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A Long Cruise & Letters III, IV and V

USS Heyward - Heyward class transport ship

USS Heyward – Heyward class transport ship

From my father’s description of his transport ship out of San Francisco and the approximate number of soldiers that were aboard, I can speculate that it was a Heywood class ship, as seen to the left.  As the ship lumbered out to the ocean swells, many of the young men took their final glance of the USA.  Smitty thought that his most boring time in the army was while he sailed on this cruise, although he did well in learning how to play cards – as did many other G.I.’s.

As they boarded, the ship’s crew immediately began enforcing the security procedures.  All portholes and hatches were covered and no lights were allowed after dusk.  The heat below deck would become intolerable.  The arrival of the “ditty bags” filled with toiletries, cigarettes, gum and a harmonica brightened their spirits; although many of the mouth organs were sent flying overboard when the noise made from the tin-eared soldiers became too much for the ship’s officers to endure.  This cruise would take 28 days.

When they passed the equator, as per naval tradition, the ship’s crew donned their apparel of King Neptune and his court in preparation of handing the “Pollywogs” (the soldiers) their certificates of crossing.  The Royal Barber tried to cut the hair of the crew-cut troopers and the Royal Executioner paddled a backside with an oar if the receiving line moved too closely to a snail’s pace. (which one can imagine was every G.I. derriere that went by!) Smitty was one to really enjoy this sort of tomfoolery — even if it was with the navy!  The water damage you see to Smitty’s certificate (pictured below) is one of the reasons I began to make a facsimile of his scrapbook onto the computer.  The more research I did, the more people I discovered who were out there, also looking for data on their own relatives, ergo – this blog.  I have re-typed the contents of the certificate to show the humor involved — despite a war.

To All Sailors, Marines, Whatever Ye Maybe: Greetings: and to all Mermaids, Whales, Sea Serpents, Porpoises, Sharks, Eels,Dolphins, Skates, Suckers, Crabs, Lobsters and all other Living Things of the Sea: Know ye, that on this June 15 ’44 in Latitude 00000 and Longitude Cape Mendacia there appeared within Our Royal Domain the bound Southwestward for the Equator, the South Sea Islands, New Zealand and Australian ports BE IT REMEMBERED That the said Vessel and Officers and Crew thereof have been inspected and passed on by Ourselves and Royal Staff: AND BE IT KNOWN By all ye Sailors, Marines, Landlubbers, Soldiers and all others who may be honored by his presence, that Pollywog Everett A. Smith 32816491  Having been found worthy to be numbered as one of our Trusty Shellbacks he has been duly initiated into the SOLEMN MYSTERIES OF THE ANCIENT ORDER OF THE DEEP  Be It Further Understood:  That by Virtue of the power invested in me I do hereby command all my subjects to show honor and respect to him wherever he may be.  Disobey the Order under Penalty of Royal Displeasure. (bottom left) Given under our band and seal this Davey Jones, His Majesty’s Scribe – (bottom right)  Neptunus Rex, His Servant – the signature appears to be Gregory Cullen

Equator crossing certificate

Click on photos to enlarge.

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Letter III                                                                                                  Somewhere at sea at a loss

Dear Mom,   We have been on this tub for quite some time now and I must say that although the army doesn’t go to any great pains making you comfortable, they sure do go to extremes making it unpleasant.   I can’t tell you as much as I would like to about the  trip or what we are doing.  One reason is that we don’t know where the heck we are anyway and as for what we are doing, well anything we might like to do would be stopped sooner than it got started.  It has gotten so that now we have to play cards, if money is displayed, down in the hold.  Seems as though the sea gulls over this ocean are the pious type and the sight of men gambling is revolting — or they think it is food.

To try and describe the food or the mess hall would curtail the use of profanity the like of which I wouldn’t attempt to use.  To call it food in the first place is flattery at its best.  Mess Hall is very appropriate — it is some MESS.  This is the first time in my life that I can truthfully say I dread the thought of eating.  We are supposed to tell you that on board ship we can purchase cigarettes for 4 1/2 cents a pack, also candy and a load of other stuff at cost price.  We can also buy bottles of coca cola, but the blame stuff is so hot that we are of the opinion that loaded down with this coke in our stomachs, we might be used as depth charges if a sub should show up.  We did receive free, with no strings attached, a bag full of necessary things from the Red Cross.  It really was worthwhile going after.

Where we might be bound for is still a very big question that will no doubt be answered only when we finally arrive there.  After all, if we knew, we might tell it to the stars and that would be just awful.  I realize this doesn’t sound like a very pleasant letter, but then you must take into consideration this isn’t a very pleasant trip.  None of those romantic moonlit nights.  Well, that is all for today, so until later on when I will be back to add to this, I’ll say so long for now and all my love,  Everett

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Letter IV                                                                                                      Still at sea in a quandary

Dear Mom,  Well, here I am again as promised.  Yesterday we had a little something different to sea besides the sea.  Notice that I’m getting so that I can only spell  the sea when I mean to write see.  Early in the morning we had the pleasure of seeing another ship and must say it sure made one feel good.  Why it should though I can’t say unless it is the thought that someone else is having it just as tough.  Guess there is some truth in the saying, “Misery loves company.”  We also had the pleasure of watching some islands in the far off distance.  I won’t try to describe them to you, as that would be too much to expect to pass. (Censorship)  You will kindly take notice that I used the words “pleasant” and “pleasure,” if I keep that up you might get the idea this is getting to be that kind of voyage.  Some amusing things do happen though, such as the boys sleeping out on the deck getting caught in the rain or some clumsy ox slipping and sliding his way along the boat.  By the way, I forgot to tell you that we get the regular news everyday in a printed form resembling a newspaper.  Also music by record sounds tinny, but anything out here is good.

