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My Side of the Story: An Iowan Relates His World War II Experiences

My Side of the Story: An Iowan Relates His World War II Experiences

by G. Warren Collier, Judy Collier Johnson

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iUniverse, Incorporated
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An Iowan Relates His World War II Experiences
By G. Warren Collier Judy Collier Johnson

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2012 G. Warren Collier and Judy Collier Johnson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4697-0012-0

Chapter One

On The Home Front

The date was December 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. The U.S. had been supplying arms and supplies to the European forces that had been at war with Germany for two years. The bombing was the last straw for President Franklin Roosevelt, and Congress declared war on Japan, as well as the Axis powers which had joined forces with Japan. Japan had invaded the U.S. friendly country of China ten years earlier. Because of this invasion, our country stopped selling oil to Japan which did not sit well with the Japanese. And so in 1942, the United States entered World War II as an active participant, and the draft for manning our forces was implemented.

At this time my dad, Oakley, had left the farm to go work in the munitions plant in Burlington, and I left my job as a milk tester for dairy producers in west central Iowa. Milk testers were given a route of dairy farms and stopped at each one to test the milk of each cow to determine butterfat content. Then the cow's feed ration was determined from that information. I did this from 1940 to June of 1942. I came home to the family farm just south of Durant, Iowa. My family and I hoped that since I was farming, I would be deferred from the draft; it was common practice to defer farmers since their efforts were vital to the soldiers, as well as the civilian population. This was known as class 1-C deferment.

That was not to be the case. I got the notice from the draft board that I was to report. The draft board was comprised of local county residents. There were three so-called friends who persuaded the draft board I should be drafted. I know this was the case because the clerk of the draft board informed me of these backroom politics. Draftees were allowed to petition the board for a deferment, but I wasn't allowed to speak to the board to plead my case; my appeals went through a secretary. I had to go to the board's secretary three times. They wouldn't give me an answer the first two times. The third time, they said, "No, you have to go into the army."

Upon returning home from the physical at Fort Des Moines, I spent the next four to six weeks doing the farm work. Dad came home from Burlington to continue the farming operation about one week before I had to leave. With the help of Miriam's dad and brother and some good friends, my dad was able to keep the farm in production until I returned.

We new draftees were bussed from Muscatine to Des Moines for the army as soon as the draft board filled a bus in June, 1943. Physicals were superficial at best; if a man could hear, see, and was breathing, he was healthy enough to be enlisted. From talk among the draftees, I could tell there was a mood of disconsolation, a feeling of helplessness in a dire situation among all of those on the bus. I returned home to await word as to whether I passed the physical.

Then the official notice came that stated I had passed my physical and was now classified as 1-A. All that remained was the official notice that I was drafted into the United States Army, and that notice arrived soon after the classification notice. There was nothing I could do but leave the farm, my family, and my girl friend, Miriam SyWassink, and go to war.

Chapter Two

Basic Training at Camp Dodge

The first stage of army life began at Camp Dodge, north of Des Moines, Iowa, after another solemn bus ride. One of our first days was spent accumulating our clothing and gear. We got the rest of our field equipment today. Our tent half and rifle and field bag. I was issued three underwear, three handkerchiefs, six pairs of socks, one work suit, two brown summer dress uniforms, two winter pants and a coat, raincoat, two suits of winter underwear, a plastic helmet, and two pairs of shoes. That is about all except canteens and stuff like that.

Later, we got an overcoat, another suit of suntans, leggings, and a work suit. A few days later, they gave us steel helmets to go over our plastic ones we had been wearing. We have a shelf along the walls in the barracks to put our gas masks, leggings, pistol belts, canteens, field bags, and our tent and poles. Just under the shelf is a stick to hang clothes hangers on. That is where our dress clothes are kept. They are just out in the open all the time, nothing to keep the dust off of them.

Our induction included paperwork, getting our clothing, and those tests we had this morning really made a person think at times about a lot of tricky questions and arithmetic problems.

They told us how to make our beds, and we cannot sit on them from the time we make them until after five at night. They let us sleep until four thirty in the morning. We have from four thirty until six to get shaved and cleaned up, sweep and mop the barracks, and get our beds made. I think it will take us all of that time in the morning, all right. Some good news is we don't have to have a GI hair cut if we don't want.

The food is really pretty good. Of course, it isn't as good as Mom's, but when you're hungry, it tastes pretty fair. For dinner we had fish, potatoes, lettuce salad, lima beans, lemonade, and apricot cobbler or something of that order. For supper we had potatoes, ground meat, pea salad, Jell-O, and iced tea. Yesterday five of us boys had to peel five hundred pounds of potatoes. Then we had to wash seven hundred trays all told.

