Chapter: Stateside, before, and getting over there
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Orv' WWII Autobiography
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Orv Iverson's WWII
Minnesota Farmboy Goes Off to War
I was eighteen going on nineteen. Nineteen year olds were being drafted into the army. I was not able to acquire a new job very easily. I decided to enlist to attempt to get into radio training, a strong interest for me at that time.
I found that the army would promise me training in radio operating. I obtained my father's signature and was sworn into the army at Fort Snelling. From there I was sent on the Kansas City Belle on an overnight train ride to Camp Crowder.
At Camp Crowder, Missouri I breezed through the basic training course. For some of the older men it was a difficult task, especially the obstacle course. Some of the older men were sent home. One man from Tennessee did not want to take a bath so some men hauled him into the shower where they used the strong GI soap and floor brush to scrub him clean. After that he took his own shower.
Learning the International Morse Code was not an easy task. We would sit for eight hours a day listening to code and typing out the messages. One GI picked up his typewriter and smashed it to the floor one day. He was not punished, but simply told to continue listening after he calmed down. Most difficult was learning to receive code visually. After awhile I could hear code in the bird's chirping and the frog's croaking. To make it even more difficult, we had to landscape the area around the buildings after a day of listening to code. Also, we had to march, practice on the rifle range, take guard duty at night, and kitchen duty (NP). However, on weekends we were allowed to go to town. One nearby town was Neosha, a very small town, and Joplin, a town of about 20,000 population.
One time I went to Neosha with my buddy to see a movie. We saw a darkly lit section in the rear of the theater. It had a slightly elevated floor. The sign said "Dark" section. We thought this meant it was set up for viewers desiring a less lighted area. The usher promptly informed us that this area was set aside for Negroes and that we were not allowed to use this area.
After training for about three months we were graduated and promoted to Technician Fifth Grade, two stripes over a T. After that we were sent to Wendover Airbase in Utah, where we were interviewed for a radio-gunner position on B-17's. We would get a staff sergeant rating, even before we completed the gunnery training aboard the B-17s. Pretty enticing! However, about that time one of the B-17's crashed in the mountains nearby. At that point most of us being interviewed decided we would do our radio operating on the ground,
From Salt Lake we were sent to Boise, Idaho. I believe there must have been about ten radio men. When we arrived at Gowen Field nobody at the station knew about our assignment. Finally, after a long wait someone from the base picked us up and brought us to the 414th Signal Company (Avn).
I believe I had been assigned to the 414th sometime in October. One day all of us went on a hike toward the mountains. I became very ill and collapsed with a high fever. I came to in the base hospital and later was told I had pneumonia. After two weeks I was released from the hospital. When I arrived back at the 414th, I was called in to the company commander. I was told my T-5 rating was taken away. Also, he added, that we were alerted for overseas assignment, and that I would not be able to go home on furlough before we departed for overseas. To say the least I was feeling pretty blue when I heard the song White Christmas
My stay at Boise, Idaho was rather brief. After only a few days out of the hospital I departed with the 414th via train. Our trip across the USA took about six days. I can remember some of the GI's passing near or sometimes through their hometowns. Guards were posted at the ends of each railway car.
We finally arrived at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, a newly built camp. This was December 1942 so it was rather chilly and very wet. In fact, the rain changed to snow. We had ramps to walk on from building to building. The camp was very closely guarded, and only two of the GIs escaped over the fence, but they were promptly brought back. I had the feeling that we were prisoners. We were issued rifles packed in cosmoline, a sticky substance not unlike honey. We spent hours cleaning our newly issued 1903 rifles. I believe these rifles were left over from World War I. Finally one day the Company Commander called us all together and announced, "This is it, men".
We left Camp Patrick Henry via train, only a short ride to the docks at Newport News, Virginia. The sight of the grey ship hulls protruding through blowing snow gave me a clear signal that this was not a pleasure cruise. The gang plank seemed to be about a 45 degree slant, with wood cleats about 18 inches apart. The snow made the walk with all our equipment very difficult. One GI in front of me slipped, and his helmet fell a long ways to the water below, and disappeared suddenly in the water.
The Matson Line Luxury Ship, Mariposa, had been converted to a troop ship designed to carry about 6000 soldiers. The guns and depth charges were manned by the navy.
