Discussion in 'Honor, Service and Valor' started by Slipdigit, Jun 19, 2008.
This is the opening post for BillyJim's memories.
Can't wait! He already had fans here before he even had a chance to start telling.
Tnx Slipdigit, for starting this thread for me. Here's the cut/paste of my "Bugle" post on the New Members forum.
OK, while I'm waiting to hear from some of y'all I'll peel off a "funny one." Here it is:
THE LAST WWII "LIVE" ARMY BUGLER
When I was drafted into the Army on June 21, 1944, at Camp Upton, LI, NY, Induction Center, they asked us to put down all the skills we could think of that might be of value to the military. I wrote down electronics and radio, based on my building shortwave receivers and a knowledge of ham radio theory. (Of course, I never got to be sent to Electronics School ... the nearest I came to that was Radio Op in the Battery Captain's jeep, Forward Observer.) As an afterthought I added, almost apologetically since it seemed so irrelevant to the war effort, that I had been the bugler in my Boy Scout troop, and also in the Drum and Bugle Corps.
Next the scene shifts to the winter of '44/'45, for the entire month of January, in the hills of Oklahoma. I never knew how cold and snowy the South could be (especially after the boilermaker we had spent training on the Oklahoma prairie that past summer.) Our 536th FA battalion had left Camp Gruber, OK, for final maneuvers prior to shipping overseas, the destination likely the Bastogne forests -'The Bulge'.) But we were in weather that probably matched what was going on in Europe then. Conditions were BAD! We were sleeping in slit trenches filled with a foot of sloppy slush during the day, which then turned to ice each night. We were always wet, cold and shivering round the clock. Within the first 2 weeks probably 1/3d of the outfit had been in the hospital with either pneumonia or severe arthritis. Would I make it through to the end of the month?
While mulling that over the 1st Sergeant abruptly came up to my slit trench and said, "Schenker, the Battalion Commander wants to see you back in Gruber -- there's a jeep waiting for you now. Hop to it!" I was trying to think of what kind of trouble I was headed for all the way in to camp but could come up with nothing -- but I knew, as a valid generalization about everything in the Army -- that it was probably bad. Several hours later, I was standing in front of Lt. Col. Goodwin's desk, saluting him.
Now a little relevant background on the B.C. He was a West Point graduate, and I took him to be in his forties, which means he got out of the Point probably in the early 1930s. Nothing surprising about that -- except for one thing: by the time America had been at war for over 3 years, there wasn't a single Point graduate of his generation who wasn't already a general, at least a Brigadier, more likely a two-star. Why had he been passed over? Up till then I had no idea.
So Col. Goodwin opened up with, "Schenker, I see by your Personnel records that you've got an MOS of 'bugler.'" "That's right, Sir." "Can you really blow one of those things, and do you know all the Army calls, from Reveille to Taps?" "Yes, Sir!" "Well, I'll tell you what Schenker, I'm fed up with every outfit in the Army nowadays using a phonograph recording of all the bugle calls and playing them over a loudspeaker.....I want my outfit to have a real live bugler, the way it's always been down through the centuries!"
(I couldn't believe my ears. Is this guy serious? Well, he wasn't smiling -- so he WAS for real....AND he's obviously slightly nutso. So that's why he only ended up a 'chicken' colonel by early 1945!)
"OK, Schenker, get out of those soaking wet fatigues, get you some warm clothes on, and then report to the Quartermaster to pick up your GI issue bugle. You start playing tomorrow, and you'll be staying in camp...I want to hear every call loud and clear, every day from now on. Got that?" "YES, SIRRRR!"
Man, did I ever 'get it.' It meant I was out of the shivering cold -- no more major health hazards from sleeping in the slit trenches. It also meant I had no more duties to perform in between my bugle calls -- no KP, no 'butt patrol', no morning 'fall in for inspection', no more manning the howitzers and cannons -- I was basically my own boss in a situation where almost everybody else was just a number. I envisioned myself spending a lot of time down at the USO, relaxing to my favorite classical music, and ogling the pretty hostesses.
And that's just what it turned out to be. Here I was blowing 17 calls a day (and I LOVED playing the bugle -- always had), sauntering down to the mess hall for my 3 squares but otherwise making myself scarce from the battalion grounds.
I was living in this Nirvana for about a month when I finally perceived what bargain I had made with Mephistopheles: because I had to be on the battalion grounds for Mess Call, Call-To-Quarters, Tatoo, and finally Taps -- there was no way I could get to Muskogee on an evening pass, and no way I could get to T-Town (Tulsa) or OK-City (Oklahoma City) on a weekend pass. This paradise job was holding me hostage 24/7.
