You're in the Army now!

Jack in his dress uniform
When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the United States entered World War II on the side of the Allies, Jack M. Clark was about a year out of high school. He tried to enlist but was turned down because of an alleged heart murmur. The following spring he suffered a fractured skull in a car accident. In the fall he got a draft notice, and the Army doctor declared him fit for service this time around.

The 474th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion, of which Jack became a part, began nameless as a group of recruits from up and down the eastern United States. There were men from large cities such as Baltimore, Washington, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, Erie and Philadelphia, and others from small towns such as Bassett, VA, Tarboro, NC, and New Kensington, PA, where Jack hailed from. Little did they know as they boarded troop trains in December 1942 they would play a role in the greatest military event of all time: D-Day.

The trains themselves were described as “old, decrepit and depressing.”1 A 20-year-old Jack would add “dirty” to that list as he tells of his trip from home:
My instructions for entering the U.S. Army were to board the train in New Kensington with a large group of draftees and proceed to Camp Meade, MD. I think we arrived there sometime during the next day. We slept in our seats. The train was dirty, but, of course, we didn’t expect Pullman reservations. I wouldn’t call my stay at Meade an exciting one, but it was full of surprises, since none of the group had ever had this kind of exposure. Little did we know then that there were bigger surprises down the road. We received some shots and uniforms, took tests, pulled clean-up details to keep us busy and wondered what our destinations would be. I guess the chow was OK at this point, since I don’t remember anything too different from civilian life. Somewhere during this routine we were asked if we had any preference as to what type of outfit we would like to go to for our basic training. I never met anyone who ever ended up in the outfit he named!
Lt. Steve Martinique
of  Coaldale, PA, was
Jack's lieutenant.
Each man was given two pairs of GI shoes, another two pairs of winter and summer underwear, socks, handkerchiefs, jackets, pants and a big, heavy overcoat. The shirt, coat and overcoat were to be buttoned at all times, on or off duty, as were the pockets of the shirts.

At this point, each man was also given a piece of brown paper, about a yard square, and a piece of string and told to use it to wrap their civilian clothes to be sent home. The Maverick Outfit shares an anecdote related to this activity that was indicative of life in the Army:
One man asked for another piece of paper for his hat. It was one of those broad-brimmed hats popular with the teen-agers in the early 40s. “Oh, that paper is big enough for the hat,” he was told, and the soldier supervising the recruits simply squashed the hat down with his hand.2
After about a week, Jack says the group was on a train headed toward New York City that ended up at Camp Edwards, CT. “This was a troop train with the usual accommodations,” Jack says, “which means we were glad to get the hell off of it when we arrived at our destination. I suppose they wanted us to appreciate our accommodations at Camp Edwards.”

Sgt. Fletcher Marshall
of  Richmond, VA,
was Jack's sergeant.
Barracks at this camp consisted of numerous, seemingly identical, white, two-story buildings. Each building was filled with double-decked bunks, and a latrine on the ground floor was for the use of men housed on both floors.

The non-coms and officers, referred to as the cadre, were from New England and drawn from the 207th coast Artillery Regiment. It was formerly the 7th regiment of New York, an exclusive National Guard outfit made up of the area’s bluebloods, and was renamed the 207th when called into federal service.

“Basic training at Camp Edwards was very impressive for me,” Jack relates. “I really liked the marching, drilling, exercise, hiking, double-timing and instructions on small arms and the larger guns. But I didn’t care for the extreme cold weather or the ‘short arm’ inspections in the middle of the night.” As for the food, Jack says, “It wasn’t that great, although there was never enough of it to kill anyone. The post exchange was nearby and usually stocked well.”

He remembers one particular breakfast in the mess hall during a spell unusually cold for even New England when they were served cornflakes and water rather than milk. Their mess sergeant had overdrawn rations, so the cornflakes were limited to one bowl. Of course, the men could have all the water they wanted. Square eggs were served frequently as well, and Jack says these were OK “unless you bit into a lump of baking soda.”

Jack also remembers a humorous incident from a hike during this period. “My platoon leader asked me to identify a plane flying overhead at the time. I couldn’t identify it, and he said, ‘It’s an airplane, Clark.’”

College the Army way

Both of these photos show off Jack's corporal stripes.
At the end of basic training, it was standard for the officers to select a new cadre of men to serve as non-commissioned officers for a new outfit to be organized. Jack was promoted to corporal and subsequently transferred to Camp Stewart, GA. He spent five or six weeks there before being selected to attend college under the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) and transferred to the Citadel in Charleston, SC, for processing. His choice of study was business administration, and he was disappointed to find it full.

