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29TH DIVISION - WWII STORIES

 

John FOWLER

 

29th Infantry Division

104th Medical Battalion

B Company

I was drafted into the Army on my 18th birthday. At least, on my birthday I got my draft notice and, of course, they gave me six-month deferral to get my high-school education finished, which I didn't want but my mother did and she insisted. I was sworn in at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis and from there they sent me to Camp Barkley, Texas. I thought I was going into the Air Force as I had some training as an airplane mechanic. But, the Army had other ideas and I ended up at Camp Barkley as an inductee in the medical field where I learned how to be an aid man and a litter bearer, and then, of course, an ambulance driver. Camp Barkley is located right close to Abilene, Texas, and we were out in the middle of I guess a bunch of sand, because the sand would blow all day coming from the north and all night it would blow back to the south. It was hot, and it wasn't a very pleasant experience. Of course, basic training never is for an 18-year-old. I stayed there for 17 weeks. I got a five-day furlough after the 17 weeks were over with, and this put me home just a little bit after my 19th birthday. From there, we went back to Camp Barkley, and then around Dec. 20 we left Camp Barkley on a train not knowing where we were going. But, they did give us OD uniforms, which were the heavy wool uniforms, and all of us kind of figured that we would not be going to the South Pacific (which we wouldn't be). When we left Camp Barkley, it was about in the middle of the day, and the sun was really hot somewhere around 90. We boarded the train and they pulled the shades down and we couldn't tell where we were going. In the middle of the night one of the guys got brave enough to raise up one of the shades and look out, and he said we were headed in a northerly direction. That I guess we were, because the next morning we were in the railroad yards in Chicago. Two or three of the fellows were from Chicago, and, boy, they were having a fit because they couldn't even get out there to make a telephone call to their moms and dads and so forth. We ended up later that night in an Army barracks just outside of Youngstown, Ohio, and that was called Camp Shenango, Pa. That camp I think is still there according to my cousin who did live in that area. We stayed there and when we got off the train to go into the barracks, they did not have anything ready. We had not eaten for a day and a half except for K-Rations, and we found 2 1/2 feet of snow on the ground and temperatures pretty close to zero. We thought about trying to stay warm. That was hard.

We went from there on up to an Army camp outside of New York, and from there we went aboard a ship down in the New York harbor, the USS Acquatania. It was an old luxury ship, and as we got on we looked down the pier and saw the Queen Mary was loading at the same time. They had about 5,000 people on that ship, and we started off. There were some Canadians on there, and I got a chance to talk to a couple of the fellows from Canada. Later the next day on New Year's Eve we pulled out of the harbor and we were on our way. It took us 11 days to cross. Our ship was much slower than the Queen Mary, and it seems as though it was the next day sometime in the late morning we saw this spot or we knew it was a boat on the horizon behind us. By noontime, that boat went by us and it was the Queen Mary. By 2 o'clock in the afternoon it was gone. That is how much faster it was than we were. The weather at that time was getting warm. The reason for that was we were headed down toward Bermuda. That is where we came across. The weather was really nice for about two days, and then it started getting rough.

We landed in Scotland. We went into what they called the "Birth of Fifth," which is an inlet up there in Scotland, and we were just above Greenwich, Scotland. They put us on barges in this inlet and took us to shore, and then we went up into some barracks. They weren't really barracks; they were warehouses that they had used. They gave us a mat of straw and that is where we stayed that night. The next morning, we boarded trains and we went into England. I don't know the name of the town that we were close to, but these barracks were all brick, and the rumor was that these barracks were the West Point of England. There we did get some good food, and we were assigned duties like everybody else, and there were blackouts. They had two thicknesses of heavy tapestry over the windows, and you weren't allowed to even break them. The second night we were there, there was an air raid. We realized we were in the war zone now. The bombs weren't dropped on us, but we could see the airplanes and the spotlights of the German bombers. We did get a chance to go into town and get some of that limey beer one night. Later in the week, we were mustered up and given our travel orders and where we were to go. We got on a train and at that time the train went south and we went down to Plymouth, England. That is where I joined the 29th Infantry Division.

We ended up in a little town, Bodman, in the southern part of England, below Plymouth. We stayed there, and I got into more training with just the people from the 29th. I was in Company B of 104th Medical Battalion. Company B was assigned into the 116th Regiment of the 29th Division. The climate over there is very wet and foggy. Of course, we were over there at the time of year when a lot of that happened. But they took us over there into the Bodman moors where we got our training; i.e., how to carry a stretcher over rough ground and how to take care of wounded if we got them. It was all improvised more or less. We did move around loading in ambulances and driving to a different spot. One time we got out into a farm area and the 6x6 trucks that were taking us went one way and the ambulances went the other way and all of our gear was in the ambulances. So that night, we learned how to keep warm when you didn't have any clothes or blankets to keep warm with. We gathered straw up, and four or five of us huddled together and covered ourselves with straw. We made it through the night all right. It never got down to freezing but it was cold. It wasn't as nice as being in the barracks by a long shot.

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