Ferry G. Schoonover
The following was scanned in from a print out provided by Mr. Schoonover. At the time, he did not have a computer file to provide us, and the recognition software is less than perfect. We did all we could to fill in the gaps of words that the software did not recognize, but some innacuracies due to the digitization process may exist. Many thanks to Ferry's son, Jim, for allowing us to use to share his fathers accounts.
This book has been put together by what I remember about the time I spent with the anti-tank company, 137th infantry regiment, 35th infantry division, with a lot of help from the 35th division history book, the 137th infantry regimental history book and the daily after-battle reports of my regiment—the 137th infantry. It was a great experience serving with the brave men of the 35th!!
Ferry G. Schoonover
Technician 4th Grade
137th Infantry Regiment
The war years--1940 to 1950
In 1940 there wasn’t any jobs available in the automobile industry or anywhere else, so I worked home on the farm, and also on the farms of neighbors--- these jobs were mostly for Lou Schultz on his farm ---hating, threshing, and silo filling. Although this was hard work, Mr. Schultz always treated me fair, and his mother always fed me at lunchtime with a great meal! He also sent me to work for his neighbors when they threshed--- the Geberts', Heinzs', Millers' and Harold Tessmer.
At home there was always lots of work to be done. Dad raised quite a lot of vegetables---green beans-lima beans-potatoes. He also trucked potatoes, eggs, and all kinds of poultry. He would go up into the "thumb" area of Michigan to buy from farmers, and then would haul the things he had bought down to Detroit, Highland Park, Hazel Park and Hamtramck to the family owned grocery stores. The potatoes were usually in bushels or in 100 lb. Bags, and had to be carried down to the basement of the stores. The poultry was sold live, as each store would process them, as they were needed. He also dealt with a hospital on Carpenter Street and a junkyard on six-mile road. The junkyard was run by two very kind Jewish gentlemen--- when they would get a real good used automobile in, they would tell dad, and if he wanted it, he would pay for it with eggs, poultry, and produce!!!
Much of the winter was spent cutting wood for my mother’s cook stove---she made her own bread and some of the best rolls---plus a lot of pies. She al ways asked us on our birthdays if we wanted a cake or a pumpkin pie---nearly al ways we would choose the pie--- this meant we would have an entire pumpkin pie to eat ourselves!!!
The economy was improving in 1941, so in April I applied for a job in Pontiac at the general motors Pontiac motor division. The job was in the axle plant on the 11 pm to 7 am shift working on pinion gears. This involved working on milling machines, drill presses, lathes, stamping machines, and sometimes they would send me to other departments to work on the automatic gear making machines and Bullard machines. The pay was, after 30 days, a few cents over a dollar an hour. Since we worked only 37 1/2 hours during the week, we had to return on Saturday night to work an additional 5 hours--- this would make a gross check of about $43.00 a week.
One day dad came up stairs to my room and asked me if I had any money--having accu1vfuated several of my pay checks, I told him "yes" and asked him how much he needed--figured he was short on his payment on the farm. When president Roosevelt closed the banks, they demanded payment of
Anything owed them--dad had borrowed money on his property and because of the depression wasn't able to give them the payments. He ended up losing the farm to the bank, but later bought it back. The funny thing about this is that the former bank president was the one that ended up with it and who knows how many other people’s property!!!!
When the changeover came for the 1942 models, there was a layoff, but I was called back to work, not in the axle dept. This time it was in the sheet metal section. They put me on a large draw die press, and I was too short for the job. And became very sore, so I complained and was put on another job. The war was making steel very hard to get ---the factory was using all the old steel they could find---this meant an end to auto production early in December and a permanent lay-off for me and thousands of other workers.
One day while listening to my favorite music on WJBK or WJLB, suddenly the music stopped, and the announcement came that the Japs had sneaked in and had bombed pearl harbor and destroyed many of our ships that were in the Navy yard there--this was Dec. 7, 1941. War was declared on Japan and soon after on their allies---nazi Germany! This not only saddened me, but every other American.