He relates, “I was talked into accepting industrial engineering as my choice and was subsequently transferred to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. About four or five months later the entire program was disbanded and all students sent to various replacement centers. I ended up in Fort Bragg, NC, and was finally reassigned to the 474th AAA, which just happened to be on its second phase of maneuvers in the mountains of Tennessee. It was their second phase because they’d received a low efficiency rating on the first phase.”

Prior to this second phase of maneuvers, the 474th suffered its first casualties when one of the half-tracks of Headquarters Battery was involved in an accident. One man was killed and another seriously injured. When the second phase of maneuvers began in early October 1943, the weather was cold and wintry already. Jack was reassigned to his old battery—A. But no one at battalion headquarters could understand why he was there, since there were no openings. He describes what happened next:
Battery A decided to utilize my ‘skills’ and assigned me to a security guard position located 100 yards away and in deep brush (probably due to my extensive experience playing cops and robbers when I was a kid). For at least three hours I sat in some brush, cross-legged and damn wet from the pouring rain. Suddenly I was approached by an officer with the markings of a major, although by this time I wasn’t about to be impressed by anybody. He asked me my name, and I told him ‘Clark.’ He retorted, ‘Who in the hell are you—Private Clark or General Clark?’ After giving him my complete identification in military manner, he seemed to be very interested about where I’d come from prior to this assignment and why I had been made local security guard. Within a few days I was assigned to a gun crew in A Battery.
Jack’s duty might have been preferable to what the rest of the unit experienced on maneuvers:
The weather continued to be miserable, and the men sat at their gun positions, night and day in the rain. They were bundled up in their raincoats, with their wool knit caps pulled down around their ears. The gun positions quickly became muddy, and the men sloshed around in it, the mud covering their leggings…The blankets were wet, muddy and cold.3

AWOL from North Carolina

Jack clowns around at Camp Davis, NC, with his newly issued rifle.
With maneuvers completed, the 474th left its half-tracks behind and moved to Fort Fisher, near Wilmington, NC. At that time, this fort was one of the oldest posts in the Army and, according to The Maverick Outfit, one of the prettiest:
Green-painted 15-men barracks are scattered at right angles among the pine trees, with the battery kitchen and latrine in the midst of the battery area. Highway 241 went through the camp in back of the beach, and sandy roads branch off and meander through the area. It’s like a vast picnic grove…The fort dated back to the Civil War; in fact, a sign down the road said, “Fort Fisher—Built by the Confederacy.” It fell in 1865 to the Union Army. At one time, it cut off Wilmington and was the last port for blockade running.4
Jack doesn’t remember much about Fort Fisher other than it was near the ocean, so there was a lot of sand. His general impressions of the camp, though, were quite different from those already related. “The barracks were older than the Porter farm. Too bad they weren’t destroyed during the Civil War.”

The Porter farm, of course, was where his wife, Wilma, was raised near Dayton, PA. Those who visited the farm in the 1950s and 60s will have a clear picture of how Fort Fisher must have appeared to Jack. And Jack, when he first saw the Porter farm in the late 1940s, must have been taken back to the old Confederate fort for a few scary moments.

Thankfully, the stay at Fort Fisher was brief, and on Dec. 5, 1943, the 474th was moved to Camp Davis, NC, where the men were finally issued rifles. Jack doesn’t remember being too busy at Camp Davis. A lot of the guys went on furlough then, including Jack and his buddy, Ray Bilicki.

Both had three-day passes at Christmastime, nowhere near enough time to get them from North Carolina to Pennsylvania and back. But, Jack says, Ray wanted to go home for Christmas and talked him into going along. Ray turned his three-day leave into nine days, and Jack stretched his to 10. They kept making up three-day passes in the event they got stopped as they hitchhiked home and then back to camp.

Not only did Jack not get stopped, but “when I was nearing Camp Davis on my return I was given a ride by a 2nd lieutenant driving an Army recon car. Just before we got to the gate he asked me if I had a pass, and I told him I did. He said, ‘OK, you won’t have to show it when we pass the gate. I’ll just show my trip papers.’ I gave him a big salute when he dropped me off in front of my battery headquarters.”

Under the circumstances, punishment for being AWOL—absent without official leave—was the offender’s choice of courts martial or battery punishment. Ray, who returned the day before Jack, was already serving battery punishment, which had to be administered within 24 hours. Jack appeared before the battery commander the morning after returning and also chose battery punishment. He then went on sick call with an acute sore throat (tonsillitis) and ended up in the camp hospital. He never did have to serve the battery punishment.