In desperation I started scheming an escape. If only I could damage my bugle enough, I could get out of my predicament. Now if this had been an ordinary brass bugle it would been a no brainer. I'd just drop the instrument, hard, on to the ground, thus denting it badly enough that it would no longer blow properly, or tune properly. However, my GI issue bugle was made of an olive drab plastic, and the plastic had to be the same stuff used in the Air Force's gun turrets -- built to withstand incredible stresses. I tried bouncing it off the floor as hard as I could -- no luck. Then as a last resort I went to the Quartermaster, and told him my sad tale of woe. He apparently took pity on me as he said, "OK, private, go put on your heavy GI brogans, take the bugle into the [concrete-floored] shower stalls, and start stomping on it as hard as you can. When you finally get a hairline fracture in the thing bring it back." Not filled with much hope, I nevertheless followed instructions, and in due time (after about 15 minutes of brutalizing the bugle) I did it -- cracked the darn thing.
Bringing it back to the QM Sergeant, he said, "OK, now I'm going to fill out the ticket and ship it out to the repair depot. However, the depot I'm shipping it to, Fort Leonard Wood, MO -- doesn't have any bugle repair facilities -- it's a training center for the Signal Corps. So you'll never see the bugle back here in this outfit, for the DURATION. Now get out of here and stop bothering me!"
And that's how I returned to a normal Redleg's life, replete with KP, inspection, howitzer/cannon practice -- AND evening and weekend passes!
OK, guys ... hey, apropos, I've been using "y'all" 'cause I wasn't sure whether we've got the fairer sex on this website or not (e.g., is "Michelle" from Sashkatchewan really a gal?) If it's all guys here, I'll just skip a lot of the "y'all."
OK, I'm going to try to keep my stories in roughly chronological order. Which means I wan't to cover a little territory before WW2 started. Specifically let me go back to 1926-1929, the 1st 3 yrs of my life on this planet (I'm not mentioning anything about where I was before I landed here on terra firma .)
My folks built a nice duplex English Tudor style house on the edge of Forest Hills, Queens, LI, NY State, in the mid-'20s. Everybody was doing well financially in those days. We apparently had a butler, and I had a Nanny, named Zenda. She had come from a coal mining family in Germany. She spoke only German to me, and that's all I understood till I was about 3. That's when the Crash of '29 hit. Suddenly no more butler, no more Zenda (back to Germany).
Next thing to mention was that because of the Depression Dad gave up his career as a mechanical engineer (also had some kind of engineering firm he ran), and went off to London, England to study medicine at St. Bartholemew Hosp, London University. Within a year he had developed a heavy English accent (which never left him till he passed away in the Fall of '73). So our family was definitely Anglophiles .
I was a precocious little bugger, including taking an early interest in politics. So I remember clearly when Hitler took over the Saar Valley (needed those coal mines, and I think steel mills, there) in 1936, I think. (I was 10 at the time.)
Now I have to interject here a little personal history -- it won't seem relevant -- until I relate what happened at Camp Upton, LI, which had been a big Army post in WW1, and then until I relate what happened to me in Basic training in Ft. Sill, OK, in July 1944. Ours was the only Jewish family in the whole neighborhood (aside from my buddy, Bruce Wennerstorm, whose folks were Christian Scientists), everyone else were Catholics. So every afternoon from the age of 6 to 9 years old (when we moved to another neighborhood), when I'd step off the protection of the school bus, at 3:30 PM ... 30 Irish kids would jump on me and beat me to a pulp, sneering "dirty Jew Bast*rd". After 3 years of that I developed a peculiar mindset: I had become violently ANTI-SEMITIC. Hey man, I figured anybody who got beat up that regularly must be real bad news. OK, y'all, hang in here now, 'cause it starts to get interesting.
So, now I'm going to take you to Lake Yaphank, LI, in 1934 or 1935. Yaphank was where all we kids who used to spend our summers at "Scot's Camp" (it was really Scot's farm, out in the boonies) -- would go swimming every afternoon. Now immediately adjacent to Lake Yaphank was the old Camp Upton barracks, unused for military purposes since 1918 or 1919. But then starting in the early '30s a group rented out Upton for their own purposes. The group? ---- Bet you won't read about that in most American history books. Read on. All of the foregoing is prelim to the following story:
HIGH IRONY ON JULY 4TH
The date is a hot, steamy July 4th, in the mid 1930s; the locale is what used to be Camp Upton, an Army Induction Center for draftees in World War I, on Lake Yaphank, in Suffolk County, Long Island. Lake Yaphank is where all we kids swim every afternoon, all summer long, every summer, when we board at "Scot's Camp" (actually a converted farm run by ex-farmers, Mr. and Mrs. Scot.) Scot's Camp is about 3/4 hour's drive to the Lake, either in Mr. Scot's open-air Reo sedan or a couple of his Ford Model T's (they are the MOST fun of all!) Well, being July 4th everyone is revved up for the holiday festivities ending in nighttime fireworks, that are being held on the old army camp grounds. Now things get interesting.
