Dad in WW II

Alfred H. Menard — World War IIArmed and Dangerous

My father used to tell a fascinating story about his adventures during and shortly after WWII.  Sometimes, the story started after the war, sometimes before the war, and sometimes all the way back at the “beginning”.  I’ve heard this story run to nearly three hours of continuous, and fascinating, monologue.  A couple of times, I tried to record Dad telling the story.  Unfortunately, he refused to talk with the recorder running; I suppose feeling self-conscious.  When Dad was living alone, I asked him to write up the Hawaii portion of the story for me.  He emailed it to me a few days later.  It was a paragraph of broken Hawaiian words (“Iolani melii kelliki maki…”), as a joke of course.  (I’m still searching for this email).

Dad came to live with Annie and me in early 2005.  He was still full of stories then, for a few months.  Sadly, after a mild stroke, the stories began to fade and become disconnected.  After he went to live at Stonebridge, I found the beginning of a biography that Dad wrote:

I was born in 1924 in Chicago, Illinois at 6229 South Morgan Street, in the middle of the family complex.  The house was owned by my grandparents.  The house to the south of us was occupied by my great grandfather.  The house immediately to the north of us was occupied by my great uncle, Henry Fisher, and his wife, three doors to the north of him lived my great aunt, Lottie, Uncle Jerry Kaberna and their daughters, Mary and Jen.  Their third daughter, Evelyn and her husband Bailey lived in a rented house just south of my great grandfather.

My Aunt Mary and her husband, Jack Doherty and their two daughters lived upstairs over my great grandfather’s house.  The younger daughter, Marita was five days older than me.  The older daughter, Winifred was 2 years older than I was and was very jealous of me because in being born I was competing with her younger sister.  She crept into the room where I was sleeping and tried to annihilate me by bashing my head in with her doll.  She missed my head and broke the doll’s head instead on the headboard.  This set her off crying and alerted the adults in the house who came to see what the cause of the hullabaloo was about.

My father had several friends, all whom had nicknames taken from clowns at a circus they had attended.  My father’s nickname was ‘Sunny’.  Some of the other aliases were, Spot, Dutch and Zeppo.  One afternoon, when I was about 8 years old Spot came by the house and he was intoxicated.  He wanted to come inside, although my brother and I told him our parents weren’t home.  We said ‘No, you can’t come in’.  He came in anyway.

My six year old brother (Eddie) and I knocked him to the floor, and tied a rope around his neck and dragged him out to the front porch.  We would have hung him but there were no branches low enough for us to reach.  He recovered his senses and was gone by the time our parents returned.

Unfortunately, this is all that Dad wrote.  Over the years, I’ve heard the following story many times. Dad told it with laughter and zest; I’ve done my best to convey that.  The following is Annie’s and my best recollection, with some details filled in by Dad during our daily visits.

Army Training

A few months after high school graduation (13 Nov 1942), Dad and three of his friends, Ken Loving, Al Pearsol, and “Max” went down to the Army recruiting office in Chicago.  They were going to join up and become pilots.  Dad scored high on his math and science exam and was told he could pick what he wanted to do in the Army.  He said he wanted to be a pilot and they sent him over to the pilot screening process.  Of course, he failed the vision test miserably, being not only near-sighted but color blind as well.  Dad had never known that he needed glasses prior to that, having always sat in the front of his classrooms and figuring the kids in the back just couldn’t see or didn’t care.

None of Dad’s friends became pilots, either.  Of the four friends, only Dad survived WWII.  At least one of his friends, Ken, was removed from a specialist school (Meteorology?) and was killed during the Battle of the Bulge.  He was “cannon fodder”, as Dad put it.   Dad was later thankful to have been admitted somewhat late to Meteorology school.

The Army sent Dad first to Camp Grant, outside of Chicago.  He was indoctrinated, surrendered his personal items and was issued GI gear.  He and his fellow recruits boarded a train for Keesler Field, near Biloxi, MS for Basic Training.

