Ferry G. Schoonover
The voyage and our time in England
An advance party had left on the Queen Mary before our ship had sailed, to get everything ready for the arrival of the rest of the Division. Also on our ship was the following units-the 35th Quartermaster Co.; the 735th Ordnance Co.; and the 11th Medical Battalion.
The trip was a long 13-day voyage—zig-zagging across the ocean to avoid the german U-boats. At that time it was supposedly the largest convoy to have crossed the Atlantic Ocean!! The ship was equiped to transport troops and the hold had stacked canvas bunks jammed together closely. While at sea everyone was given a packet of tiny seasick pills, just in case we needed them.
It wasn't long before we discovered that the chow was anything but good!! At one meal they served us beef tongue for a meal—bad-bad-bad!!! Because of it or some other food nearly all of the men became sick with the G.I.S , dysentery, runs, or whatever your pet name is for the condition!!! With so many men aboard and so few latrines it posed a smelly problem!! Men were sitting on the trashcans, butt cans, and anything available and having a terrifying time waiting for a seat in the latrine!!! Including me!!
On the ship they sold candy bars, but only by the carton, so waiting my turn I purchased a carton of Hershey bars with almonds. These I rationed out for the rest of the voyage-taking only the fruit and other safe foods for the rest of the time aboard ship. No more problems!! The galley was on the rear of the ship’s lower deck and was made up of narrow elevated tables large enough to hold a tray. After we got our tray of food one had to stand up to the tables to chow down!! The ocean was very rough and this made the rear of the ship flop all over the place!! The trays would leave the tables and soon the deck was full of food and trays—this made it nearly impossible to stand up—It was more than a nightmare!!!
The huge convoy was escorted by many U.S. naval ships, and a german submarine was supposedly spotted, and the navy dropped quite a number of ash cans (depth charges) off the sides of them vessels— these exploded with a high spray of water and apparently scared the sub away!!
Finally we sighted land and someone cajoled up the rumor that we were headed for Ireland to a gravy job of guard duty on the island!! This rumor soon was nulified when we docked at a vonmouth in merry olde England on may 24, 1944 this was near Bristol or Bath— we disembarked from the ship and climbed aboard a British passenger train for a fast scenic journey across the beautiful English countryside through Exeter to the station called Bodmin Road. We then left the train and marched to the small town of Bodmin and to our barracks where the Duke of Cornwall’s troops were billeted. The barracks were two storied frame buildings set away from the more permanent stone buildings where the British troops lived. The 29th Infantry Division had been there before us. The British trains were divided into compartments with outside and inside doors— they seemed to travel at a higher speed than ours in the good old U.S.A.!! At least the slow pokey troop trains.
My one and only assignment as C.Q. (Charge of Quarters) was in this Camp. It was a job where you spent the evening in the orderly room and then bedded down on the floor to sleep until morning when the first sergeant came on duty. There wasn’t much to do—answer the telephone and sorta guard the place until morning—I was a bit nervous about the whole thing, but made it fine!! Also one day I was put in charge of the garbage detail—with an Army truck my crew and I picked up the full garbage cans and hauled them off to a dump out in the country. The guys gave me heck because I helped them empty the cans, but I only was anxious to get the smelly job finished!!
During our stay in England we still used APO-35 (Army post office) as our address, as we had from the time I had joined the 35th in Long Beach. Only here they had started to censor every letter we wrote, and would cut out any words or lines that were not permissable to be sent in the mail.
In one of my letters that I wrote, because I was a little teed off about the two details that I had been assigned (C.Q. and the garbage), I wrote that “they could take and shove those two stripes that they had given me!!!". I felt that I had earned them by going to school both in basic training and at Fort Benning, and besides I had no authority over any other soldier. This letter earned me a call into the orderly room to face the officer in charge of censoring our mail!! He politely showed me the letter I had written—all that was left of it was a ragged piece of paper—he had cut out all the lines that were not permissible. Then he asked me "Do you want me to mail it lIke this?" so I told him to file it in his wastebasket!! From then on I never was put in charge of any details— they got the point!!
Although I didn't go, the Company went out into the surrounding moors on several training exercises. This was the setting for "The Hound of the Baskervilles" —Sherlock Holmes" —"Home of sir Arthur Conan Doyle”—and near the "Jamaica Inn". At that time the Regimental Headquarters was conducting a radio school for all of the radio operators in the 137th Infantry. The Regimental Headquarters, third Battalion and special units were all in the Bodwin complex. The rest of the regiment was scattered in the small surrounding villages and in some of the coastal towns.
Several times I wandered into Bodmin (it was right next to the Camp) to the movies. It was a small theatre and when one entered, an usher took you to be seated. There really was not any place to shop there as the stores appeared to have next to nothing in them—empty shelves— this made me wonder if the civilians had any food to eat or a solitary thing to buy!! During our stay there, on Sunday several of us G.I.'s would attend church at the local Methodist church—the service was great and very similar to the one in Troy. But the big difference was the way the English would sing the hymns-they must have all had tremendous voices!! It was in Bodmin where my buddy—Frank Bailey met his future wife Mary—she was on holiday there and when they met!!
