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

The United States (Part 5)


On the train from Camp Pickett to Ft. Dix, we were prepared for the blissful existence ahead of us by the natives of New Jersey. No travelogue ever described a south sea haven in such colorful, inviting terms. Surely this was to be the garden of Eden, a veritable eighth wonder of the world, a place where we could enjoy luxury just as if we were in the Air Corps. From the time we crossed the state line we learned in just how many ways the air of New Jersey was purer, the skies bluer, the grass greener; how much prettier the women and tastier the brew. At last we had found what we had been looking for -- a home in the army.

Sure enough, when we pulled into the siding, got those packs on our backs and fell off the train, there were trucks waiting to take us to our billets. We drove past rows of tents (these are not for us), tar paper barracks, regular army barracks, and civilian type houses (this is more like it), and further down New York Avenue; the farther we went the better the accomodations. Finally we came to an area that must have been used in World War I, for everywhere was desolation and ruin. Our trucks stopped that we might better view this historic scene and then came the shock: "O.K., pile out, this is it."

That first night in New Jersey air was one to remember. The luxuries were ripped tents, broken beds and wet mattresses -- take your choice, one to a customer. The mess halls looked as if they'd been stabling a cavalry squadron, and where they got those midget furnaces for the shower rooms no one will ever know. Such essentials as stoves, light bulbs, lumber, and tentage had been looted by the D.P.'s who lived next door, but an emergency call to the powers that be brought various workmen to take care of us. These characters were all members of Local No. 0001, though, and except for isolated periods of activity during the middle of the day, we didn't see much of them. They were darn nice about lending their tools, however, and before long we had smoke pouring from the pyramidals and lights at night -- unless some Joe accidently touched the wires or borrowed our 5 watt bulb. We lined everything up, raked and policed the area, scrubbed all the floors, put up bulletin boards, stuck the guidons in the ground, and we were open for business.

We got the business all right -- first from one higher headquarters and then another. We had inspections of quarters, rifles, mess halls, equipment, personnel, training; chemical warfare and communications, showdown and tactical, by Ordnance, Group, Brigade, Corps, as well as the I.G. We survived all of these but don't ask how. One particular officer was somewhat displeased, for example, when a bottle of white shoe polish someone had nonchalantly tossed into a stove, exploded just as he opened the door. Another officer, inspecting fire control equipment, pointed to "A" battery's height finder and inquired sweetly, "Oh, and is this the new M-9 director I've heard so much about? How nice." They were much impressed by the new radar equipment: "Such pretty colored lights and comfortable chairs!"

In the meantime we were suffering, for it was cold enough to freeze the brass off a bald monkey (no offense, group commanders). We foraged for wood -- first the telephone poles went, then the furniture and soon all the tent floors. Snow drifted in through all the openings and the only way we survived was to pretend that we were not in Ft. Dix, N.J., in 1943, but actually with General Washington at Valley Forge, helping win freedom and independence and all that sort of thing.

During this same period, schools were conducted in communications for the big job ahead, and in chemical warfare, where we learned decontamination methods and practiced demolition with incendiaries. Every night was the same old announcement: "Those who have not completed transition firing on the M-1903 will fall out at 0530 in the morning." We fired familiarization, transition, and for record with every weapon Uncle Sam has issued since the war of 1812. Of course it rained every day and those fires really felt good while we were waiting for the fog to lift so we could see that last target. Our position was even more difficult because the men in the butts holding up the targets were shivering so much that it was hard to draw a bead on the silhouettes. Some of us had to go back for seconds a couple of times but when we finished we knew we could handle those weapons the way they should be used.

When we were off duty things weren't bad at all. The pass policy was liberal and many braved the long waiting lines at the bus station to go into New York or Trenton. Standard provisions for the waiting line were pup tents, bedding, and three days' rations. Much good was accomplished on these trips as witnessed by all the telegrams which arrived the following June and July, worth 12 points each. Several parties and dances were held in Trenton and we had good movies and PX facilities.

It seemed as if we were always going down to the dispensary for shots and then one day we all went down to the station hospital for our overseas physicals. We walked at least 20 miles that day down corridors from one department to another. After being tapped and poked at every joint and being looked at from both ends, inside and out, we went into that amazing creature -- the psychiatrist. He'd ask you if you liked the army; you'd reply "No"; he'd ask you if you wanted to go overseas; you'd say "No"; he'd say "Normal", and that was it. The next guy would probably answer "Yes" to both questions and he'd still be marked normal -- no one ever has figured that one out. We lost some of our men as a result of the examination and the rest of us felt pretty good because we were now physically qualified as combat soldiers. Little did we know!

By this time we'd been pretty well processed, all of our equipment was gone over, and every nut, bolt and screw was tagged as to nomenclature, stock number and condition. The rumors were good ones which showed much imagination and originality, but one ghastly fear constantly crept in -- suppose we were going back to Camp Davis?

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travels from Camp Pickett to Ft. Dix, NJ on 2 November 1943, for three weeks of shivering in "ripped tents, broken beds and wet mattresses". Cold and dampness is a constant problem: "We foraged for wood -- first the telephone poles went, then the furniture and soon all the tent floors." Schools include communications and chemical warfare, and there are endless inspections as they prepare to move overseas.
Updated Tuesday June 07, 2005 09:11:33 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.