After initial basic training, Dad was transferred to a camp in either Minot or Fargo, ND for additional training and screening.  He mentioned that they filled a theater with students and played Morse code over the PA that they had to transcode.  Dad did well on this test, but not well on the following test, which was keying Morse code.  Based on his other math and science tests, he was selected for communications.  Later, he took more advanced training in Radio Maintenance school. He would learn how to work on the radio equipment used for navigation aids for long range bombers.

Before transferring to Radio School near Madison, Wisconsin, some of the recruits received a weekend pass to town. The bars in town would allow them inside, but not to drink, since they were all under age.  When they asked for alcohol, they were told to see the “blind man”.  He lived on the second floor off an alley.  The young men would stand in line on the stairs to buy liquor through a screen door from the blind man.

Moving between various camps and training schools, there were long train rides from Chicago to Biloxi, then to Fargo, Madison, and later to Smyrna.  The soldiers would often share a paperback book.  As the first man read a page, he would tear it out and pass it along to the next guy.  Some were slow readers, and the men after him would be screaming at him to finish his page and pass it on.  Dad would always try to be first, since he read fast and wouldn’t have to wait.

He spent several months in radio school at Truax Field in Madison, WI.  There was a permanent party of regular Army stationed there as well, who all wore neckties as part of their designated uniforms.  The students did not have neckties and were not allowed in the permanent area of the base.  Dad and his buddy would knot their kerchiefs and tuck them into their uniform shirts, to somewhat resemble neckties.  Then, they’d walk across the active runways that separated the school from the regular base and go to the movie theater and bowling alley.

Madison is close to Chicago and school was only held on the weekdays.  The students rarely received passes for the weekend and were confined to the training part of the base, where there was nothing to do.  Dad would sneak out most weekends and take the train home to Chicago.  The Army had MPs patrolling the trains looking for deserters.  He would always find a group of little old ladies to sit with and the MPs never questioned him.

After completing school, Dad was transferred to Sewart AFB, near Smyrna, TN.  Sewart was a 24/7 operation preparing soldiers to go overseas.  One night, Dad and his tent-mates were awakened to see the dentist at 3AM.  There were dentists working in a row of tents and a line of soldiers waiting.  Dad had 3 or 4 teeth pulled and remembers one unfortunate young man who had 13 teeth pulled.  (Dad told me later that he stayed in the Army, but I have a recollection that he once said they sent him home after that).  They couldn’t afford soldiers going overseas to have dental problems and there was no time for fillings.

Since their training was complete, the time at Sewart Field was merely waiting to be shipped overseas.  The soldiers had nothing to do, but the Army had to keep them busy.  Each day, Lt. Lens would load a dozen soldiers on a truck and drive out into the woods.  He marched the soldiers through the woods, often stopping for “health talks”, which apparently centered around not getting a venereal disease.  After a couple of days of this, Dad said “bullshit” and found a better way to use his time.  He would sit on back of the truck and jump off when it hit a bump.  He would run into the woods and then walk back to the base library.  He’d then spend the day in the library, mostly flirting with the red-headed lady Captain (or maybe Lt or Sergeant?) librarian.

Each day, Lt. Lens would appoint a different soldier to lead the march.  A few days after Dad starting jumping off the truck, his turn came up.  So he spent one more miserable day marching in the woods instead of hanging out at the library.

At some point before shipping out, he applied for Meteorology school.  There was no word on that before Dad’s group was put on a transport ship to North Africa.  The ship departed on 24 Nov 1943 (from Richmond, perhaps?).  During the voyage, they had a number of submarine drills.  When the alarm sounded, the troops would don their life preservers and start up the gangways to the top deck.  Dad’s berth was seven or eight decks down in the bowels of the ship.  By the time the drills ended, he was never higher than the second or third deck, so he was always counted as “going down with the ship.”

Army North Africa

After arriving in Casablanca on 4 Dec 1943, the soldiers again had nothing to do until they deployed to their duty posts.  Dad had never expected to see Lt. Lens again, but he had apparently been on the same transport ship from the US.  Lt. Lens organized baseball games that they didn’t want to play.  When one of the players hit the ball, the other team’s players would stay stationary in the field and ignore the ball, preferring to smoke and chat.  Lt. Lens screamed at them until they finally walked over and tossed the ball back as slowly as possible.

