Ferry G. Schoonover
When we arrived at Camp Rucker, we took over the barracks formally occupied by the 81st infantry division (the wildcat division). The whole camp was a mess for it being a new camp, and every company had a tremendous job of cleaning
The barracks, mess halls, and the entire camp area!! The 35th division was an outfit that believed in good housekeeping, and when ever we would leave a camp, everything had to be spick and span!!! This was undoubtedly due to the quality of the officers and men that made up the units of our division!!
In place of our old 37 mm: anti-tank guns we were given 57 mm: anti-tank guns-- these were bigger and more powerful, and of course required the men to train on them. This meant a lot of gun drills to become acquainted, and many trips to the anti-tank gun firing range. The target on the range was a movable target mounted on rails. Here I spent most of my time while out there, helping operate and repa1r the targets. Although I had never fired the 57mm, by some mysterious reason I was qualified as an anti-tank gunner!!!
At Rucker, Roland Robins and I suddenly became company messengers! I still don't know what this involved to this day, but it must have been the prelude to my finally becoming a radio operator! We both got into a bit of trouble one Saturday at the weekly inspection-- the inspecting officer took a quick look at our M-1 rifles and declared both of them very dirty!! Of course the platoon sergeant was told to give us a little punishment and deny us any passes for the weekend until the chore was completed to his satisfaction. We were to scrub all the windows in the upsta1rs of the our barracks. We both took this with a grain of salt and went to work on the job--finishing before noon -free to do what we wanted--as for myself I always felt that my rifle wasn't dirty, but they needed a couple of scrape-goats to clean those windows!!!!
Summer in Alabama was a hot torrid season, and during our stay there we made almost daily marches out to training areas and also quite a number of hikes of twenty-five miles or less. Our canteens were al ways full when we departed from our barracks and this meant that we had to use a certain amount of caution as to the amount of water we drank when we had our ten-l\1inute breaks. On one of the marches I had started from camp feeling half sick and as we progressed up and down those red clay hills, the men began to fallout and I felt worser, and worser!! I told the officer-in-charge that I wasn't feeling too good, so he said: "fall out with the other drop-outs, and make sure that they all get to the medics. So I did, and that was the only time I failed to complete a march!
Captain Donnellan left us sometime during our stay at Rucker and 1st lt. Rex hopper was made company commander of anti-tank co. He was a big, big man, that all of the anti-tankers greatly admired, and respected--from Arizona. On many of the marches out to train we would end up near the camp reservoir (lake Tholocco), and he would let us take a dip in the water below the dam--of course in our birthday suits!!!! This not only cooled us off, but was a lot of fun.
On one of overnight problems we went out to the field, and I was assigned to one of the 57 mm gun squads. That night we didn't pitch our tents, but just slept on the ground in our fatigues. Finally morning dawned and the sun came up and I awoke --lo and behold!! Here I was in the middle of no-where-all by my lonesome--everyone else had left!! So I started out walking in the hopes of locating the anti-tankers, and finally ran into some other 35th division men and asked them if they had seen any of our guns, and they gave me directions to one. When getting there, I found it was one of our squads, but not the one I was assigned to. The sergeant in charge told me to stay with them until the problem ended!! When I confronted the sergeant I was assigned to he said: "I forgot to wake you up when we left, because I hadn't remembered you being with my men. I'm very sorry about that!" guess I could feel mighty lucky a jeep or army truck didn't run over me!!
One of my buddies, Eugene Burr of Sayre, Alabama asked me if I wanted to write to a nice girl from near where his girlfriend lived. I said: "Heck no, I don't want to write to any girl period!" he kept on bugging me about how this was really a nice girl, and it soon seemed that he was trying to match us up!!! Getting tired of the bugging, finally I told him to give me her address and I would write to her. Thought her first name was Senella, but later learned that her "g" just looked like an "s". She sent me a picture of herself, and boy was I impressed --she was a mighty good-looking gal!! It wasn't long until he asked me if I wanted to get a pass and go up to Birmingham to meet her. Of course I agreed to go!! On a Saturday we took the camp bus to Ozark, boarded the big dog (greyhound) to the Birmingham station. Quite a few of our buddies also took the bus--Odis Isbell, Frank Bailey, John Lawrence, Charles Brown, and Grady l. Davis. Then we had to go over to the place where the old bus ran out to Brookside and the other small towns north and west of Birmingham. We exited the bus at his girlfriend’s house, out a ways from Brookside, only to discover that his girlfriend and her sister were at a nearby church. So we walked over there and when the girls saw us they came out. We then footed it over to Brookside to where Genella lived. One of our buddies (Charles Robbins) had also came up to date Geraldine's sister Wanetta, and he was waiting for us there. The Colburn house was the middle one in a row of five fairly new homes just out of Brookside.
