Heroes: the Army
"...A slight wave came surging over the deck and up against the wall where I was gripping the rail on the wall. Quite a sensation to be standing there holding my breath waiting for the water to recede, I assure you. I wasn't long getting away from there and heading down to get some more rags to clothe my frame..."
John T. Wood, Jr.
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. I., 407th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC., Purple Heart
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Mendenhall, MS
It's Been a Long, Long Time
by Trigg Wood, 407-I
Yesterday morning bright and early, the time had arrived. The start, at last. My duties as first sergeant's assistant made it necessary for me to arize a bit earlier than the others but who would object to missing a few winks on their last morning as an occupying soldier? The company was ready at 0930 and by eleven hours we had clearance on all the buildings and the trucks were on hand to take us to the train. I bid a fond adieu to one of my lieutenants who was staying behind and boarded the trucks. Farewell, Staffelstein.
Most of the men in the company had been reassigned only for the purpose of returning to the States and therefore few of the old timers remained. Of these few, the Company headquarters was composed and for the duties of administration on the train were assigned to one car -- car 5. The rest of the company is broken down according to the alphabet and assigned to their cars accordingly.
The cars are not the most luxurious in the world, but I could personally have done a lot worse and anyway, I'm going home! The fathers of a lot of these men rode these same cars. The date on this one, for example, is 1903. They built good boxcars for that date.
Bill Patton and I did a bit worse on our first trip across the continent. We had thirty five men and all equipment then and this time there are only nine of us with enough rations for the other ten cars of our company. We "liberated" a couple of nice sponge rubber mattresses about a year ago, and the night before we saw to it that these were nicely stored away on Car 5. Solid comfort. Of our personnel in this car we have the supply sergeant and his assistant, the mess sergeant and a couple of others who have provided for themselves adequately. We have "K" rations issued, but we managed to get a ham and several loaves of bread for the nine of us, plus various and varied other items of interest for our consumption enroute.
The rest of the men aren't faring as well but none of them are hurting. The last stop proved interesting. We stopped for a hot meal in this little French town not far from Sarbroucken and a few miles past the Rhine River. The stop was at a transient mess and after eating we started talking. P.W.s will do most anything for a few cigarettes and for a few cigarettes we obtained three chickens which the mess sergeant is presently carving into proper sized pieces while another guy is building up the fire in the little stove. Fried chicken a' la boxcar.
It is getting kinda late in the dream for them to wake my up so I'm hoping it's the real McCoy this time. We are due in LeHarve in two more days and after two days there we should be ready to walk up the plank. Look out, New York. Here I come. Bill and I decided on our last pass before we came over that we would have a big time in New York when we got back. We plan to stay at the Biltmore, have our breakfast in bed, and generally have a wonderful time for at least a day or two.
Of the original second platoon, we are the only two left in the company to return with it. There are five men of the original company still with us.
After the long train ride through Germany and France (the beautiful) we arrived in due time at the port of LeHarve. With customary army efficiency the company was whisked out of the rail yard only three hours after we arrived and several miles later was deposited in the much used camp -- Camp Phillip Morris. The hour was late when the company arrived at the tents and in view of the hour the cadre had given up any hope of our arrival that night and were no where to be found, not for some time at any rate.
I arrived in the area two hours after the company did and they had just gotten the men into the tents at that time. The reason for my delay lay in the fact that I had been left with the baggage detail as a guard and it seems that the Frogs didn't want to unload the car where it was, but had to move it to another section of the yard. After some time the movement started with reasonable efficiency; the car was detached from the rest of the train, moved to the middle of the yard and promptly forgotten. My supposition is that in due time it would have been in someone's way and would have been put on the right siding sooner or later. Time was dragging by slowly for me but evidently it was dragging too slowly for the truck driver who was waiting for us, for he was a man of actions and not one of words except when they were directed towards the Frenchmen, that is.
It amused me no end when he came back across the rails leading a tremendous tractor-trailer and all the time shouting broken German instructions at the P.W. at the wheel. Switch engines on the right of us; switch engines on the left of us, but our locomotion came from the big truck. 'Course it cost the government money to put another end on the truck, but the situation was none the less humorous.
