Ferry G. Schoonover
Camp Butner, North Carolina
We arrived in Butner to find the barracks there were painted brown, and the Camp appeared to be much older than Camp Wolters or Camp Rucker. The 77th Infantry Division had trained there prior to our arrival. After we had settled in, we learned that one-half of each convoy was going to leave on 15-day furoughs and two weeks later the rest would be eligible to depart for home. I happened to be in the first wave, and often thought that I sure was lucky to get to go home again so soon!! There was only one big problem—I hadn't been paid and so was very short of cash! One of my good buddies—Bob Lee from Detroit lent me the money to pay for the train ticket back to Michigan.
A whole bunch of us took a bus into Danville, Virginia to the train station. The bus driver was soon tired out, so several of the 35th G.I.s took a turn assisting him, and we arrived in Danville safely and in plenty of time to catch our train. It was about a 70 to 80 mile trip. Then we arrived we found the station was old and beat—full of Sailors and Marines. We purchased our tickets and of course had to wait on the train heading north to Detroit.
Of course my family was very surprised to see me back home on another leave!! Again, I enjoyed being with my brothers, parents, and friends, and most of all some more home cooking and some more of Mom's pies and bread. This made it all the harder to return back to Camp Butner.
On returning to Camp, we did a lot of training, plus some more radio classes, while we waited for the other half of Anti-Tank convoys to return from their two-week furoughs. When we were all together again, the 134th regiment and the 137th received orders to go by convoy to the mountains in West Virginia for mountain climbing maneuvers. It was about a 400-mile trip across Virginia to our destination. The trip involved one stopover at Virginia Military Institute to Camp the night on their grounds. We pitched our pup tents in neat rows, each convoy in their own designated area. In the morning we again mounted up and continued our journey to the mountain training area.
West Virginia Mountain Maneuvers
An advance party had been sent to learn the art of mountain climbing and repelling on Seneca rocks, and these men would teach us what they had learned!!
On arriving there we were issued a two-man nylon tent, insulated snow pack boots and other winter clothing and equipment to use while training there, as the weather in the mountains was mighty cold at that time of year with snow. For the mountain climbing and repelling we used cliffs above a slanting hill above a good-sized river. We spent several days climbing up these cliffs freehand, and then learned to repell down them with ropes. The repelling was something that I really enjoyed and doing it was an exciting experience!! Lt. Kjer was one of our instructors and he emphasized all of the precautions to be taken. One of these was to never hang on to bushes, rocks or rocks, as too many times they would break loose. Later that same day he took a hold of a small bush while repelling—It up rooted and he plunged down the cliff, and hit the ground on his back, and bounced like a rubber ball and slid down the slope toward the river. The fall broke his back and he was taken to the hospital where he eventually recovered—he never returned to the 35th Division. That accident ended our training for the day—In fact we never resumed that part of the mountain training—the next day word came down that all the ropes that we were using had been condemed as being unsafe!! The memory of Lt. Kjers body bouncing when he hit the ground is one thing that I’ll never ever forget!!!
On one of our problems, we were sent out in the mountains near a gristmill to deploy around the area on a guarding mission. At a mountain cabin nearby lived a couple and her blind brother— their son was in the Army and her brother was staying with them during the winter months. The brother had a small house closeby, so they invited us to stay in his house, as they realized just how cold it was outside. The whole bunch of us stayed there and slept wall-to-wall on the floor keeping warm with the stove there and the wood they provided!! He made corn brooms in part of his house. We really weren't supposed to be inside of a building but out in the surrounding woods. Nothing was ever said about it by any of our officers. We deeply appreciated the generosity and kindness of the couple and her blind brother!!
During the maneuvers the rifle and heavy weapons companies had to cross the swollen black water cat'non river where three enlisted men and one officer lost their lives.
When the maneuvers were nearly over, we ended up in a Monongahela National Forest Park. The word was passed around not to damage any trees or to remove any pine boughs from them. The ground was covered with deep snow and the temperture was below zero on top of the mountain where we Camped, so many of the pine trees were trimmed of their boughs free of charge by the men of the Santa Fe Division. Some of us decided to sleep in our truck, but nearly froze to death doing it!! When the maneuvers ended, we again moved by convoy—our destination—Camp Butner, North Carolina. The route back was the same one we traveled going to West Virginia, and we again spent one night Camping on the grounds at Virginia Military Institute near Lexington. Like many of the men I journeyed into Lexington to sightsee and to find a place to buy a decent meal!!
Back at Camp Butner N.C.
During my stay in Camp Butner I never visited Durham, but took all of my passes to Raleigh, the State capital. One weekend I stayed in town sleeping in the basement of a large church—the State Capital Building was there, plus North Carolina State University and there were many good city parks and stores to shop in. Most of my other buddies preferred Durham as it was the home of Duke University and an all girls College!!
Here the Division was reviewed in a combat exercise by secretary of war Patterson and senator Harry Truman, who had served in the 35th in the First World War in the artillery. The doughboys went under machine gun fire and followed artillery in one of the most realistic combat-like exercises attempted by any unit prior to combat!!
The Division had to take part in an Army fitness test —this involved many forms of physical exercises ending with a three-mile hike with full pack and our rifles— this hike was to be completed in 50 minutes or less and included everyone from the company—truckdrivers, cooks, the mess Sergeant, the supply Sergeant—all had to take part!! Many of us younger, better-conditioned men helped the others by toting their rifles and encouraging them on!! Everyone in Anti-Tank Company was able to finish the hike in less than the time alloted!! Much to our supprise our company had finished first among the companies in the whole Division—our reward was a three-day pass to anywhere we wished to go!!