The first stop after leaving Casablanca was Telerghma.  Dad later wrote the following:

As the Christmas season approaches I am reminded of my first Christmas overseas in 1943 at Telerghma in North Africa.  We decided to make eggnog.  Went to an Arab village and traded laundry soap for eggs.  Went to town and purchased French brandy for money.  Went to the mess hall and talked the cook out of powdered milk.  Went to the motor pool and got part of a fifty gallon gasoline drum that had been cut in half, to use as our bowl. On Christmas Eve we gathered around the festive bowl.  Dumped in the ingredients according to some farmer’s recipe.  Everyone tasted it and agreed it tasted like gasoline.  Added more brandy.  Everyone tasted it and agreed it tasted like gasoline.  Added more brandy.   Everyone tasted it and agreed it tasted like gasoline. Added more brandy. Everyone tasted it and agreed it tasted like gasoline.  This kept on and on until we ran out of brandy.  Then we stopped tasting it and just drank it.  We kept the sawed off gasoline drum and used it after that to bathe in.  Every time we took a bath, we smelled like gasoline.

The soldiers were initially issued ’03 rifles leftover from WWI. Later, they received new M1 carbines.  The new carbines were packed in cosmoline and each soldier spent hours cleaning his new weapon.  One of the bigger, tough guys waited for a small, shy fellow to finish cleaning his carbine, and then took it away, saying “Thanks for cleaning my rifle”.  After the poor guy finished cleaning the second one, he found some paint and painted his carbine blue.

In Algiers, Dad was living in a tent with several other men.  The army cots were uncomfortable, so they constructed various contraptions to sleep on.  Dad found four 70mm shell casings and used them for legs.  He placed some wood above the shells for a base and a straw-filled mattress-cover on top.  He claimed to have had the most comfortable and most attractive bed of all.  One night they were being shelled by the Germans.  When the shells exploded, the ground shook.  One shell landed pretty close to their tent and caused Dad’s mattress to raise up and one of the shells to fall over.  The mattress and Dad landed on the three remaining shells which collapsed into a heap with Dad in the middle.

The soldiers gambled to pass their free time, mostly playing craps.  When they played poker, they would use Necco wafers for chips.  One night while the men were sleeping, a rat came into the tent and started eating the “chips”.  Dad always slept with his ’03 rifle in the bed.  He heard the rat gnawing on the Necco wafers and slowly raised the rifle.  He placed the tip of the barrel between his toes and shot the rat (Dad would use his “Pchew” sound effect when telling this). Needless to say, his tentmates were alarmed.

Sgt. Bradley was one of the other men living in the tent.  Late one night, he went psycho and started firing his machine gun in all directions at “the enemy.”  Dad and the other guys had to crawl over to him, underneath the machine gun fire and wrestle him to the ground.  The MPs came and picked him up; they never saw him again.

Just before his unit was moving from Algiers to Tunis (to catch up with the war front), Dad fell very sick and couldn’t travel.  They left him in the equipment tunnel with a huge bottle of Army aspirin.  Johnny Delasandro and Perry were left with him along with a jeep.  The Captain told Dad IF he survived, that he, Johnny, and Perry were to take the jeep to a rented garage in Constantine.  There was some radio equipment and a trailer being stored there and the men were to guard it and wait for further orders.Bob Perry and Johnny Delasandro by the Gorge

Dad did, in fact, recover.  He and the other two guys drove to the garage in Qa, just across a deep gorge from Constantine.

And no one ever came for them.

Algeria was a French colony for more than 100 years prior to WWII.  Constantine was very much a French city during WWII, with the indigenous Arabs living as disadvantaged minorities.  So, here were three young American men, living on their own in a virtually French city for over a year.

Dad and the other two guys set up quarters in the garage.  They hung fabric to each have a private sleeping area.  Perry had a steady stream of local girls in his “room”.  Johnny Delasandro mostly sat around saying “I got a perforated eardrum, I should never have been drafted.”  (I may have Johnny and Perry reversed.  Whichever had the perforated eardrum, also did not drive and was ‘worthless’, according to Dad).