At the radio school I was able to again see several of my old Camp Wolters friends, as most of them ended up in the three battalions of the 137th Infantry. Also I met a fellow from Washington, Michigan—Carl Dawson, who was in Regimental Headquarters radio section. Milton Mrjorian from Detroit, Michigan, a transfer from the 320th Regiment became the other radio operator for anti-tank Company, but before we left England he became ill and left for the hospital. His replacement was William Solomon from Endicott, New York.
Sergeant Jesse Isenagle, from Garden City, Kansas was still our communication Sergeant. Some of our officers and men did a little boxing just for the exercise—Lt. Rex Hopper, PFC Garnett Potts and several others took part. As for me, those guys were too big and well built for me to fool with!!!
Several times during the nighttime we were arroused from our sleep to fall out and jump into the trenches near the barracks when the krauts came over to bomb in the nearby villages. The sound of the planes, anti-aircraft, and noise from the exploding bombs was terrifying!!
On June 25, 1944 we marched out to a level field overlooking a bluff and lined up in formation facing that bluff to be inspected by General Dwight Eisenhower (Ike), General George Patton (old blood and guts), and our own General Paul Baade and regimental commander Colonel Grant Laying. Since the regiment was from Kansas, as was Ike, he circulated among the rows of troops chatting and visiting with many of the men in a friendly and a courtious manner. Gen. Patton stayed up on the bluff looking us over in his sullen almost worried looking manner!! Seeing these two great men has always delighted me!! (Patton I saw again around the Moselle river area, but I did not see Eisenhower, until Genella and I went to the automobile show in Detroit and he happened to be there making a speech, when he ran for president the first time.
On July 4, 1944 we marched out of the Bodmin complex with full field packs, our rifles, a full belt of .30 caliber ammo a bandolier of ammo, our gas masks, with our plastic helmet liners on our head, our steel outer helmets on the back of our packs, and our huge duffel bags hung over our soldiers!! It was a long hike down to the railroad siding at "Bodmin Road", and the terrible thing about it was that the weather was as hot or hotter than any Fourth of July that I could remember!! This was quite a long hike and we were given several chances to stop and get our breath. Private Don Cater's steel helmet liner somehow became unhooked and fell to the ground. He recovered it and was promptly told by one of our officers: "hope you’re the first one to get it over there!!" To me it was a very dumb statement, but perhaps it was the result of the scorching-hot temperature!!
Again we had a great ride on the British railway system to a marshaling area, where we stayed in tents. Here our radios, trucks and other equipment had to be waterproofed for the English Channel crossing with a gooey putty-like paste and the trucks had to have an exhaust extension installed so they would be able to drive through deep water -just in case!! From the marshaling area we marched down to the docks at Falmouth to board the S.S. Lou Gerhig—It was a liberty ship, and all of guns, trucks and other equipment was put down in the hold, as we occupied the upper decks of the ship. On July 6 or July 7 we sailed out into the English Channel. Knowing full well where we were off to!!
The Channel crossing was rough and of course the top deck was packed with soldiers. For our meal that day we were issued 10 in 1 rations. These rations came in a 18-inch by 24-inch by 8-inch box, made up of four boxes of equal size, which were split up into one box of each type of ration to feed five men. The first problem we had was with the breakfast ration—It contained a can of raw bacon!! Just how can anyone eat raw bacon or find a way to cook it on a troop ship??? One quick thinking 35th Division man solved the problem for everyone-he put the raw bacon on the very hot steam pipes of the ship, where it cooked enough to be eaten!! These were very good rations and the rest of the contents gave us very little trouble for the rest of the voyage!!
Finally we came to the end of our crossing the English Channel as we dropped anchor just off of Omaha Beach. The area was crowded with a great fleet of ships, barrage balloons, the ships that had been sunk to make a breakwater, and a great number of ducks (trucks that were made to travel on land or in the water). It was an awesome sight-unforgettable or unimaginable!!
The night was spent on the ship and one time a Luftwaffe plane came over on a recon mission and the anti-aircraft batteries nearby opened up on him—missing of course!! The next morning we disembarked onto a large barge made up of steel tanks, and we were taken up to the sandy beach where the invasion had taken place a month earlier. From there we went to an area that was undercover where our first task was to remove the waterproofing putty we had put on our radios, trucks and other equipment. This took a lot of time to get all of the sticky-gummy goo off. Our SCR 284 and the SCR 300's were the worst!! Omaha Beach was a busy place with all of the "ducks" going out to the ships and bringing onto shore the supplies and materials to be unloaded on the beach. That evening we again mounted up ready to move out under the cover of darkness, and in a short time we sighted the flashes of artillery fire on the front lines—soon we would not only see the flashes but the sound of the exploding shells, and all of this was scary—the front lines of the infantry were close in front of us!!
Soon, we were stopped by a soldier, and he asked "where are you going?" "You know that there is nothing ahead of you but Germans!!” Lucky us, we could have become casualities the first day in Normandy!!