Finally I was to meet Genella Colburn and she was as shy as I was, but a very pretty seventeen-year-old girl that I liked immediately!! My first thought was that she was much too good looking for a guy like me!! Guess-we had a bite to eat and then boarded the bus to go back to Birmingham to see a movie. We saw the movie called "Stage Door Canteen" at one of the large theaters there. Of course I put my arm around her and we did a little smooching—she liked it and of course I didn't complain, as I had decided that she was the girl for me!!! After the movie we took the girls to the Brookside bus station and after they left we went to the greyhound depot to get the bus back to Camp Rucker.
Whenever possible I would get a pass and proceed up to Brookside to her house. Usually after Sunday dinner Genella and I would go into Birmingham to see a movie or walked down to the little village of Brookside to get the mail or a sundae. Saturday nights I would find a place to stay in Birmingham at the Salvation Army or a room at a small hotel. Genella’s family was very kind to me every time I went there. She had a brother in the air force in Peru - Cecil, an older sister- Geneva Elliott-that had a small son- Terriel, a brother-Euel- lived next door and had a six year old son-Lecil, and a younger brother-Ralph- thirteen years old.
Brookside was about fourteen miles northeast of Birmingham—a small coal-mining town with mountains surrounding it and five-mile creek flowing around the perimeter of the town. There were several grocery stores there, a drug store, two clothing stores, a state liquor outlet, post -office, and a hardware store. The busy rail line was across the road from the Colburn home, and during the war the frequent long trains carrying coal shook the whole neighborhood! !
It was said that many years ago, Wallace Beery made a silent movie there called "black gold or black diamonds" about the coal mining and coke industry. This was based on a book by the same name.
During our stay at Camp Rucker, we spent much of our time out in the field on tactical problems that involved a week, or sometimes as much as two weeks. On one such exercise I was buddied up with Asbury—he was from Oklahoma and went by the name of "Peapicker" and we became good friends.
We had pitched our two shelter halves together to form a pup tent to sleep in. In one area of the camp there was a spring that had a pipe running out of it—that had to be the best tasting water that any of us had ever drank!! While in tids area one of our officers wasn't too pleased with the amount of pull it took to pull the trigger on our new carbines, so he decided to file the seers on them to make them easier to fire!!
It sure made them easier, you can bet, but also turned them into semi-automatics—firing more than one round at a pull of the trigger!!!! All of this hiking out to the training areas and the many nights we spent out in the surrounding forests helped us get into physical condition for future combat duty.
The anti-tank co. Conducted some radio and other communications classes during the fall, since I had finally became one of the radio operators, Sgt. Jesse Isenagle (a Garden City, Kansas national guardsman) and I taught some of the others from the company code, radio procedure, and other communication skills. At that time I had been given the one stripe of a Private First Class. My Camp Wolters buddy Bob Oster was my fellow radio operator.
One of the courses that we had to go through besides the obstacle course was the infiltration course—it was a place where we had to crawl across an open space with our rifles, under barbwire entanglements, with machine guns firing over our heads. I set out determined that I would be the first man to complete the course and when I arrived at the finishing point I discovered that I had come in second!!! Our commanding officer—first Lt. Rex Hopper was already there!!!
Late in September I was told to report to the orderly room, and was informed that I would be leaving around October first to go up to the infantry school, near Columbus, Georgia to Fort Benning to attend the advanced communication course. As usual I was thrilled with the thought of being on the road again and going to a new camp to attend school!!! The worst thing about the whole deal was leaving all of my buddies and perhaps not being able to go up to see Genella on the weekends.
I packed my belongings and was taken into Ozark where I caught the small bus that ran between there and Columbus. The ride was a lonely one, but I did enjoy the scenery--finally the bus arrived in Columbus (my first time to be in the state of Georgia) where I was provided transportation into ft. Benning. The school and the barracks were both in the main post area. The barracks were huge brick two story buildings and our class enlisted communication course #54 was billeted on the second floor of one of the buildings. This was part of the infantry school that also trained all the new second lieutenants to serve in the infantry.
Fort Benning, Georgia
Eventually all of the men in the class arrived—they were from all of the infantry Divisions in the Army, plus paratroopers, Marines, and one man from the 442nd infantry regiment—all of the enlisted men were Japanese-Americans.
The entire class (enlisted communication course # 34) was housed on the second floor of one of the huge brick buildings in double-decker bunks. The view out the windows was the paratrooper training area—the various towers and other training facilities. It was tiring to watch these soldiers—every movement was on the double and Gung-ho!!! Made us happy that we didn’t join their outfit!! The mess hall was on the first floor.
It wasn’t long before I became acquainted with the men in the nearby bunks—above me was an American Indian-Succahosie was his name, but the spelling may be wrong—we called him "chief". Beside me were herb baker from New Hampshire; Al Miller from Hickory, North Carolina; and Alex Greensher from the Bronx in New York state. They were my best friends there and we made many trips down to the main post PX to enjoy the "best hamburgers that I’ve ever tasted"!!
Our course started out with Morse code, both receiving and transmitting. I had learned it at Camp Wolters and it all came back to me quickly and it wasn’t long until I had passed the 20 words-a-minute— this was the maximum taught there, as this was about all a person could print by hand. Working the key to transmit was a little difficult for me to catch on to, but finally it too was accomplished!! This course not only involved field radio operation, but courses in the work done by the wire section, the message center section, and the intelligence section of both the infantry regiment and the three battalions of the regiments.