Brother Carl had been drafted into the $21.00 a month army earlier in 1941, had been sent to camp Polk in Louisiana for basic training, after which he was transferred to fort Knox, Kentucky to attend mechanics school---he was in the third armored division. In the summer mom and dad, and several of my brothers made a trip there to visit him. Some of us boys stayed home to look after the farm. In December before the war started, Carl’s feet started to bother him and the army gave him a choice---an operation on his feet with no guarantee that he would ever walk again or a medical discharge!! Of course he took the discharge and came home, and worked at general motors truck and coach during the war.
When I worked at Pontiac motor I purchased my first automobile---a 1937 dodge four-door sedan for $325.00 from "Hodges for Dodges" in Ferndale. It was a great car and after the war ended, I drove it for many more years. It was a stick shift and had a fine western- auto "wizard" radio in it.
Just before war was declared, dad, Carl and I ordered a Farmall "A" tractor with plow, starter and lights. There was some concern because of the war whether we would receive it---we did around Christmas time. It cost $750.00. It could do a lot more work than 2 horses, and used only about one gallon of gasoline an hour! Later a cultivator was bought for it. While pulling the corn binder, I turned too short, and punctured one of rear tires--- this made me a lot more careful, when I drove it ---as I had to pay to have it vulcanized!!!!
One of my good friends---earl Parrott--decided to join the u.s. coastguard and wanted me to also join, but I declined. When he left to go I had the pleasure of driving hi1vi and his father and mother down to Detroit to the train station, where he left for his military service.
On about July 1, 1942 the boys that were 20 years old became eligible for the draft and as I turned 20 on my last birthday in November, I was of draft age!!!!
Not having a job, as jobs were very hard to get, I decided to help out on the farm, and had ordered a lot of garden seeds---Lima beans-green beans-carrots-beets- water melon-muskmelon-okra and other seeds. These I planted, but not with the idea of getting a draft exemption, but to help my mother and dad out!! When I received my notice, I applied for a possible farm exemption, and the draft board said that since there were so many younger brothers at home "no way". If dad had been a well to-do person, he could have bought me a herd of dairy cattle and set me up in the dairy business as so many others did!!!!! This is something my dad or I wouldn't have even thought about!!!
This is the year my only sister Beatrice married John Winne on May 1, 1942. He was a Albany, New Yorker, who she had met either at Wayne or the University of Michigan. He went into the army air force and was stationed at the air base in Wichita Falls, Texas. She joined him there and lived in Wichita Falls. She had graduated from Wayne University with a degree in chemistry.
Alfred, my oldest brother, was married Nov. 21, 1942 to Betty Cooper of Clawson, and joined the ferry command of the army air force, where he was stationed at Romulus air base near Detroit. His job was ferrying combat air craft from there to South America, over North Africa to Italy. Before going into the service, he instructed naval students at the Pontiac airport---he had his instructors, instrument, and pilots licenses before that.
Donald, who always had a love for radio--he put together a radio kit and enjoyed anything to do with radios!
He joined the signal corp. Reserve and was sent to Chicago to attend a private radio or communication school there.
Early in August I receive my notice to go down to Detroit for my physical and other exams. My first try I failed to pass my physical and had to return, but this time I passed with flying colors, was sworn into the Army, sent home for two weeks, until august 26th to get my things in order. By then the crops I had planted for my folks were growing great!! You can bet I was pretty excited about leaving for the service, but there also was a lot of sadness too!!
On the 27th of August, mom and dad took me up to the Romeo draft board--mom cried and that was something I had very seldom seen her do, and dad did look worried. They gave me my papers--put me on a bus to Detroit grand trunk railway station. There I had a voucher for my lunch--the man behind the counter, because I didn't use the entire amount of my meal voucher gave me a candy bar, so he could collect the entire value of the voucher after I had signed it!! Just another crook, I thought!!!!
This was to be my first ride on a train and of course I was excited about it!! My ticket called for a stop-off in Durant for a change of trains, and then to continue on to Battle Creek and Camp Custer, the train left the station and headed north through Royal Oak and Pontiac to Durant. Mom told me later that they had went up to Pontiac to see the train go through. The station at Durant was huge as it was the crossroads of many railroad lines. After changing trains I arrived in Battle Creek at the station, where I waited for quite a while before the army personnel arrived to take me to camp Custer.