We got our shots today and is my arm ever sore tonight.

We also got our first taste of guard duty here although we didn't feel this was very serious business since we were in the middle of the United States. We went on at eleven and walked until six forty a.m., and don't think my feet and legs aren't tired tonight. I'll bet I walked at least fifteen miles today, and that's not stretching it either. All we could wear on our heads were those little caps. I sure got a good sunburn, too. I thought, while I was walking, if I'd have started out for home, I'd have been there.

I signed up for a $25 bond each month and the $6.60 out for my insurance. That will still leave me just about $25 spending money. I should think that would be enough.

Another day is gone, and I am still here in camp. Five of the twelve of us went to another camp this afternoon. So I don't suppose it will be much longer now. However, I wouldn't care if they would keep me here three weeks. This isn't such a bad place. Sure don't have to work too hard at times.

I had to help clean out the barracks today. We had all but three beds made out of the forty just before dinner. The sarge came in and told us to tear them up and put clean mattress covers on them. So it was four fifteen p.m. when we finished with that. Some new orders, he said. These town guys are hollering about the hard work they have to do. I just laugh at them.

Chapter Three

Camp Roberts Orientation

After about eight days at Camp Dodge, we boarded an eighteen-car train bound for California. The kitchen was set up in a boxcar where we got our chow. We had to go to the kitchen by walking through the train. There wasn't much to do on the train but play cards and watch the scenery. We went through the mountains at night, so we didn't see much scenery there, but the mountains we saw in the daylight were real pretty. In the mornings we'd wake up to find cinders in our hair and beds from the smoke and ash of the train's smoke stack even though the windows were closed.

I don't know if I should tell you where we are headed for or not. Maybe you have guessed by this time. I think I'll tell you anyhow. We are going to Camp Roberts [in California]. We are going in the field artillery. That's better than the walking man's army. Our basic training has been lengthened from thirteen weeks to seventeen weeks.

We arrived at Camp Roberts about two last night and didn't get to bed until five thirty. We are about 250 miles north from Los Angeles and about 120 miles from San Francisco. I think we are in Death Valley out here. We used to think Iowa was hot, but it doesn't hold a candle to this place. We are shut in all around by mountains, and there is no breeze at all any place. They say after you are here a week or so, you don't notice it—if you're still alive. I especially wonder how some of these former office workers are going to take it. They said it was 135 degrees here today. A fellow doesn't sweat when he's outside, for it seems just to be so darn dry. But we really sweat when we're inside. It's strange how hot it gets during the day and yet how cold it gets at night. On our beds we have sheets, a pillow case, two army blankets, and a comforter. We need almost all the bedding, too.

My first impression of Camp Roberts was its massive size. When the group that I rode with from Des Moines arrived, we were all split up into different barracks. There were just lines and lines of barracks that were about one hundred and fifty feet long, thirty feet wide, and two stories high. I am on the bottom floor, and it is quite a bit warmer upstairs. For it is just about like the attic at home. So you can have an idea what it would be like with the thermometer on about 130. On the inside of the barracks, there was one row of beds down each wall. Beside the head of the bed, there was a place about four feet wide, where you could hang clothes up. At the foot of the bed, there was a box called a footlocker where I could keep loose stuff.

I knew no one in my barracks except Bob Newton, who sat next to me on the train on the way out. He has the bunk next to mine. We were from all over the states, only four Muscatine County fellows out here counting myself. Later I became friends with a guy named Kenneth Fischer from Lincoln, Nebraska. We were together throughout our entire military duty until it was time to come home, and then we were split up.

The officers called us all (over one hundred and twenty) together to go over some papers that we filled out at Camp Dodge. They were just checking up on what we had done and our education before this time. Anyway after the officer got all through with mine, he said I could talk to our first sergeant, and after I finished my basic training, I could apply either for the Air Corps or to Officers' Candidate School. I have talked with some of the other fellows, and he didn't tell them that. So maybe I'll be wearing bars or flying home in another year.

Chapter Four

Life At Camp Roberts

Up until this noon I was wondering how anyone could get fat in the army, for we never felt like we were full at Camp Dodge. But here it is just like at home. The food is put on the table, and you can eat all you want of anything. For dinner we had pork roast and sausage, potatoes and gravy, cabbage salad, green beans, baked beans, noodles, spinach, bread, butter, jam, Kool-Aid drink, and apple pie for dessert. It was really a very good meal.

We don't have to march to mess. The mess hall is about a half a block from our barracks. There are twelve fellows seated at each table. There are two rows of tables in the mess hall with an aisle down the middle. We leave the table when we are finished. We don't wait until everyone is through eating. We have to take our dishes out and stack them up on a table in the kitchen.