During our stay at benning, we were not given close order drill, K.P., guard duty, or required to go on any hikes. We did march back and forth to the school, and eventually did spend a lot of time going out in the surrounding areas to set up and operate the radio sets. There also were many tests and exams to be taken!! Naturally we were required to go to the beaut1ful main post theater to view many Army films on disease, "Why We Fight", and various other Army topics!! We were warned not to cross the "Chatahoochie River" to go to phoenix city, as it not only was off limits to all military personell, but was also "Sin City U.S.A."!!! But we were allowed passes to Columbus, and that is where I ended up to shop the many Army supply stores there. Whenever possibble, iwould catch the Camp buses (they were converted automobile carriers) into Columbus to the Greyhound station and then ride up to Birmingham and Brookside to see Genella.
Just can't recall how many times that I was able to make the journey up to see Genella, but I do remember that I had great plans to spend Christmas day with her and her family, and after awakening that morning I was to leave the Camp, but the weather didn't cooperate!! In the nighttime it had rained and frozen—one couldn't even walk outside—the Camp buses and Greyhound buses were all confined to their kennels!! It wasn't until after the war ended that I saw her again!! But we did write to each other quite often in the meantime!! Of course I spent the day in the barracks and wished that I was in brookside in the colburn home with Genella!!!
During this Christmas holiday, my fellow Anti-Tank Co. Radio operator—bob oster had been also sent to benning to attend the communication course in a different class than mine. He had his motorcycle with him, and went up to Atlanta to visit an aunt that lived there. He was on his way on the icy highway and slid off the road into a ditch. Someone came along and found him and he ended up in the Fort Benning hospital with a broken neck. When I visited him, he had a cast from his waist over his head with just his face visible—he looked like "the phantom,” but was in good spirits. During a trip to Niagara Falls way after wars’ end I visited him in Avon Lake, Ohio and he said that he had fully recovered and had been sent overseas to serve in another outfit.
When our schooling was nearly over, word got around that many of the men were being granted furloughs and delay on route (a certain number of days of leave, plus traveling time). On hearing this, I penned a request to the 137th regimental personnel officer—Capt. Arthur Kraft, asking for some leave time, and not really expecting any results—the answer came giving me 10 days plus traveling time. When the classes ended we were all given a certificate noting that we had successfully completed the infantry school course in ECC-34!!
Finally the time came to say goodbye, and I hated to leave all the men I had became acquainted with, so I packed my belongings and took either the train or bus to detroit, where my dad picked me up at the station. Enjoyed being home that 10 days in January 1944 in the beautiful wintertime and finally getting some of mom's home cooking!!!
My delay-on-route papers had a specific date that I was to report to Camp Forrest, Tennessee to again be back with the Anti-Tank Co. and my buddies! The outfit was just finishing the Tennessee maneuvers in the surrounding countryside. Dad and Mom took me to Detroit to the train station to catch the train to Nashville, and then to Tullahoma, where I was to be picked up and transported to Camp Forrest. The stay in Camp Forrest was not the greatest!! Seems the Camp regulars were always after someone to do all their dirty details—I managed to duck all of them by making myself scarce!! Finally one of the Anti-Tank Co. Jeeps arrived to take me back to the outfit.
The whole Anti-Tank Co. Was camped in their pup tents in a patch of woods with a big campfire blazing and everyone gathered around trying to keep warm—after all it was January!! We all said "hello" to each other and our company commander-Rex Hopper shook my hand and said: “we have had a lot of good reports from Fort Benning about your performance there!” My reply to him was that I had done my very best!! This made me feel appreciated.
My duffel bag and other luggage were shipped from Fort Benning, but had not caught up with me, so one of my good friends—Sgt. W.A.A. Walker - the Reconisson Sergeant of our company-he was from Portland, Oregon and owned a couple of drive-in restaurants there. Although he was well-to-do and knew General Dwight Eisenhower and many Hollywood celebrities, he was one of the kindest most understanding men in our company, said I could bunk in his pup tent for the night as he had an entire tent to himself. This was to be the last night of maneuvers, and early in the morning we would be moving out in convoy across Tenessee and North Carolina to a new Camp. Boy! Was I lucky to get back to the 35th the night before they departed for a new area!
We were awakened early in the morning, packed our trucks, and mounted up for the long trip ahead of us. It was the eighteenth of January 1944. The trip itself was beautiful as we journeyed across Tennessee over the Smokey Mountains. One could understand why they were called the smokey mountains—the haze and fog hung over them like a cloud of smoke. The roads over them were winding, narrow, and dangerous—our truck drivers sure did a great job of driving, as this trip was nearly 500 miles long. Our trip was all well planned—routes, places to stop over for the night, places to chow down, exact places to stop for rest and breaks. There were no problems with our Army vehicles and for my part I enjoyed every mile of the trip!!