The barracks I was put in had bunks three tiers high--lucky I was on the bottom bunk! The first day I was issued my clothes, shoes, and the rest of the stuff issued to a new recruit--lucky for me everything was a perfect fit! The next day everyone was given the aptitude tests and I really tried my hardest to get a real good score. Here I had my first taste of K.P. (Kitchen Police)---it was a hot, rough, hard, long hours job working in the mess hall, when one considers that it fed several hundred new soldiers three times a day!
One fine morning the sergeant came around and announced that he had a very import ant job to be done, and he needed some experienced truck drivers and asked if anyone had the qualifications for the job?? Quite a few men raised their hands, and he led them off for the days work. It sure sounded like a great deal, but when they returned late in the afternoon, they were dirty, tired and totally disgusted!!! They were hauling gravel for the railroad bed, shoveling it into wheelbarrows and then putting it between the ties!! Right then my motto became "never volunteer for anything, stay out of sight, never raise your hand, and keep your mouth shut if you can keep it closed!!"
At Custer I didn't have time to become acquainted with any of the other recruits. For some reason I had thought that my parents might drive out to Custer and they did with Carl and his future wife Lucille. They arrived after I had left. They did hear the name Schoonover called, but it turned out to be a young fellow from Ohio. By that time I was already on a troop train headed south and west!!
When our orders came to leave camp Custer, we packed our gear w our duffel bags, and marched down to the railroad siding, and boarded the train, the railroad cars were loaded to the hilt with us rookies, headed for "god" knows where!! On the train one of the fellows wanted to sell his "Gruen" wrist watch for a few bucks, so I bought it. About all I can remember about the train ride was the stop we made in St. Louis at the station there.
All of us kind of kept track of the direction we were headed and the towns and cities we passed through. One of the last places we went through was Weatherford, Texas and shortly after we pulled into the railroad siding at our basic training camp--Camp Walters, Texas, where we disembarked and I was assigned to a heavy weapons training battalion-there the training is, not only to be a rifleman, but also to use mortars and machine guns!! This of course was not much to my liking--but here I was!!
It was a few days after we arrived that one of the sergeants came around and called off a bunch of names of men that had a high enough IQ. To qualify for radio school. We were marched down to the 52nd training battalion for a radio aptitude test. The test consisted of listening to Morse code and grouping and identifying the letters and numbers we heard over our headsets. On our test papers we would mark whether the two sounds were the same or different. To me it was fairly easy!
Out of the many men that had taken the test, it ended up that only four of us were chosen to attend the radio school of the 52nd battalion. It was a very wet-rainy day when it came time to transfer down to our new barracks. The four of us put on our raingear, picked up our belongings and were marched down to co. "a" of the 52nd. Two of the men were older--Allan Tibbitts of River Rouge and John Palmer of Detroit. The other fellow was a young man from Onaway, he was quite a short little guy, and his raincoat almost dragged the ground!! What a sight we must have made marching through the heavy rain.
The 52nd infantry training battalion consisted of Co. "A"-companies "B"- "C"- and "D" trained wiremen, message center men and intelligence personnel. The camp was fairly new and everything there was clean and tidy!! The four companies faced a large open training area-- with two companies on each side. The lower numbered battalions below us was where they trained men to become truck drivers, mechanics, cooks, and bakers. Above our battalion were the many barracks where the rifleman and heavy weapons soldiers received their training.
Finally we learned that our training was to consist of six weeks of basic infantry training followed by seven weeks of radio school. Ft. Worth and Dallas were off limits to us, but the little town of mineral wells was a place we were allowed to go on a pass, and I went there several times. Our first sergeant was Henry Rosa--believe he was from Brooklyn. The company was housed in two two-storied barracks, with the lower-lettered last name recruits in the first barracks and the others in my barracks.
Basic training went off real good-- there was close order drill, hikes, practice making our bunks, pitching our tents, bayonet drill, hand to hand combat practice, army information movies to go and see, plus a whole lot of other classes and army instruction!! On Friday nights everyone pitched in to scrub the barracks floor-- the buckets were brought out and the good-old-G.I. soap and scrub brushes, then every one got down on their knees and scrubbed and scrubbed, and then came the rinsing process-- this was all done in preparation for the big Saturday morning inspection. After the inspection was over and every thing was up to the army standards, passes were issued to mineral wells!