Our company was assigned to staterooms in the area above ship's propellers and at water line. Four of us occupied stateroom next to the latrine in the very back of the ship. My partners names, I believe were: McGraw, Fix and Wahl. Fix kept his GI shoes on during the month and a half trip, except one time he changed his socks.
The ship's spring beds had been stripped of mattresses so we slept on the rectangular bare springs with only one GI blanket between and one blanket to cover ourselves. No heat came on the first night as we lay in port so it was difficult to sleep because I shivered from the cold. I was in the upper bunk. I had a frightening dream during the night, about being torpedoed. I rose up in my upper bunk and hit my head on the ceiling.
In the evening, heavy, steel doors would slide shut closing us off from the other sections of the ship. A loud Klaxon horn would sound. In the mornings the sliding steel would open with the same loud Klaxon sound. After awhile I would sleep through the alarm.
The Mariposa left Newport News, December 20, 1942. We had no idea where we were going. The decks were covered with about three inches of ice, but as we traveled south the ice melted. In fact, around Christmas the daily bulletin warned against severe sunburn if we stayed in the sun longer than fifteen minutes at a time. Some of the gamblers on deck were badly burned.
One of the gamblers, I believe his name was Brown, won about six thousand dollars. In those days that was a significant amount of cash. Consequently, Brown hired one of the other GI's to guard his duffel bag of cash while he gambled on deck.
At first the seas were very rough. I had never been aboard ships on the sea. I found it a very exciting experience and enjoyed walking around, up and down the stairs. When the ship dropped into a rough in the swells, I felt as if I were weightless. However, more than half of the GI's were seasick. My friend, Herb Person, was not able to leave his bunk for several days. His color was bluish and he was not able to eat or drink. I spoke to the Navy MD and he came down and looked at Herb. He said he had a bad case of seasickness, but nothing could be done to help Herb.
Being next to the latrine we were exposed to some pretty bad odors from all the vomiting and the deck became very slick. One day we decided to open the porthole in the latrine to air it out. We took one look out the porthole and slammed it shut. The waves were above the height of the porthole,
Lunchtime happened twice a day. There was only one messhall for six thousand GI's. We would stand in long lines that would wind throughout the ship. Sometimes we would wait in line for one and a half hours. However, during the rough seas, the lines would shorten very quickly as the sick GI's left hurriedly with their messkits rattling. Those of us who survived found a steamy, slick floored kitchen, where we stood at high tables with troughs. When the seas were especially rough, we would find ourselves sliding back and forth with our messkits in the trough sliding with us as we ate our meals.
Water was very scarce, and what there was had a stale taste. I did not drink the coffee so my liquid intake was minimal. Consequently I developed a bad case of constipation. After a couple weeks aboard ship I went to see the navy MD. Of course he did not believe me when I told him I had not had a bowel movement for ten days, at least not until he had the corpsman give me an enema. Then he said, " Well, I guess he was telling the truth".
Bathing was not a happy experience. In our stateroom we had a shower. We thought, "How lucky!" However, we soon realized taking showers was not very pleasant, in cold salt water.
Day after day passed without sighting land. Finally, after about ten days of zig zagging, we spotted land. We were able to determine our location when we saw the statue of Christ on Sugar Loaf Mountain, which meant we were in Rio de Janeiro in South America. We saw the antenna of a broadcast station, which gave us the hope that we might be getting off the ship to be radio operators in this beautiful city. However, after a few days the Mariposa pulled its anchor and quietly departed.
On board ship we had no assigned tasks. However, measles broke out among the MP's, so we were required to fill in for guard duty. My one assigned post was standing guard upstairs outside of the mental ward. I was much surprised to find many of the GI's aboard had broken mentally. The broken GIs had been crowded together in cages. They were yelling and running around in a crazed state. Some were climbing the cages like monkeys.
At nights we would stand out on the decks, enjoying the balmy breezes, listening to the singers and other musicians. It was like a cruise that I could have only been able to dream about up to this point in life. Sometimes we would watch the glowing phosphorescent wake from the ship. Somedays, most of the time, during the day I would sit in a cozy hidden place on the bow of the ship reading, mostly the Bible or whatever limited number of books were available from the small ship's library. Some times we would sit watching the flying fish.
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