Over the sea to Great Britain

The Aquitania was the last of the four-stackers.
Cunard Lines retired it in 1950.
Early in 1944, the 474th boarded yet another troop train, its last stateside, and moved up the east coast to New York City. The unit was billeted at nearby Camp Shanks and, for a short while, lived it up, taking the bus and the Weeahawken Ferry to the city.
Then one day the man said, “No passes today.” In the early hours of the next morning, the youths, who were green rookies just a year ago, and who were now polished soldiers, crammed the last of their belongings into a bag almost too big to be carried, staggered onto a ferry boat into which they were packed like sardines and sailed down the Hudson to Manhattan. Arriving at the pier, they carried their heavy barracks bags up the gang plank, which went up several stories into a ship that seemed to be some 10 stories high and a block long. Inside, they went up stairways and through corridors until they reached “A” deck, the top deck of the ship and found large ballrooms packed up to the ceiling with bunks. Some had to climb five bunks up to get a place to sit down.5
The four-stack Aquitania, sister ship of the sunken Lusitania and the retired Mauretania, set sail for Great Britain on Saturday morning, Jan. 29, 1944. For most of the men on board, it was their first ocean voyage but not to be their last. Jack remembers the boat ride well. “Manned by the English, we naturally had crappy food,” he recalls. “The traveling conditions were salt water to wash in and a terrible storm for most of the voyage with everybody getting seasick. We went around Iceland twice to avoid German submarines.”

The outfit pulled MP duty and manned the ship’s anti-aircraft guns, mounted in turrets high above the boat deck. They got their first shot at the Germans while aboard, firing on a German reconnaissance plane. A master sergeant became ill during the voyage and died, and Jack remembers that the corpse was lashed to the deck at the front of the ship to keep it frozen for the remainder of the voyage.

All commissioned officers, Navy nurses and Red Cross workers had their quarters on the top decks, “and we were not permitted in that area,” Jack says. “In my area, I was on the bottom bunk with three or four bunks above me. I had to be careful when I exited from my bunk so that I could duck the heave-ho from the seasick guys above.”

The Maverick Outfit reported, “As the Aquitania rolled and dipped into towering waves in a storm-tossed ocean, some of the fellows feared they would be thrown into the sea. Others wished they would. At one time, the boat listed 30 degrees, losing one of its lifeboats.”6

Jack adds that he volunteered to go with a few guys to the front of the ship and then down into the hold to secure his battery’s PX rations. “That was a mistake! This is the worst place to be on a ship when you’re in a storm. You lose all sense of direction and have to hold onto the rails on the stairs. What an experience!”

Eight days after leaving New York, the Aquitania passed the Shetland Islands along the west coast of Scotland and went through the North Channel past Northern Ireland before easing into the Firth of Clyde. Still aboard ship, the men received a letter on White House stationery bearing the signature of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and addressed to members of the United States Expeditionary Force. It said in part:
We who stay at home have our duties to perform—duties owed in many parts to you. You will be supported by the whole force and power of this nation. The victory you win will be a victory of all the people—common to them all…You bear with you the hope, the confidence, the gratitude and the prayers of your family, your fellow-citizens and your President.7
Another paper carried this message from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill:
To each American soldier who has left home to join the great forces now gathering in this island, I send a message of greeting and welcome. Wherever you may go in our country you will be among friends. Our fighting men look upon you as comrades and brothers in arms. Welcome to you while you are with us, and when the time comes we will go forward together and carry the good cause to final victory.8

Life among the Brits

The front end of a half-track looks like a truck or Jeep, but the 
back uses tank tracks instead of wheels. The roller mechanism 
on the front cleared mines.And, in the case of the 474th's half-
tracks, the rear end was fitted with anti-aircraft weaponry. 
The 474th disembarked near Glasgow, spent the next leg of its journey on board trains and bunked temporarily in the town of Wallingford, England. On Feb. 23, 1944, it convoyed across the south part of England to Bridgwater, situated near where the Parrot River empties into an inlet of the Bristol Channel. Many of the soldiers were billeted in private homes, with a few in stores and shops.

“I was part of a group of maybe 25 from A Battery who were billeted in a one-room schoolhouse that opened onto an enclosed courtyard,” Jack says. “We were at one end of the town, while the rest of the battery was located at the other end. Our motor pool was also located with the rest of A Battery, and this required us to do a lot of walking. However, we had a great advantage since we were not subject to close scrutiny from those in charge.”

