep, hoaring all over the place for a couple of weeks, we paraded like veterans. Many books have been written about the horrors of basic training but you have to live through it to appreciate what it is like. We had classes all day long on everything we'd ever be likely to need, punctuated by ten minutes smoke breaks, all seven minutes of which were spent in changing from fatigues to O. D.'s and vice versa. We pitched shelter tents to the right and left, learned map reading without maps and camouflage without nets, learned which kind of poison gas smells like geraniums (but who the hell ever stopped to smell a geranium?), learned first aid and field sanitation and when to salute and how to tell a P-38 from a B-17, and a variety of other things we'd need to know later, like sex hygiene, and the manly art of self defense in two easy lessons if you survived the first. The less said about those hikes the better -- up and down dusty roads in the hot sun, with the straps cutting into your shoulders, every muscle aching, your throat parched and dry, thinking you couldn't make another step but somehow you did.

We looked forward to firing those M-1's for a long time; for weeks we had gone through dry runs by the numbers, prone, kneeling, standing and sitting. Actually, we had a bad case of the jitters when we went out to the firing line, for the old timers told a variety of stories about what terrible injuries they had seen sustained by novices from the kickback. We went out expecting the worst but except for a few black eyes and sore shoulders we felt pretty good and went out in search of recruits who would listen to our experiences.

After we'd been trained as individual soldiers we were introduced to the mysteries of our primary mission. We were assigned to our sections and began training on the guns, machine guns, and the complex and highly technical range equipment. We found how necessary was team work and each individual's knowledge of his particular role. Men left for technical schools for everything from radar maintenance to the tasty preparation of dehydrated cumquats. We worked long hours at artillery drill and gunners' instruction but this was more like it, for we were working on the equipment that would bring down German planes. Next began a series of exercises during which we underwent tortures of the damned. These initiated us in the field problems we'd face in combat, weather, terrain, local defense, manning details, living in bivouac, etc. We fired all types of problems at different times, and developed the proficiency and teamwork necessary for accuracy. We found out what a good all purpose gun our 90 is by firing field artillery, coast artillery, and antitank problems in addition to many different types of antiaircraft shoots. We had every reason to be proud of our firing record, when we had finished, and knew if we could hit that sleeve that a plane would be a cinch. We best remember the sandflies in our marmalade, the men tied up in all sorts of headpieces, including gas masks, to keep off the huge mosquitoes, the wind and rain that tore our pup tents out of the sand in the middle of the night and the millions of pounds of pork that we consumed.

Our real all around test came up in the Catherine Lake region where a number of battalions participated in a full-scale exercise. We learned how to build revetments under pressure, how to use a winch under the most difficult of conditions, how important was local security, that the only way to find your way around in blackout was to listen for the communications motor, and that the first step in occupying a position was to build a latrine. It was here also that we were first introduced to C and K rations, oh unhappy day!

During all this period we peeled 46 carloads of potatoes, walked 14,000 miles on guard, cleaned 11,273 bowls and sinks, scrubbed 958 acres of floor, raked an area of 1723 miles, and stood 623 inspections. Along toward the end we had a 25 mile hike something like 32 miles-long and crawled the infiltration course with machine gun slugs buzzing past our ears. We learned how to take any obstacle course ever built in stride, and went through a half day's mass murder called "physical proficiency exams". Betty Hutton entertained us, and we were all primed for that furlough. If your record was not marred by gigs and your name was not in the Topkick's black book and if you weren't on detail, you might receive a short weekend pass. Normally you would stand in line half a day in the broiling sun waiting for a bus. In the bus, you received sardine space that barely enabled you to stand during the 30 mile trip to the little bit of heaven that is Wilmington. If you could not find rest and relaxation there, you could take in Wrightsville or Carolina Beach, or rather they took you in. Or, if the medics would let you walk on your blisters, you might get as far as Boomtown just outside the gates.

Finally the time arrived we'd been waiting for so long and we took off for God's country, wherever that might be, and home. We no longer were rookies but experienced veterans, trained in the methods of war and we had our first chance to show Mom how we looked in uniform and look questioningly at every male between 14 and 60 in civilian clothes. Those seven days were very short but we had made the most of them and were headed for new experiences; so, on the 14th of September, we took our march graphs and hit the road for Camp Pickett.

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... arrives at Camp Davis, NC for the start of 9 months of intensive training before leaving the United States. The unit is activated 20 March 1943. This page describes their initial 6 months of training at Camp Davis, closing with these vital stats: "During all this period we peeled 46 carloads of potatoes, walked 14,000 miles on guard, cleaned 11,273 bowls and sinks, scrubbed 958 acres of floor, raked an area of 1723 miles, and stood 623 inspections."

Updated Tuesday June 07, 2005 09:11:26 PDT
The original text of The Story of the 115th A.A.A. Gun Battalion, published by the unit in 1945, is in the public domain. So how, you may ask, can I claim that the contents of these web pages are protected by copyright?

The answer is that it is my own transcription of the text and images into electronic format, and compilation into these web pages that is copyrighted. In addition, the web design, art, and annotations, plus all material from my father's personal albums are copyrighted original works. I reserve all rights to how all these materials are used. You may not copy them or store them in any retrieval system without permission.