Since the men were noDad in Qa longer receiving their Army pay, they had to be creative.  Dad would fix radios for money and they would often drive to the British weather station 20 miles away to eat.  Dad enjoyed sitting in the sun in front of the garage.  Small boys would bring him champagne and beer for a few coins.  He would ice the drinks in his Army helmet and watch the donkey trains go by.  The Arabs used donkeys to move trade goods down the hill.  They would load the donkeys at the top of the hill and send them down to the bottom on their own.  The donkeys knew the way and would go back and forth by themselves several times per day.  Since the packs were usually empty going uphill, sometimes a local would jump on a donkey and ride back up.

In Qa, there were two Jewish girls who did laundry for Dad.  Sara and her sister became friendly with Dad and invited him to a bar mitzvah for their brother.  Dad recalled that the room was very small and they had brought in a table that nearly filled it.  There were at least 20 people seated around the table.  If anyone needed to get out, everyone on that side of the table had to get up and go out into the hall.  Dad brought a couple of tins of canned meat.  He spent most of the time talking to one of the grandfathers.  The old man was proud of his “weapon”, which was made from a large piece of cable about 18″ long with caps on either end.  The cable was painted to look like leather.

Many of the locals carried a weapon of some kind, especially at night.  Qa and Constantine were separated by a gorge; with Constantine being much higher in elevation.  On the Constantine side of the Sidi M’Cid bridge, there was an elevator and a stairwell that went up to the street level.  Using the elevator had a small charge, but the stairs were free.  However, the stairs were dangerous, again particularly at night when the elevator was closed.  Livestock was forbidden on the stairs, but Dad says that at night, there were often Arabs driving goats or donkeys up the stairs.  There wasn’t room for people to pass, so if livestock was coming up, he’d have to retrace to the top to let them pass.

Gorge between Constantine and  QaDad carried a small derringer in his pocket during this time.  Sometime later, another soldier really wanted the derringer.  Maybe in some sort of game of chance, he bet or traded the pistol for a larger Swiss Lahti.  When I was young, Dad was telling me war stories and asked if I wanted to see his gun.  He made me wait for what felt like a very long time, while he retrieved it from its secret hiding place in the house.  The gun resembles a German Luger, and I was always fascinated by it and its history.  Dad gave it to me some years ago.

A former casino was located The Casinoat the top of the hill in Constantine.  It was operating as a fancy restaurant, although they never had meat or other luxuries.  But the locals would still dress up and go out to eat whatever meager rations were available.  Near the Casino, taxis were parked.  The taxis were old cars from the 20s whose engines had been removed; there was no gas available to civilians.  For the fare, they would release the parking brake acabnd coast down the hill.  Then they hitched donkeys or horses to the taxis to return to the top.  At the bottom of the hill, there was a public swimming pool which Dad frequented.  His shoes were stolen once, but fortunately not the custom Karachi boots a pilot had brought him back from Pakistan.  Dad had traced his feet on paper to have them specially made.

Le CowboyDad was friends with the city gendarmes, in particular the captain.  They referred to Dad as “Le Cowboy” because of a hat he had picked up someplace.  One particular bar that Dad frequented was nicknamed “The American Bar”; although Dad was the only American that ever went there.  Other than an occasional officer in town to visit the whore houses, the guys never saw any Americans.  Which was fine with them.American Bar

As part of his uniform, the captain of the gendarmes wore a cape.  When he rode his bicycle down the hills in Constantine, the cape would flutter.  Dad said that when he rode by it looked and sounded like a giant bat which always alarmed him at first, particularly at night.

Another bar that Dad occasionally visited was run by an old guy with very few teeth.  After you paid for your beer, he would flip a string of coins up on the bar and crow “tip”, jerking the coins back before you grab your change.  And laugh maniacally.