It so happens that for the past several summers a group has rented the old Upton premises and use it for training their youth .. the name of the camp? Camp Siegfried; the youth group?... die Hitler Jugend.
(Wha? Wha's he sayin', that Bill Schenker? He must be smoking sumthin' funny!)
As I was saying, the camp is the summer headquarters, apparently for the entire eastern half of the US or maybe the entire nation, of the Nazi youth training corps. (It may have been under the auspices of the German-American Bund, which I believe at the time was a licensed, legal American organization -- that fact is interesting in itself.) Its main entrance is impressive -- a luxuriantly decorated arched structure of considerable dimensions, with gilded trimmings, and decked out in myriad flags. The flags are interesting -- they are not the Stars and Stripes. Instead they are blood red surrounding a white circle. Inside the circle is a curious symbol in black. It looks something like an American Indian symbol, except its direction is reversed.
From inside the encampment blares festive music, sometimes from loudspeakers, sometimes from live bands. All of it is the "OOM pa-pa OOM pa-pa" typically Tyrolean.
Alternating with the band music we hear enthusiastic speechmaking from the adult leadership of the camp, in a language none of us can understand. They are celebrating. July 4th, that is.
For those of us from Scot's Camp, the inside of Camp Siegfried has always been a major mystery....none of us are ever allowed to go even near the entrance. (That apparently is by mutual consent -- our camp leaders won't let us, and the Siegfried leaders won't allow any visitors.) However, today is July 4th, and for some strange reason they swing open the gates and invite all comers.
It is particularly scary for me to enter the grounds --- won't they notice that I'm Jewish? Can't they tell just by my WALK that I'm one of their hated ones? Nevertheless once inside I soon overcome my fears, especially as I'm overcome by the plethora of pretty little girls, ALL of them blue-eyed with long, blond pigtails. (Aren't there any darkhaired Germans? Not that I can tell today.)
I am impressed about two other things that day. First, wherever I look there is red, white, and blue bunting (no flags, though.) Very patriotic.
The other is watching and listening to some of the speechmakers. They are all loud and enthusiastic in what they are saying, including from time to time raising their fists skyward. Also from time to time there is a "Sieg Heil!" or a "Heil Hitler!", always followed immediately by a massive group affirmation among the wide-eyed children around us.
We stay into the evening so we can watch the fireworks which are impressive. Then the ride home.
And a little boy wonders about what he has seen -- for many long years after.
Postscript. This story did finally come full circle in a way.
The day is another hot, steamy July 4th, but this time it is 1944, a few short weeks after D-Day. Camp Siegfried has now reverted its name to Camp Upton, and it has become once again an Induction Center for draftees, this time in World War Two.
I am one of several thousand milling around the camp grounds for days while awaiting orders to be shipped out somewhere in the States for boot training. We haven't yet heard whether we've been tagged for the Infantry (which means your life expectency is considerably shortened) or for the Field Artillery (the somewhat luckier ones, because you're usually located in rear echelon away from the front lines.)
For everybody else whose eyes I look into that week there is nothing special about the locale -- all I see is the expectency about where in the States we'll end up, and what lay in our future after that.
But for this little boy dressed head to toe in GI issue, it is High Irony.
A quick message to all: IT MAY SEEM I'M ONE OF THOSE FLAG-WAVING AMERICAN JINOGOISTS. But please be patient .. these early stories are focused on the Americans' role in history. However, I've made deep friends with some Germans and Japanese ... that comes in later stories.
Michelle most definately is female and is a lady, as are a few others,
Y'all is a good word, I use it regularly.
Do you have any photos of you and your friends?
Fascinating and so vivid. i can't wait to read the rest. Your account is quite precious for this forum. Thank you for sharing this with us. The history of camp Siegfried is quite something. Do you still remember some German words from your early years with Zenda? I also love the bugle story!
BillyJim -- Please keep these stories coming. If you write enough, I may never need to go to a bookstore again!
Thanks for sharing!
