My experiences in World War II began in the fall of 1939. I was 15 years old and living in Jacksonville, Florida. The war in Europe had begun earlier that year.
I was not in school – having been permanently dismissed. The “Great Depression” was still hurting the South so there were no jobs available for someone so young. Whatever was available usually went to men with families.
My father was a veteran of World War I and although born in another country, he became a citizen through his service in the US Army. He was very patriotic and instilled in me a great love of country and service to this country.
At that time, Sherard Comer, a very close friend, was in the army and while home on leave described his life in the army. It was fascinating to me. He also made me realize that this country was preparing for a war! So I enlisted in the army! Never mind that I was underage! I managed it! I was in the army for two years when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and we were at war.
On December 7, 1941 the day of that attack, my unit, the 265 Coast artillery, was stationed at Fort Davey Crockett in Galveston, Texas. At that time I was in the hospital with my first and only case of asthma. After release from the hospital, I found that my outfit had left for the Philippines to participate in the defense of Bataan and Corregidor. They were all captured later and subject to the “Bataan Death March.” I was assigned to another unit and was sent to where our big guns, 12 inch Mortars and 10 inch disappearing guns, were located on the Eastern tip of the Galveston Island. We pitched tents right on the beach and waited for an invasion which never came.
During this period civilians were not allowed into the camp area but every day people, mostly women and girls, came to the gate and left food, cookies, books and other appropriate items for the soldiers since we were not allowed out of camp. After about two months the entire unit was transferred to Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida. I was in charge of the machine gun nests that were on the fort’s perimeter. Here again we lived on the beaches in pup tents and waited for an invasion that never came.
After a few weeks the routine became somewhat dull so several of us decided that the only way we were ever going to see the war was in another unit. I volunteered for something brand new in the US Army, the “Parachute Troops” and was sent to Georgia’s Fort Benning jump school. After one months and five jumps, I was assigned to Company “E” 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division as their Operation Sergeant. We trained at Fort Benning and later at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Those were unusual days for soldiers. We did not want for food since the military was not subjected to the food rationing program as was the civilian population. Even so we seemed to eat a lot of lamb and a lot of powdered eggs. When we were lucky enough to get passes into town it was rare for us to pay for anything. Civilians wanted to pay. Some movie houses would not charge soldiers for admission. The same was true for many restaurants as civilians would leave money with cashiers to pay for soldiers meals. People were wonderful.
Base pay for an Army private was $30 a month, up from $21. As a sergeant, I was paid $54 a month. All paratroopers received hazardous pay of $50 a month. We called it jump pay.
Among the soldiers there was a feeling of camaraderie that I had never experienced before and have never experienced since.
Among the civilian population there was a cohesiveness of purpose that had not been seen before or since. Everyone seemed to be putting 100% of their being into winning the war. Except for the fact that we were at war, it was a wonderful feeling to be a part of this country at that time.
In April of 1943 the 82nd Airborne Division was sent to North Africa by ship. We arrived at Casablanca, French Morocco on the 10th of May then took a train to a desert camp on the border of Algeria. After a few weeks more training we went to Kairouan, Tunisia.
On July 9, 1943, our unit, the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, jumped into combat in Sicily. The operation was called Operation Husky thus becoming the first American troops to invade the continent of Europe. It was also the first combined airborne assault in history. After 38 days of combat in Sicily, we went into Salerno, the boot of Italy. After a few weeks I was wounded and sent back to a hospital in Egypt and then Algeria.
By the time I recuperated my unit had sailed to England where they prepared for the D Day invasion. I was sent to a replacement depot where I was chosen to go to Italy to help establish a Parachute Jump School. Before I could be sent there, however, I was included in a group of “Purple Heart” soldiers selected to be sent back to the United States.
I came home on a Liberty Ship and was sent to Fort Bragg, N.C. where I was honorably discharged.
After the war I re-enlisted, became a Commissioned Officer, and later a Warrant Officer. I stayed in the Army for 14 years and also spent 16 months in Korea during that conflict.
While no one likes war as such, there was a feeling of accomplishment at that time that is unique in its understanding. It was a wonderful thing to see the people of this country working together as no nation has ever done before. The United States accomplished a miracle in their waging of this war and this country as well as the rest of the world which is greater for it.