Dad dated a few local girls but eventually fell in love with Lilette.  He was rarely, if ever, allowed to be with Lilette alone.  Once, they went to the opera with her parents, and sat in the private box on the stage.  If they went to the movies, the mother and/or older sister would come along.  The movies were usually older American comedies that Dad had already seen in high school.  The soundtracks were dubbed in French, with Arabic subtitles.  When the jokes came, Dad would laugh first, remembering the dialog and understanding some of the French.  The French speakers would laugh next, hearing the funny part, and the Arabs would laugh last, having to read the Arabic and trying to decipher American humor.  Some humor just didn’t translate at all and only Dad would laugh and then try to explain it to Lilette who would in turn try to explain it to her parents.  The entire audience was chattering constantly in French or Arabic.Lilette and Dad

Lilette and Dad may have met at Constantine’s weekly promenade, where the single women would dress in their finest and walk in groups around the square.  Interested men would approach one of them and perhaps be allowed to walk with her once or twice around before being shooed off by the parents or other girls.

Over time, the three renegades’ clothing became worn and Dad had broken his regular glasses.  When he needed to see well, he would use his tiny gas mask glasses.  One evening, he was walking home from the American Bar without his glasses.  He walked past a man he mistook for his gendarme friend, saying “Hey Joe!”  About ten steps past him, the man turned and said “Soldier?  Are you an American soldier?”   Dad froze and slowly turned around.  The U.S. colonel he mistook for his friend asked him why he was out of uniform.  Dad explained that he was wearing was what was left of his uniform, along with a red bandana, his Karachi boots, and the “Le Cowboy” hat.  The colonel had Dad explain what had happened and then sent him on his way.

A few days after Dad met the colonel, three MPs showed up at the garage in a jeep.  As usual, Dad was sunning in front of the garage and they asked “Are you the renegade soldiers?”.  Dad said that they probably were.

The MPs said, “You need to come with us.”

Dad replied, “You only have one jeep and there are three of us.”

The MPs asked, “Don’t you have a jeep?”  Dad said that they did.  The MPs told Dad that the three guys should follow them in their jeep.

Dad said “No.”  One of the MPs loaded a round into his carbine.  Dad said “Just a minute,” and went into the garage.  He came back with a machine gun slung over his shoulder and said “I’m not going with you, we have a lot of radio equipment and a portable radio range on a trailer that I was ordered to guard.  And I ain’t going nowhere without the equipment, which won’t fit in the two jeeps.”

The MPs said, “What about those guys?”, pointing to Perry and Johnny Delasandro.   Dad said he didn’t care what they did.  So Perry and Johnny went off with the MPs.

Another few days later, the MPs returned with a couple of 6X trucks and a weapons carrier.  After a year of living off the radar, they loaded up the gear, including the trailer.  And Dad left Qa, Constantine, and Lilette forever.

The convoy drove out of Constantine bound for Tunis, on the other side of the mountains.  It was winter and as they drove higher the snow drifts grew higher than the trucks.  The vehicles fell behind another group being lead by a snow plow.  The lead vehicles and plow had soldiers sitting on the roofs trying to figure out which way the winding road went.

Once they returned to a base near Tunis, Dad reported to his old Captain.  The Captain said that he had wondered what happened to them and figured they were dead.  Back pay was arranged and Dad returned to his previous work.  He also had two important pieces of mail waiting.

The soldier’s mail was censored, and they would receive letters with huge portions having been cut out.  Some letters were completely unintelligible.  But these two letters were intact.

The first letter was from the Army and congratulated him on being accepted to Meteorology School back in the States.  Dad returned to the Captain and asked when he should be leaving for the US.  The Captain told him that he wasn’t going anywhere and to get back to work.  Dad later learned that his high school friend, Ken Loving, had been removed from specialist school to die in the Battle of the Bulge, along with thousands of other young men.

BarbaraThe second letter was from “Babs”, his high school sweetheart and more-or-less-fiance.  Dad had given her a fur coat.  During the war, the army had restrictions on how much pay could be deferred home into savings bonds.  He had deferred the maximum possible and had the bonds sent to Barbara, because he didn’t trust his mother to not cash and spend them.  In her Dear John letter to Dad, Babs told him that she had found someone else and taken all of his savings bonds to his mother.  Dad never saw those bonds again.