Hey, Slip -- JW -- tnx again for the prompt response. So I will use "y'all" -- it's one of the reasons I feel at home here in the South. I moved from Wyoming in '98, because of my concerns for Y2K, to a 1-acre parcel in NW Tennessee, in Greenfield. Then I met my present wife on the internet, and like a nail-to-a-magnet within 5 days I was knocking on Jean's door, in Hanceville, AL. The rest is history. I even wrote a song for her, titled "The South Is My Home."
Actually since I was about 9 years old there was something about the "Big Bad Apple" that didn't fit for me. Didn't figure it out till 1965 when I escaped. Went West for 35 years. Since '98 I've realized that I should have been born in the South --- it just fits my personality better (much to the dismay of my two ultra-liberal sons -- typical of the younger generation .)
Pictures? Yeah, I've got 5 boxes of memoirs I've got to start sorting out TODAY. Will have to find those pics of me in Fort Sill, OK, and my Dad and me in Uniform in Dec '44 while he was on leave and I on furlough. Also may have a few pics of other guys in basic training.
Yeah, I went to med school in Bern, Switzerland, in '50-'51 (before transferring back to an American school) -- reason, all of us were worried about the Soviets rolling across the rest of Europe, 'cause by then we Yanks had our hands full with the Korean War.
So I had to learn hoch Deutsch for my classes at Uni Bern. I also learned "Schwyzer Deutsch" (from the "schlafende Lexicon"s who blessed my stay there . Yah, bi es Americhanische chaib, abr die Mädcheli siedt PRIMA!)
Now you've spilled it Great,Willi, keep them coming
Tnx for the kudos. Actually, my wife thinks I talk too much, so this is a great opportunity to vent .
I see you're locale is France. I've got 2 stories about de Gaulle you'll get a kick out of. The first, in '42, centers around a boyhood buddy of mine, Guy Witz, whose parents immigrated from Alsace-Lorraine, and were died-in-the-wool Francophiles.
Guy and I were dishwashers for the summer at the Ten Mile River Boy Scout Camps, Narrowsburg, NY. We shared a small tent all summer. And EVERY night long after we had retired, maybe about 2 or 3 AM, I would be suddenly awakened by Guy jumping out of his cot, in his undies, standing at the end of the tent, with fist raised high, and yelling (in his sleep mind you, every night) at the top of his lungs, VIVA DE GAULLE!!! VIVA DE GAULLE!!! Then he'd quietly slip back into bed, peacefully, for the rest of the night. EVERY night, mind you, throughout July and August. I kid you not.
Here's the other story:
AN EARLY JUNE MORNING IN PARIS, 1951
My roommate and I were returning to New York City after finishing our first year at the University of Bern, Switzerland School of Medicine, and while waiting for passage on the Isle de France's last voyage, we decided to spend a few days as sightseers, walking the streets of the capital of France. We started our tour in a modest residential neighborhood, row houses 4 or 5 stories high lining both sides of very narrow streets off the wider boulevards. It was about 9 AM as we noted a small sedan entering one of the side streets. "Hey, that's too narrow for more than one car at a time -- I wonder what would happen if another car entered from the opposite direction at the same time?"
.........A little background before the story unfolds. It was 5 years after VE-day, signaling the end of WWII in Europe. One of the dramatic features of that war had been the role of the French Resistance fighters, led by General Charles DeGaulle. Thus de Gaulle had become a hero, and a
symbol of the country overridden by the Nazis during the war. Not only that, unlike most Frenchmen, he was over six feet tall (The reason the rest were on the very short side is that one of their former heroes, the diminutive Napoleon Bonaparte, wanted only 6-footers for cannon fodder
in his various 19th Century wars in Europe. He lost a few battles, and France most of its 6-footers. The gene pool took a bad hit.)
In any event, De Gaulle was so admired by his countrymen that eventually he was elected President of France, ending years of political anarchy during which the parties in power changed hands like musical chairs, sometimes more than once in a year as I recollect. But for now the typical Gallic spirit of chaos ruled the land with a firm hand. Which leads me back to the story........
At that moment we saw a car enter the street from the other end. Automatically turning in for a closer look at the action we walked briskly towards the center of the block, as the first car continued steadily forward. Likewise the second car. Then as they approached each other there was a noticeable slowing down, becoming a steady crawl, until finally both cars stopped, bumpers only inches apart. An eerie moment of silence. And then.....
Two horns started bellowing at each other, first in short bursts and finally in two simultaneous and continuous blasts.
That galvanized the neighborhood. Windows popped open and heads popped out up and down the block from the first floors to the highest --- housewives and little children hoping for a break in their boredom. They were shortly rewarded as each driver cocked far out of his window shaking his upraised fist to emphasize various parts of his ever more luxuriant stream of French obscenities.