Briefly, our week at Camp Phillip Morris was a long way from pleasant but a tent is luxury compared to a hole in the ground so some of us at least have been under worse conditions. I have never ceased to marvel that we made the deadlines on various requirements but we always did even though we had no time or warning. There was no schedule for processing. Headquarters would call down and say, for instance, collect forty marks from every man and turn it in for franks at ten o'clock this morning. Such processes can be difficult when only one officer is designated to handle collections and payments in the company. Anyway, we got processed. I, and the first sergeant and a few others, got a few gray hairs out of the deal but at least we are on the boat.
After many rumors had gone the rounds and been duly contradicted, we got the call that the USS General John R. Brooke was in the harbor and that we were to be among the advanced elements of our division to be boarded since the 407th had arrived at LeHavre first and in view of the fact that we have the biggest company, we were selected.
For the Brooke, I can say a number of complimentary things and for Mr. Kaiser likewise. The ship was designed to carry troops and for that reason has every convenience possible in messing facilities and the like and is able to feed three meals a day where most troop-carrying tubs only serve two and a sandwich.
The first day out it became evident that the Army transportation officer had our immediate future all laid out. He thinks that the best way to keep the troops in good spirits is to have them busy as much of the time as possible. Ordinarily, now, I am not in charge of any of the details but the troop officer wanted eight men and a non-coin so I took the men up myself. This proved to be a mistake in one way and a blessing in another.
The mistake was that the detail was an every day affair and the blessing was that I explained the merits of having another sergeant in charge of the detail and having yours truly in charge of the sergeant to the first sergeant, and so it was. It occurred to me that on the said detail it would be advisable to have permits for part of the men to eat early chow so as to properly carry out their duties and this I explained to the proper person. He was duly impressed and gave me a hand full.
The mess personnel evidently didn't agree with the troop office on the use of these passes, for the troop office issued enough for each meal and the mess personnel only looked at the cards and waived the individual by. This accounts forthe extra tickets I have in my possession. When my friend, Bill, and I get ready to eat we don't go around the boat looking for the end of the line. We simply go through a door I've found that opens into the mess hall at the proper place and in we walk. This procedure simplifies the situation considerably.
A couple of days out we began to notice some change in the lake-like surface, and by the second day the sea was considerably kicked up. The port side was the only dry spot on the ship and only the back half of the main deck was absolutely free from the wind-blown spray. I had to see what the storm looked like from the bow, so up I went and in spite of my better judgement had a look. A slight wave came surging over the deck and up against the wall where I was gripping the rail on the wall. Quite a sensation to be standing there holding my breath waiting for the water to recede, I assure you. I wasn't long getting away from there and heading down to get some more rags to clothe my frame.
The rest of the journey has been routine with the exception of the thick fog that has been around us this last day on the high seas. Old Lady Liberty should be setting out there waiting along about the middle of the morning (0300 or there about) and you can bet I'll be there waiting to see her. To heck with sleep this night.
"Breathes there a man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said
This is my own, my native land.
Whose heart has here within him burned
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on some foreign strand,
If such there be etc., etc."
Yes, It's been a long, long time.
----- John T. Wood
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
12 January 2005.
A photo of Co. A., 2nd Platoon, 407th Regiment, 102nd Division. This image is on a page that is dedicated to Mr. Edward Marchelitis, Sr., by his daughter Carol. Most of the men in the photo taken on December 20, 1943 are identified on the back of the image.
To view the photo of Co. A., 2nd Platoon, 407th Regiment as well as other photos of Edward Marchelitis, click on the image above.
The family of Mr. Marchelitis is seeking information on his platoon.
A special Thank You is extended to the daughter of Edward Marchelitis, Sr., Carol Marchelitis Heppner.
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The above story, "It's Been A Long, Long Time", by John T. Wood, Jr., 407th Regiment, Co. I., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 51, No. 3, April/June 1999, pp. 11-13.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 28 March 2004.
Story added to website on 3 April 2004.
September 5, 2002.
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