One day the Captain asked Dad to drive him to town.  Dad told him that he didn’t know how to drive.  The Captain said it was time to learn and gave Dad his first and only driving lesson on the way to town.  Dad dropped the Captain off and asked him how he would get back to base.  The Captain helped him put the jeep in low-low gear and walked alongside for a few yards.  He pointed Dad across the desert back towards the base.  Dad and the jeep crawled back to base.  A couple of times he got stuck in the sand.  Dad jumped out and pushed the jeep forward and then walked quickly and got back in the jeep and motored on.

The Captain continued to ask Dad to drive him, to help practice his driving.  Dad also began to maintain the jeeps and other vehicles, becoming the motor pool honcho.  He told the Captain that he would need his own key for the Captain’s jeep, so that he could keep it in top condition.  From then on, Dad had nearly unlimited jeep access and regularly drove to town in Tunis.

Dad's JeepNow mobile, Dad and Perry met another group of women, whom they nicknamed “Blondie”, “Nickel Nose”, and “Shit for Brains”, all for fairly obvious reasons.  One of Blondie’s talents was the ability to open beer bottles with her teeth — long before screw off caps.  Another dubious woman they met elsewhere had a US battleship tattooed on her breasts.

In his new role as motor pool mechanic, Dad taught himself enough about auto repair to ruin many of my Saturdays much later in life.  One day, he noticed that “his” jeep was not steering properly.  He crawled underneath and discovered that a coupling in the steering linkage was worn.  Instead of a circular hole in the coupling, it had worn to an oval shape.  There were few spare parts available, but the base had a full machine shop, staffed by French machinists.  Having just spent a year in French-speaking Constantine (not to mention having a French surname) Dad confidently discussed manufacturing a replacement part with the machinists.

It took a couple of days, but the expert machinists made an exact duplicate of the failing part, reproducing the worn oval shape precisely.  Impressed by their skill, but otherwise chagrined, Dad managed to explain that what he really needed was the same part, only with a ROUND hole.  After some discussion and hand waving, he had his part a couple of hours later and repaired the jeep.

Everything was in short supply during the war.  Many items were rationed, including soap.  One day in the PX, Dad came across a basket of lemon shaped, lemon colored, lemon scented soap bars.  The sign said “5 cents each”.  Dad asked the clerk what the ration limit was for the soap.  The clerk replied that there was no limit.  Ever the bargain hunter, Dad bought the entire basket.  Thereafter, he smelled like lemon daily and endured a lot of ribbing from his buddies.  On a side note, we had many of the same lemon soaps when I was growing up.  I think Dad got another deal on a large batch and enjoyed the reminder of his signature Army fragrance.

Beer wasn’t available to the Americans on base, but the British soldiers received a ration of two bottles of beer per week.  But milk wasn’t available to the them.  The Americans received a two can ration of condensed milk per week.  Some of the Brits were very willing to trade their beers for Dad and his friends’ milk cans, which they called “Billy (Bully?) Moo Cow”.  Dad recalls, with a shudder, them opening the cans right away and chugging down the thick, sticky contents.

When Dad was in high school, he learned some card tricks and later had a little mentalist mind reading act that he cooked up.  One of the tricks involved a confederate pretending to be hypnotized.  After he had done some tricks one evening in Tunis, a man from another group asked if Dad could cure his smoking addiction.  Dad said, “Sure, come to our tent shortly before lights out tonight.”  When they got together, Dad turned on a single overhead light and held up a shiny silver coin.  “Concentrate on this silver coin…” he said, followed by more calm words and, maybe, hypnotized the guy.  Then he roused him and told him to go back to his tent and sleep.  The smoker said he really didn’t think anything had happened.  Dad said, “No, while you were under, I planted a post-hypnotic suggestion that you will have the best night’s sleep of your life.  When you wake up tomorrow, you will never again have a desire to smoke”.  A few days later Dad ran into the former smoker, who thanked him effusively for curing his addiction.