Everyone was required to go out to the rifle range to qualify, so we spent several days there, not only shooting our old Springfield 1903 bolt action rifles, but also taking our turn in the pits operating the targets. This was a lot of fun, but truthfully, it wasn't something I was a master of!!! There was a contest on between the first and second platoons to outdo each other. The losers had to treat the winners to a big steak at the "baker hotel" in mineral wells. My platoon ended up beating the first platoon, so they ended up paying for our steak dinner. One evening we all went into town to the hotel for our banquet --what a meal it w as--a big juicy steak with all of the trimmings!! Mine was as tough as leather but after all it was on the first platoon!! There also was a program and rewards given for the sharpshooters.
Our greatest joke about the rifle range was working in the pits under the targets. When the rifleman missed the target completely, we would wave the long pole with the red flag on it to signal to the scorekeeper that the shot had been amiss!! It was called "Maggie’s Drawers". The hits on the target were also made known to the scorekeeper.
Mineral wells had two large hotels-- the baker and the crazy hotel. The crazy was so named because mineral wells was the home of the famous "crazy water crystals", a product that was extensively advertised on radio stations throughout the U.S.A. this was the first time I had ever walked on board sidewalks in an old western town!! They had their share of shops for us G.I.s to buy our needs. On a Saturday I would catch the bus to spend a few hours shopping and looking over the town--I loved the small town atmosphere-somewhat like good old Utica, Michigan!!
On one of our field training days, we went out a way from camp to a field with tall grass to practice falling down with our rifles and then crawling on our stomachs-- with our butts down naturally!! During these exercises I lost the floor plate out of my Springfield '03 rifle--it had been popping out every-so-often. When the days training was finished, I took off to attempt to find the missing floor plate, but to no a v ail!! When I took the rifle into the supply room, the sergeant simply said, "You will have to pay for a new one!” Seems like the tab came to $4 to $5 for a new one--all the time I’m thinking that a brand new one would be installed in my '03.
Lo and behold, that sly old supply sergeant slipped me in another old worn out floor plate!! It was just as bad as the other one, and kept falling out. Jokes on me! From then on I made sure I didn't have to pay for any lost army property.
Just once at camp Wolters I was assigned guard duty. My assignment was to take my rifle, go down to the stockade, and pick up a prisoner, and take him: out to the open area across from the barracks to police up the grounds. I’m not sure how foolish he felt about it, but I sure as heck felt that way when formations of troops passed us!! It was supposed to be the truth that if you let a prisoner escape, you automatically assumed his sentence. Everyone always said, "If he tries anything, shoot the S.O.B.!! Of course he gave me absolutely no trouble, but I was more than happy when the day ended, and I returned him to the stockade. While guarding the prisoner I had noticed an officer pass by marching his troops and for some reason I thought it might be Bob Rankin my brother Al's good friend from Utica--never did find out.
My best friend at boot camp was my little buddy from Onaway, Michigan--Art Vashon. During our time there we did many things together and often talked about getting together after the war. He did some boxing at matches held at the field house. John Palmer and Alan Tibbets were also real good pals!! Everyone there was friendly and kind-- that kind of reflected the quality and intelligence of the men in the radio section.
One of the great experiences of being in the service was getting the required medical shots! One sunny day we were all marched down to the field house to be inoculated with our tetanus shot-- we lined up and proceeded forward until it was our turn. After the damage was done, we were told to go outside anti sit down--or else we would probably fall down. That shot hit like a bullet and some of us were lucky to make it out side to sit down! The army must have given us an extra large dose of tetanus --we sure had some mighty sore arms!!! Most of us spent hours exercising our arms to get rid of the soreness-- tetanus shots have to be the worst of the worst!!
While at the field house one afternoon someone was calling "hey Schoonover" and I assumed he was yelling for me, so I proceeded to look for him, and he said that I wasn't the one he was calling. He finally found ids friend and introduced me to him--he was from Ohio--probably a 25th cousin!!!
Out of the men in the two barracks a selection was made for a student company commander and various other student non-coms. A Texas boy (Allan Zoll--High School R.O.T.C.) Was chosen to be the student company. Thanks goodness these duties were not offered to me, as I would have declined!!
The countryside around the camp was beautiful! The hikes we took out in the surrounding hills and v alleys were quite enjoy able despite the sore legs and aching feet!!