You can readily see I haven’t much ambition for writing today, which reminds me   Everett was blacked out by censors.  Matter of fact, the way I feel right now, I don’t care much whether I do or not.  Well, that is all for today’s report on nothing, so with all my love, I am your ever obedient son,  Everett

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Letter V                                                                                                                   Yep!  Still at sea

Dear Mom,  I was seriously thinking of tearing this letter up, as I couldn’t for the life of me locate an airmail stamp aboard ship.  I kept at it though until finally fortune smiled down on me and success was mine.  I have been pretty lucky so far at my card playing activities and should it hold out until we reach some civilized port, why I’ll be ahead and you will be pleasantly surprised when you receive my check for like amount.  We can cable home money from abroad so might just as well take your advice — surprised? — and send it home for that day when we shall all return.

We have a large map of the world hanging up on the wall, which supplies us with as much amusement trying to figure out just where we are.  According to figures, dates, times and patience, we should be hitting a port sometime real soon.  In fact there is a rumor being whispered about that we will hit one tomorrow.  Now this rumor comes from good authority seeing that it came from a fellow whose first sergeant is a second cousin to the uncle of the father of the first mate whose brother is third cook on this boat.  Now, can’t you see why we are so glumly overjoyed?  All kidding aside though, we should be nearing one soon.

We saw a movie last night down in the mess hall.  It was quite an old picture, but luckily for me, I hadn’t seen it before, so therefore I spent my most enjoyable hour so far on this trip.  The officers on this trip haven’t been having it quite as tough as us, but rough enough.  In order to pass away their time they have taken up the game of badminton with a zeal and I must say have really kept at it until now this regiment can boast it has not only badminton players, but experts as well.  By the way, I have also learned how to play the old card game of Cribbage.  Ever hear tell of it before?  Well mom, that is all for today, so once again I’ll sign off, but before I do, give my regards to all and I’ll write again soon.  Love and kisses, Everett

Memories of land

Memories of land

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Camp Stoneman & Letters I & II

Overhead partial view of Camp Stoneman

Overhead partial view of Camp Stoneman

Pvt. Smith was as cocky and proud as the next trooper, but he also thought of the army as a learning experience and considered his new adventure as a chance to experience things he would not otherwise have the opportunity.  On April 23, 1944, he stepped off a train near Camp Stoneman, California.  Here the troopers would learn how to live aboard ship, operate life boats, raft kits and climb up and down rope ladders.  Censorship of the soldier’s letters began here. The Inspector General’s men discovered the ruse of the 11th A/B Division hiding behind the paperwork of Shipment #1855 and the troopers began to accumulate AW104’s in record amounts. (Under the Article of War #104 – a commanding officer may give punishment, as is necessary, without the threat of court-martial.)  May 2, the 11th A/B moved to Pittsburg, CA by way of inland boats to their actual POE and the letters from Smitty began …

Letter I                                                                                                                        Tuesday 5/2/44          Dear Mom,     I sure am a fine one after calling you Sunday especially to wish you a Happy Birthday and I go and forget to, but I assure you it wasn’t intentional, but just excitement of the conversation.  I tried yesterday to buy a card, but to no avail.  No doubt by the time you receive this letter you will be wondering why I didn’t call you this week as I promised I would.  It just so happened that we were confined to our company area starting yesterday morning, so it was an impossibility to get to either a telephone or telegraph office.     From now on all my letters to you will be numbered as this one is in the upper left hand corner.  In that way, you can read my letters in sequence and can tell whether or not you are receiving all my letters.  I would also advise sending all letters to me from now on by airmail as that will be the quickest way.  We heard that not all the mail so far from here has yet been sent out, but when it does go out, why you will no doubt get them all at once.  Tell everyone at home to be patient and they will no doubt hear from me as I sit down Saturday and either write a letter or card to everyone I know.  You had better check up on them all and see that they have my correct address, as the army will notify only you of any new changes.  I sure don’t want to lose out on my letters of anyone just because they have an incorrect address.     Yesterday we didn’t do much of anything, but Sunday was really quite an entertaining day.  We went bowling, then to a free USO show and from there to a movie.  The entertainment is so full and alive that sometimes it still persists in your dreams.  Therefore, you can really say they even take care of you while you are slumbering.     Well mom, that is all for now, so once more I want to wish you a “Happy Birthday” and the best of everything.  Don’t worry and keep you chin up.                                                                                       Love,                                                                            Everett

PS – Be on the lookout for a new Class E allotment I made out and also a B allotment.  Your allotments now will come to 22 dollars cash and a $18.75 war bond a month.  I’m getting pretty good, aren’t I?