Jack in the gun turret of his
half-track, the Any Gum Chum?
That lack of scrutiny paid off for “Jack the Budding Entrepreneur.” While he says he enjoyed the firing range, designated hikes and seeing the countryside, “it became quite boring doing the repetitive drills on the guns and listening to boring talks on aircraft identification from very boring non-coms.” To make life more interesting—and lucrative, since he sent home all of his pay he was allowed to—he set up a cleaning business, mainly for trousers, since it took too long for the army’s laundry to come back.

“Since we had a lot of guys who considered themselves to be God’s gift to women, I found a way to pocket some extra money. Of course, the other guys would cover for me when I had a lot of pants to clean. (By the way, no underwear would I clean.) I used GI soap. The courtyard had a long wash trough, and the lady nearby had four flat irons I could heat on our fireplace. For her help, we kept her in sugar, candy, soap, etc.”

Jack also took time off during his stay in England to have his tonsils removed. “This was performed under a local anesthetic at an Army hospital maybe 25 miles away,” he recalls. “I held the pan while the doctor cut them out. Then, after two days I was given a choice of doing KP at the hospital or going back to my outfit. I chose the latter.”

According to The Maverick Outfit, life at Bridgwater helped mold the outfit into a family of sorts. Since a training schedule didn’t exist, after breakfast the men went to their respective motor pools and worked on the new half-tracks that had been delivered to England.

James Black and Frank Basil, both members
of Jack's gun crew, load 37mm canon rounds.
The wide use of aircraft in World War II led to related developments in anti-aircraft weapons. The half-tracks used by the 474th were one of those developments and were hybrid vehicles on which machine guns were mounted, transported and fired. The half-tracks were similar to pickup trucks or Jeeps in front, with a traditional pair of tires, Then, in back, instead of tires they sported tank tracking to allow them to move on a variety of terrain.9

Guns mounted on the half-track Jack was assigned to included two 50-caliber machine guns, one mounted on each side of a central 37-millimeter machine gun. The 50-calibers weighed 54 to 100 pounds, could hit low-flying aircraft and could fire 400 to 500 rounds per minute. It used ball and tracer armor-piercing ammunition. In comparison, the 37mm weighed 210 pounds, had an effective ceiling of 10,500 feet and fired 120 rounds per minute. It used larger, high-explosive ammunition with shell-destroying tracers.

Jack’s half-track gun crew included a sergeant and a driver in the cab and five guys in the turret:
  • One operated the sites (which Jack says no one used).
  • One fed the right 50-caliber machine gun.
  • One fed the 37-mm and the left 50-caliber machine guns
  • One sat on the left and traversed the gun turret.
  • One—in this case, Jack—sat on the right, controlled gun elevations, fired the two 50-caliber guns simultaneously with one foot and fired the 37mm gun with the other foot.
A full side-view of a WWII half-track in action, camouflaged for winter.
For the 474th and other similar units, the half-track vehicles would become their homes after the invasion, so much pre-invasion time was spent customizing them. Maneuvers gave the men a chance to try out the vehicles and determine what needed to be done. One improvement included welding racks onto the backs of the tracks to carry the gun crew’s barracks bags. But the Army had even more in mind:
One morning a truck came to the motor pool, and boxes were distributed to the crews. Inside each box were small pots and pans, a frying pan and a small two-burner gasoline stove. All of the utensils had collapsible handles and could be easily packed. These kitchen utensils were part of a new ration, called 10-in-1. Accompanying them was another box which had in it food for 10 meals, hence the name 10-in-1. The idea of these rations was to relieve the kitchen crew of supplying meals in the field as they had done in Tennessee. Each crew cooked its own and sometimes, in Europe, they would supplement the diet with the help of a cow or a deer who happened to come a bit too close to a hungry crew. The rations included such convenient items as powdered milk and eggs, cans of meat for the main course, little boxes of cereal which simply needed the addition of water to be made edible (the box served as a bowl) and, of course, coffee. On the day that the rations arrived, the men cooked their own lunch, on their own stoves at their respective tracks.10
Though this photo was taken after  D-Day
(notice swastikas indicating Jerry planes
shot down), it shows the half-track's "name"
of Any Gum Chum? The soldier pictured is
gun crew member Buck Haviland.
Jack adds that some 10-in-1 rations included a large can of English stew. “You only tried once to eat it,” he said. “It was a good trading item with the natives, if they were really hungry!”

Also during this time many of the gun crews began naming their half-tracks and painting the names on the sides. Jack’s gun crew dubbed their home away from home Any Gum Chum? after the phrase the American GIs heard so often from English children near where they were stationed.