There was a small group of POWs, mostly German, at the base.  Dad’s unit would occasionally have them help with digging trenches or other manual labor.  Apparently, the POWs were lightly guarded and even asked to, and were allowed, to fire the American’s guns.  I’ve asked Dad why they weren’t concerned about being shot by the Germans so they could escape.  Dad laughed and said the Germans were very happy to be out of the war, eating well, and not have American tanks shooting at them.  One of the POWs was an Italian, who was the de facto cook, and prepared delicious Italian meals for the Germans and Americans.

Sometime around the end of the European war, some Marines asked Dad and his buddies if they would like to have a landing craft.  The war was winding down, the Marines were transferring elsewhere and had no further use for it.  The guys were thrilled to have a boat in which to tool around the Mediterranean.  They envisioned themselves as wealthy yacht owners and figured that the “girls” would find it irresistible.  Somehow, they convinced the fuel depot to give them 50 gallons of diesel.  For some reason, the girls declined their offer of a glamorous sea cruise.  Disappointed, but undaunted, the guys spent part of an afternoon slowly puttering around outside the port.  In order to see anything other than the inside of the boat, they had to sit up on the high, uncomfortable sides of the landing craft.  After a couple of hours, they docked the LC and abandoned their dreams of the sea.

Five months after Dad arrived in Tunis, Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945.  For the next few months, Dad bounced around between Tunis, Algiers, Oran, and Oujda.  There was still radio and navigation equipment to maintain as the Army began the long process of withdrawing and bringing everyone home.

In Oujda, Dad met a “nice Jewish boy” Lieutenant.  He and Dad became friendly. The Lieutenant complained to Dad that he was missing Jewish people especially for an upcoming Jewish holiday (probably Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur).  Dad had been in North Africa for awhile and knew enough French to get around (although apparently not enough to get auto parts properly manufactured).  He took the Lt. to the market area and asked around and somehow hooked him up with a Jewish family who invited him for the holiday.

After the war, the Lt. worked at a time clock factory outside of Chicago.  He was very appreciative for what Dad had done for him and invited Dad for a steak dinner at the Lt. and his mother’s house.

Dad became disgusted with the Red Cross while he was in North Africa, who were probably charging for food, coffee, and personal items.  Another organization sent books to the soldiers, for which Dad was very appreciative.  Years later, during the first Gulf War, Dad rounded up 500 or more books and took them to St. Mary’s Church for a book drive being organized for the overseas soldiers.  When Dad passed away in 2012, I chose Operation Paperback as a charitable donation instead of flowers, to continue that tradition.

Near Oujda, Dad was woWillkierking alone at a small remote transmitter site.  He had a dog there, named Willkie.  Willkie loved to play hide-and-seek.  Whenever a new maintenance man arrived at the site, Willkie had to train them to play.  When it was Willkie’s turn to hide, he would go behind the refrigerator-sized transmitter; the only place to hide in the small room.  Dad would continue working, but occasionally say “I wonder where Willkie is?” or “I can’t find him anywhere.”  Eventually, he’d get up and ‘find’ Willkie behind the transmitter.  Willkie would get excited, wag his tail, and then start his turn.  Dad would ‘hide’ behind the transmitter and say he was ready.  Willkie would look at the front door, at Dad’s chair, in each corner of the room, and finally find his way behind the transmitter and find Dad with a pleased bark.  Then they started over and would continue playing all day.

A very poor Arab family lived in the desert near the transmitter site.  Dad became friends with the father, Ead.  He built a house for Ead using pallets and shipping material from the transmitter equipment.Ead's House

Dad received word of an Arab uprising that was being planned.  He was advised of the exact day and to protect himself and the Army’s equipment.  On the stoop of the building, Dad assembled his arsenal of ’03 rifle, carbine, machine gun, pistol, plus extra clips and ammunition.  At 9AM, a ragtag group of Arabs marched down the road, singing and chanting their protests.  They passed by the transmitter, without taking any notice of Dad and his arsenal.  Around dinner time, they marched back home more quietly, obviously tired from their day of uprising.

arsenalEverywhere that Dad went in North Africa, he played craps and usually won.  For a brief time, he owned a monkey.  But the monkey liked to eat everyone’s cigarettes and the Necco wafers that they often used for chips.  He eventually gave or gambled the monkey away.  The MPs would often come to break up the dice games.  Dad befriended a couple of them and was eventually invited to play in the MPs own illicit, after hours craps games.