But the cooks have some strange ways of doing things. They got us up on Sunday at 6:30 to eat breakfast. Most of us went back to bed after breakfast. I slept until about ten and was just getting up and ready for church, when the KPs [kitchen patrol] came over and said dinner would be ready in about twenty minutes. So I didn't go to church. If I had, I would have missed out on dinner.

Laundering clothes is a complicated chore. We can send our dirty clothes to the laundry, but it's hard to know when they will be back. So I send some to the laundry, but I always keep a set here just in case I need a clean outfit. I wash that outfit myself in the latrine. [The latrine is a small building attached to each barracks, where soldiers use the toilet, shower, shave, and write letters after lights are out in the barracks at night because there is always a light on in the latrine.] We have what they call GI soap. This is plenty strong. The way I wash my fatigues is this way. Soak them in soapy water and then lay them on the floor in the latrine. The floor is concrete. Then take soap and rub on them with a so-called GI brush. It is just the same as a big scrub brush like we used to have down cellar to scrub overshoes with. I scrub the fatigues with that on both sides and then work them up and down in a bucket of water or couple buckets of water. Rinse them good and don't wring them out but just hang them out with water running off of them. That way they don't wrinkle so much when they dry.

Chapter Five

Basic Training At Camp Roberts

Our training started the morning we arrived at Camp Roberts. They told us they could call on us for duty anytime in a twenty-four hour period. The first morning we watched three movies, heard a couple of long lectures, and got instructions about using our gas masks. Then we went outside for more or less general conditioning for starters, but some of those smokers and drinkers just about didn't make it. But the louies [lieutenants] didn't let up on them at all. They just kept pouring it on. Most of our marching is being done on the double now or rather on the run. That's about the way everything is done. And it just about wears the louies out, too.

For variety, every Monday morning we had what they called an obstacle course to conquer. We'd walk out seven miles and run back through the timber and a dry riverbed that had trees, logs, and other obstacles embedded in it. There was a hill there called Agony Hill; it was relatively steep, and after going through that riverbed, which was loose sand about ankle deep, it was just about all I could do to get up that hill. I'm sure glad we didn't have to carry our packs.

We had little hikes like this quite often to keep us fit and trim. We go on a so-called forced march tomorrow morning. It is eight miles long, and we walk it in eighty minutes with a full pack. We are going out on a hike tonight, and we'll be out all night. We hiked ten miles and ate supper out in the field. We had to hike with a full field pack, which weighs about forty-five to fifty pounds. My feet are sort of tired tonight, but nevertheless, we made it in pretty fair shape. All of our platoon came in all together, and it was the only platoon that did. So I guess we have most of the so-called muscular men. We are going to get the two and one-half mile obstacle course tomorrow. It is going to be tough, but I am all set and will finish the cockeyed thing if it's the last thing I do. In fact, I think I could just about run the louie who is going to lead it to death. Several of the fellows are over at the PX [store for soldiers run by the military] tonight drinking beer. I'm afraid they will regret it by tomorrow. We ran the long obstacle course just before dinner. It wasn't bad. In fact, I was hardly puffing when we finished it. We run it again tomorrow morning. We leave the barracks at six forty and walk out to the starting point, which is three miles, then run back on a second course, which is more than three miles. However, I am getting so I don't mind it.

As the days went on, the marches began to become more varied. Thursday night we had a full pack and walked eight miles out. We ate supper and put up our tents then went to bed. But sleeping on the ground with no pillow—it doesn't go very good. They got us up at three forty-five and made us take our tents and stuff down and pack up and move out. It was so dark you couldn't see a thing but just had to feel what we were doing. We got to ride back in the trucks that morning.

We did the darndest thing out in the field today. We carried gravel in gunny sacks. We carried it for about a distance from our place over to Mark's. [Uncle Mark Collier's farm was about one-eighth mile west of ours.] We had twelve trucks out there and could have hauled it in them just as well as not. But that wouldn't take as long and would be a lot easier for us.

On another day we had a little practice on dirty fighting. We were shown blows that would kill a man with our bare, flat hand. Then we had two hours of guerilla warfare. This afternoon we had two hours of what they call jungle firing with our rifles. We fire those from our hips. This afternoon we had exercise for an hour then class on machine guns. Then we had two hours of extended order. That is sneaking up on the other side without them seeing us. We call it playing cops and robbers.


Excerpted from MY SIDE OF THE STORY by G. Warren Collier Judy Collier Johnson Copyright © 2012 by G. Warren Collier and Judy Collier Johnson. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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