At this time brother Donald was stationed in the Signal Corps. In Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, so somehow we were able to plan on a meeting in Washington D.C. My good buddy Marvin Elkins from Corunna, Michigan, was also planning on spending his pass there too—he had a sister that was in the waves stationed at the Pentagon building—so we planned to travel together on the train and to get a room there. After arriving at Union Station, we found a room to rent not far from the White House on a side street—It wasn't anything fancy and in an older neighborhood. Don wasn't due to arrive for a day or so, because his pass was not for the same day as mine, so we took off and went to the Pentagon building to find Elkin’s sister. For two days she showed us all around D.C.
When Don did arrive (can't recall how we planned a place to meet) he and I spent the rest of my pass together. I hadn’t seen him in over a year and one half, so we did enjoy the time together!!
During the time there we saw a lot of the National Capital—Arlington National Cemetery—my uncle Ferry Houghten (1\10thers brother) was buried there—he had died a short time before while serving in the Navy as an officer. While visiting there we went through General Robert E. Lee’s home and his slave quarters, and saw the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Other places we visited were the Smithsonian Institute, the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and Lafayette Park—which was across the street from the White House. Pepsi Cola also had a canteen nearby for service men—there they sold hot dogs and hamburgers at a very reasonable price, and provided all the free drinks of Pepsi Cola a serviceman desired!! This really set great with me! So I’ll always be a Pepsi fan!!
Finally the time arrived for Elkins and I to end our stay in D.C. and to return to Butner and so we said good-bye to Don and Elkins’ sister and went down to Union Station to board our train. Don remained in D.C. until his pass ended—he rented the same room Elkins and I had rented for his two remaining pass days.
I had been a Private-First-Class for a while, and was given a promotion to Technician-Fifth-Grade—It was a Corporal with a "T" under it while at Camp Butner. This was a rating preverent to cooks, mechanics, radio operators, our mallman, and truck and jeep drivers. The rating gave no authority over any other soldier, but at least Corporal’s pay went with it!!!
We received a new Company Commander—Captain Robert E. Richardson (former Company Commander of Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Company) was given command of Anti-Tank Company, 137th Infantry Regiment. Our former Company Commander Lt. Rex Hopper was to have a different position in the Company—he was someone everybody looked up to and respected, and perhaps the best officer I had ever met in the Army!!! Shortly after phit., Peyton (the old mess Sergeant in Regimental Headquarters under Capt. Richardson) came into the Company and was promptly given a Private First Class rank only because he was an old cronie of the Captain!!!
Camp Kilmer, New Jersey
On may 4, 1944 we departed from Camp Butner by train to go to Camp Kilmer and we knew that we were headed for overseas duty in Europe. Camp Kilmer (named for Joyce Kilmer who wrote the poem "trees" was located near Elizabeth and not far from New York City. Because I didn't waste my money, I was able to get a pass nearly every day to go to New York City. By now I was smart enough to know that the ones that stayed in camp would end up with all of the dirty details!!
On these passes many times I would take the bus to NYC with my Alabama buddies Frank Bailey and Odis Isbell and Charles Robbins from Oliver Springs, Tennessee. While there we rode the subways out to Coney Island (we rode the roller coaster there), to Washington Square, the Empire State building, Central Park, Palisades Park, Times Square, and a lot of other NYC landmarks!!
Since Anti-Tank Company did not have their own kitchen, the food was all cooked in one of the large kitchens and we ate in a large dining hall. The food left much to be desired as some of it was almost uneatable, but since I went on pass a lot and ate away from the mess hall, I sure wasn’t starving to death!!! One of the meals I really remember was the enormous amount of tough liver the cooks prepared and how terrible it tasted—nearly all of it was eaten by the garbarge cans!!
The question of having $10,000 worth of government life insurance before one could go overseas for combat duty came up at this time. When I entered the service, I decided that I only desired to have a $5,000 policy as that had cost $3.25 every month and the larger policy was twice that. Anyway everyone without the full amount were called aside for a sales talk, but I stubbornly refused to change policy!! I could plainly see that the officers were disgusted with me, but the more they talked the stubborner I got!! They said "wouldn't you lIke for your parents to have $10,000 if you were killed over there.” To this I replied, "no, I believe they woud be happy with the $5,000." Finally I gave them my answer, "if you want me to have the full amount of insurance, you pay for it, as I am not going to sign any paper to authorize the deduction from my pay check!! So I went overseas with my $5,000 policy—more than lIkely the only one in the Santa Fe Division!!
Then I got the news that I and several other men were not qualified on the M-1 carbine or the M-l garand rifles, so we were carted off to the rifle range at Camp Dix, New Jersey to fire the weapons to qualify—can't recall how well I did, but any way they were satisfied with my making expert or sharpshooter on both weapons. The thirty caliber and .50 caliber machine guns, the Thompson sub machine gun and the .45 caliber pistol were all guns that were out of my spere of weapons. At one time I did take instruction and fired one of our bazookas!! It was a scary situation!!
Our time at Camp Kilmer came to an end and we went up to the harbor in New York City and walked up the gang-plank of the S.S. Thomas H. Berry and set sail on may 11, 1944, past the Statue of Liberty, out into the Atlantic Ocean bound for merry old England!! The entire 137th Infantry Regiment was aboard!