Return Home

Six months after the war in Europe ended, the captain of Dad’s unit in Algiers met up with a freight ship captain at a bar.  The ship captain was lamenting that he had a load of Alligators (a type of amphibious armored vehicle) that he had to return to the US, since they were no longer needed.  Dad’s army captain lamented that he had a bunch of men that would have to wait months more for transport ships to take them home.  As they drank, the captains discussed whether the freight ship could take a few of the men back.  The ship’s captain said he could take eight but they had to be ready to go immediately, or at least when he sobered up.  The army captain called back and ordered the next eight men in rotation that they could find to report to the ship’s dock at once.  Dad was number four, based on rank and time overseas.  Dad gathered up his prized ashtray, built from several artillery and gun shell casings, his duffel bag, and a bag of miscellaneous coins from different countries.  Dad still had clothes in the laundry and photos being developed.  They departed North Africa on 7 Nov 1945.

On the ship, Dad lost of all his money and foreign coins playing poker with the sailors (he suspects they were cheating).  Dad played craps extensively in North Africa, but not much poker.  But he and seven other men arrived home months ahead of their comrades and he didn’t care about the money.

On 26 Nov 1945, they landed somewhere in Virginia.  They didn’t have any orders or know where to go, so they called the police.  The police called the MPs.  The MPs arrived and wanted to see their orders, which they didn’t have, of course.  After phone calls overseas, they decided that the new arrivals weren’t AWOL and they rented rooms for them at a boarding house.  The next day, they handed the men blank orders and took them to the train station.  Dad and one other soldier were headed for Chicago and ended up at Fort Sheridan.  The officers questioned the blank orders and made more phone calls.  Once they were determined to be legitimate, they took the men into a large room with piles of clothing.  They were told to throw their dress pants into this pile, their suntans into that pile and so forth, until they were left with only the clothes on their back.  The army gave them $100, a chit for the remainder of their earnings, and a service lapel pin.  “Go through that door”, they were told.  Dad walked through the door and was suddenly outside, back in the real world.  The interurban train station was across the street. He boarded the next train and rode into Chicago.  No one knew he was coming home so soon.

Notes

  • Dad had a wallet, that I believe he bought in Casablanca.  In the wallet, he wrote the following:
Casablanca  Dec 4, 1943
Algiers     Jan 4, 1944
Constantine Jan 16, 1944
Tunis       Jan 25, 1945
Algiers     July 4, 1945
Tunis       July 26, 1945
Oran        Aug 4, 1945
Oujda       Aug 6, 1945
Algiers     Oct 21, 1945
Chicago     Dec 1, 1945
  • Why is Telerghma missing from the list?  (Probably because neither one of us seems to be able to spell it correctly.)  The eggnog story places him there for Christmas 1943.
  • Looking at these dates, Dad was “lost” only a month after arriving in N. Africa?  It makes me wonder about the Sgt Bradley events, learning to drive, etc., because these always seemed to precede the Constantine affair in his narrative.  I’ve done my best to piece together dates/locations/events.  For example, I’m guessing that the Bradley shootout and the rat were Algiers and that the jeep was later, probably Tunis.  I think the landing craft was the second stay in Tunis.  Best as I can surmise, Willkie, Ead, and Arab Uprising occurred near Oujda.
  • It’s remarkable that Dad never ran into Americans in Constantine.  There were apparently several bases nearby and some military headquarters located in town.
  • Dad served in the Army Air Corps, precursor to the Air Force.
  • Dates / locations / details are as best as we can recall and researching on the web.

Dad's Wallet

:: © 2013 BackAmp Research {> ::

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s