This story deals with my leaving the 357th Fighter Group, which had been my life from January 1943 until September 1945. All personnel were being sent back to the United States using the point system that had been set up to muster out soldiers. The accumulated numbers total determined in what turn you would be sent homeward. While we were in Neubiberg, our days were less stressful, as we had to keep the planes flight ready, but only a very few ready for immediate flight. A lot of our time was spent in playing softball and eating ice cream. Our Group had confiscated a very large ice cream maker and we had ice cream all of the time. We had ice cream for a lot of our meals and we could purchase an ice cream cone whenever we wanted. And I love ice cream!
It was during this period of time that our Group had started flying officers and enlisted men to southern France to rest homes for rest and recuperation(called R & R). First Sergeant Henry Ramm tried to talk me into going numerous times, as my record showed that I had gone the longest time without furlough in the 362nd Fighter Squadron. I always refused, as I was afraid that I would be in France and my number would be called for transferring out. My name was near the top of the list and I wanted to go home!
Finally the day arrived and a group of us (approximately 30) found our names posted on the bulletin board to be ready to leave the following morning. Early the next day we were at the orderly room with all of our equipment and boarded a 6 X 6 truck for our ride to Salzburg. Upon arrival at the Salzburg Camp, we were billeted in barracks to await our traveling orders. It was here that we found that we were joining an anti-aircraft company for shipment back to the United States as a group, as this appeared to be the easiest way to handle dismissals. Our CO had been a Physical Education Officer, so we were kept busy and in shape doing calisthenics, etc.
My stay here lasted approximately three weeks, as there was a dock strike in New York Harbor and the ships were not being unloaded, so they could return to France and pick up another load of soldiers. Finally our orders were cut to transfer by rail to Le Havre, France for our trip across the Atlantic. Early on the following morning we were transported to the rail yards to board 40 X 8 box cars (so called, because they would hold 40 men or 8 mules) for our ride to Le Havre to catch our ship homeward. In these box cars was straw covering the floor for padding in case you wanted to sit or lie down and with a large supply of army rations piled in one corner. It was a tough and tedious trip to the sliding door in case a person had to relieve himself during the night. The floor was practically covered with sleeping bodies in sleeping bags and the box car weaved back and forth quite a bit, so a few were stepped on.
This was an interesting trip and one I would not want to do again. The train would stop along the way in various cities and at some stops we were allowed to get off and do some of those dreaded calisthenics. The wondefrful Red Cross ladies seemed to always be there with their donuts and coffee and sometimes with sandwiches, which really was appreciated by all of us. During these stops, our troop train was always surrounded by civilian adults and little children waving , greeting us, thanking us and at times handing us beautiful flowers. They were generally in tattered clothes and with a hungry look in their eyes, which really got to us, so we started opening up our rations and taking out candy, chewing gum and bits of food to give to them. Then someone got the idea to give away some of their excess clothing, which all of us started doing. At this point, the officers in charge, stopped us from doing this, as it was creating a safety problem because the civilians were getting a little wild and taking chances in order to obtain additional items. I will never forget the look on the faces of those people-it was a very emotional time for all of us.
We finally arrived at LeHavre in early evening and were transported to Camp Twenty Grand in a 6 X 6 truck to await our orders to board ship. It was very cold and rainy in early November and we were placed in another muddy area in unheated tents. To try to get some sleep that night, we piled everything we had on top of us, even our heavy army overcoats, to keep warm. After approximately two days here, we were tarnsported to the Port of Le Havre to board our ship for our trip across the North Atlantic to the United States. We found that we were to board a Victory ship and again would be part of the overload. On this return trip we had 1700 on board and it was filled to the hole and that is where we were placed. (On The Bottom) We didn't care, as we were headed home!
This trip was supposed to require 8 days on a Victory ship , but we ran into a bad storm about five days out in the North Atlantic. A group of us were sun bathing on deck, playing cards and matching quarters, when it hit suddenly. We were ordered below deck, the doors were locked and the wind funnels were turned to the rear to keep the wash from flooding the inside of the ship. Or so to speak-Battened down the hatches! It was a very bad storm and we finally had to cease trying to battle the waves and headed south to go with the storm. I asked one of the Merchant Marines how high the waves were and he said that they were 60 to 75', but weren't too bad as the ship had been in waves 75 to 100'. That consoled us a little, but it was still very scary. I can say that during this storm I experienced my extreme height of fear! The storm lasted approximately 1 1/2 days and during that period there were only 300 people eating out of the 1700 on board. The ones that didn't get sick had to clean up the ship before we reached port. It was during this time that I almost joined the sick group! After the storm, it got very calm and we headed toward New York at full speed.
We finally reached New York Harbor, sailing past that beautiful sight-"The Statue Of Liberty", a previous gift from our French friends, and with a mass of boats that came out to escort us in and a brass band playing aboard one of them. This was truly a very emotional period in my life! We were unloaded to a ferry for our ride to dry land and given a full quart of fresh milk. Ooh-It was good , as I had been drinking powdered milk for a long time, and it should be said here-"We did kiss the ground when we placed our feet on that good old U S soil". We were transported into Camp Shanks, which was our Camp Of Entry. As soon as we had been assigned to a barracks and told what we would be doing here and when we could expect to be shipped out, we ran to the telephone building, that had been erected for just this sort of thing with many phones and operators. I got in line and took a number and after about 30 minutes got my chance to place a call to my wife. My wife happened to be away and her mother answered. I asked her to relay the message that I had arrived safely in New York and would be shipped out the following day by train bound for Camp Atterbury, near Columbus, Indiana. I told her that I would call and let her know when to pick me up. After our phone calls, we all ran over to the PX and ordered the largest chocolate milk shakes that we could get.
The following morning I boarded the train for Camp Atterbury. It was an uneventful trip, but filled with a lot of anticipation and thankfulness that I was going to be back home soon with my family and loved ones. As soon as I arrived in Camp Atterbury and found out when I would be discharged, I called my wife and gave her the news. It goes without saying- "I had a very sleepless night." After finishing my mustering out process the folowing morning, I was taken to the Transportation Depot. Some of the soldiers left by train, some by bus and a few of us left by car. I will never forget my feeling when I first saw my wife driving up in our car. The following few days were spent in visiting with family, plus getting acquainted with all of the new members of our extended family! Oh, what a happy time!
- Hoyt Parmer