Finally realizing there was no easy victory in sight, both drivers leaped out
of their cars and met nose to nose, with no slack in their respective exercise of the seamier side of the French language.
That was the signal the whole neighborhood had apparently been waiting
It started from somewhere out of one of the upper floor windows with a woman's piercing cry, at the top of her lungs; "Vive de GAULLE!!!!!!" One could hear the pent-up adoration for her national hero, possibly tinged with sorrow at the depths her country's politics had reached. Be that as it may, it apparently struck a chord in the hearts of her fellow citizens. For within seconds the entire street exploded with "Vive de GAULLE!!!! Vive de GAULLE!!!!" echoing, resonating, up and down the entire block of tenements. To say nothing of the identical cries from the gathered throng of bystanders jamming the entire street and sidewalks in both directions. But there's more.........
Unfurling from random windows came first a few, then a multitude of........the French Tricolor national flag. It could have been Bastille Day -- except that was still 5 weeks away. The din grew louder. The crowd had taken over. Then at some point a few short moments later it happened.
The two diminutive, gesticulating drivers who up till now had been the obvious center of attention, suddenly realized they had been upstaged by a phenomenon much larger than their "guerre á outrance" -- War to the Death. With a telling glance at each other and classic Gallic reaction to changing circumstances, they abandoned their cars at loggerhead (leaving the street completely blocked), linked arms elbow in elbow, strode over to the little cafe directly opposite and sat down at one of the sidewalk tables, followed by as many of the spectators as could fit into
and in front of the cafe.
Since by now the two were celebrities of the day (and had noticeably
sparked business) the proprietor signaled the table wine and bread were compliments of the house.
Well, it was all over for that street and that day as far as any normal activities were concerned. Forget the laundry, forget the shopping, the sewing, the vehicular traffic, the whatever. Why? Because that day had obviously transformed into a "Jour de Fête" -- holiday. We Yanks stuck around for another half hour, still a bit dazed by it all ... and partly to see if the show would end anytime soon. Not a chance. We finally wandered off to see the rest of Paris that day. It was pure denouement.
Postscript (August 2002): As I re-read this story it occurs to me that its significance in the eyes of the typical young American will have taken on a radical change. In the era when the episode occurred it would have been viewed as wildly surreal, almost impossible hyperbole.
Today, it must be set against the background of the typical fare on our TV and movie screens. By that standard, for the typical adolescent and young adult it most likely will elicit a mere, "Yeah, and so what? -- what's the point of the whole story?" But for us senior citizens it remains a hysterically humorous tale of the highest and most enjoyable order! Vive de GAULLE!!!!!!
Excellent Bill and so true. This is how I met my best friend (in a fight) and we ended up getting a drink together (actually more, but that's another story) !
De Gaulle was quite popular, not so much after the Algeria war and the 1968 riots, but he remains a national hero. One little thing however, you said that when he came to power the governments were rather chaotic and were overthrown all the time. He was in fact the guy who changed that by instauring the Fifth Republic in 1958. This brought political stability and his political system still works nowadays after fifty years and when our favorite local politicians refer to stability and tradition, they often quote the old man.
Having said this, my origins are Dutch and I'm maried to a French lady, but I got perfectly used to the french way of life.
I guess I didn't make that point clear in my text above. Let me re-quote, with the operative word that I meant to emphasize in fuchsia font:
"In any event, De Gaulle was so admired by his countrymen that eventually he was elected President of France, ending years of political anarchy during which the parties in power changed hands like musical chairs, sometimes more than once in a year as I recollect."
I've got a foto to insert/attach .. could someone walk me thru the protocol? Tnx in advance.
You are correct. Thanks for the addtionnal details , they make sense.
there are several ways to post pictures. you can either post them in our galery and post a link or a thumbnail.
you can download them on a storing site like www.photobucket.com and then copy them on the forum. Then you need to click the "go advanced" buttom and open both sites simultanenously , copy the image link and paste it in this destination thread.
Click on Post Reply under the bottommost post.
The page will change, with many more buttons above the area you type in.
Click on the paper clip by the white smilie face.
A new window will come up titled Manage Attachments. Click on the Browse button to choose the picture, then click on Upload. You can then close the Manage Attachments window and go back to the new post. Add any comments and select Submit Reply.
Were you a physician after the war?
I've got an emergency request -- I just dug into my mementos papers and found out I wasn't in the 536 .. I was in the 436. Is there any way to change the heading on this thread? (I told you I was starting to get "holes" in my memory -- this proves it.)