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Letter II                                                                                                                                                                                      Thursday 5/4/44

Dear Mom,

     There really isn’t much to write about as I’ve told you most everything on the phone.  By the way, when you receive your bill for the month let me know just how much these calls cost.

I heard from Harley yesterday and it seems that he wants something to do and they just won’t give him anything.  They have now made him landscape sergeant and I can just see him pulling weeds and taking care of flowers.  If he should ever get his load on, he’ll nip out the flowers and let the weeds alone.  I haven’t written to Woods yet, but give me time.  I’ll get around to it before long.

We have to police up the area now, so will leave you for a while.  Be back before long. — Hello again.  We no sooner pick up the old cigarette butts and paper than some jerk behind you drops one so that cleaning up is getting to be a problem.  Policing up is what is known as body bending exercise, head down, backsides pointing to the sky.

Well mom, that is all there is for now so take care of yourself and give my regards to all.  All my love, Everett

Smitty was unable to tell his mother that he and the 11th A/B would be shipping out the following day – destination and mission unknown.  The men cruised from Suisan Bay into San Pablo Bay, into San Francisco Bay and under the Oakland Bridge to Oakland Mole where the Red Cross passed out coffee and donuts while they boarded the transport ships.  So … back under the Oakland Bridge, thru San Francisco Bay   and under the Golden Gate Bridge         to the open Pacific.

Port of Exit

This photograph   on the left was removed from a New York newspaper.  The sign above the entry    states: “Through these portals pass the best damn soldiers in the World.”  The clipping beside it indicates shipping out dates.   The 11th A/B departed May 5, 1944.   Smitty said that this cruise would be the most boring part of his service, although he did become quite adept at playing cards during this time.

campstoneman (125x150)

Camp MacKall & the Knollwood Maneuvers

WACO glider at Camp MacKall – reverse side reads: “Hello Mom, Finally got some cards that can let you see what these gliders we ride around in look like. This picture was taken on our camp field. I have a few more that I’ll sens to you. Regards to all. Hope to be home this Wednesday.” Everett

The type of construction used for the barracks at Camp MacKall and the above hospital is called a “theatre of operations.”  Built on pilings and constructed of green sawed pine boards which is then covered with type 4 black tar paper.  The wood was cut from trees on the camp property using 7 sawmills running 24/7.  When the boards dried out, the 2 pot-bellied stoves were incapable of keeping the men warm.  Smitty spent some time at that hospital when the army discovered he did not perspire.  The medication took 3 weeks to kick in and then he was back to marching.

The Knollwood Maneuver would not only be the deciding factor for the 11th Airborne, but also for future paratrooper divisions as a whole.  5 December 1943, Army Ground Forces test team deployed a composite combat team from the 17th A/B, plus a battalion from Col. Duke McEntee’s 541st Parachute Infantry Regiment to be situated at Knollwood Airport and other critical points to act as the ‘enemy.’

Viewer to this operation included: Under Secretary of War, Robert Patterson; General McNair; General Ridgeway (82nd A/B); BGen. Lee Donovan; Airborne Command and several teams of high-ranking inspectors from the War Dept., Army Ground Forces and Army Air Forces.

On midnight of Dec. 6, 1943, 200 C-47 Dakota transports carried the troopers and towed the 234 gliders from five separate airfields to begin the operation.  The lift-offs were timed so that each plane would join the column in its proper place.  The aircraft became a vee-of-vees, nine ships wide as the formations grew larger.  They made a rendezvous on the Atlantic coastline and took a 200 mile circular route before aiming toward the inland drop zones; most of the men would jump during evening’s darkness at 1200′.  Almost all the troopers and gliders hit the proper DZ (drop Zones) and LZs (landing zone).  However, the division chief of staff and his glider load landed in a road on the Fort Bragg artillery range.

Weather conditions were not condusive for jumping as the rain became sleet, but still, 85% were successful.  There were 2 casualties and 48 injuries.  The 11th Airborne “captured” and “held” the Aberdeen and Knollwood Airports from the defending forces.  The exercise came to an end on Dec. 12 – Smitty’s 29th birthday.  The War Dept., after reviewing the reports, replied to Gen. Swing that they had been wrong and the training for such a specialized unit should proceed. (As it would turn out, their training had only just begun. )

News from home: Smitty’s friend, George Dunlop rescued two Navy pilots after their training plane crashed into Jamaica Bay.  The company of soldiers that were stationed on Broad Channel became an actual camp and decided to call it — Camp Smith!  War bond drives were going on as well as the dimming of the street lamps.

Below is the graduation class of the 187th regiment, 11th Airborne Division – Everett Smith is in the back row, fifth from the right (in front of the tree), Arthur G. Weyant (bottom row, far left)

187th, Headquarters Company

On Jan. 1, 1944, the Headquarters Building for the 11th burnt to the ground.   Jan. 2, the division began its train ride south to Camp Polk, LA.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – From the 82nd A/B Div. Assoc.

airborne_agenda

tell_me_a_again

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

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