Tuesday, February 3, 2009

New Orleans

In an earlier posting, I mentioned that after being drafted into the Army in 1943, Jean Anderson and I were married, after about a 2 year courtship.

Since I had been working at Patterson Field in Ohio (now WPAFB) in the Airborne Radio Repair shop, the Signal Officer requested that I be returned to Patterson, and placed in the Signal Corps, attached to the Air Corps.

When it came time for me to join a unit, I was transferred to New Orleans and the 897th Signal Company Depot Aviation. The “Signal” part referred to my radio work; “Depot” referred to a part of our outfit that did warehouse and storage work. “Aviation” referred to our connection to the Air Corps - installing and repairing radios for airplanes. This type of outfit would be called Air Force today.

On arrival in New Orleans, two other men and I joined the 897th. We were stationed just outside the City, and fairly near Lake Pontchartrain.

Our training there was basically preparing us for our work overseas. We didn’t do any “radio” work there - only learning how to cope with being in a foreign country, as US Soldiers. We did learn some new radio gear, and how to maintain them.

Having once got settled there, it became possible for my new wife to join me for a visit. No promise was made for how long that would be, but Jean had arranged it anyway.

Jean and my sister Miriam got on a Greyhound Bus and headed for New Orleans. I had arranged for a Hotel room for them for the week-end, at least.

When they arrived, I was able to meet them, and take them to the Hotel. We got a room for them, and I indicated that, for now, I could just be with them for the week-end. We all three slept in that one room - me on the floor.

On Monday morning, I went back to the Base, and discovered that I was among a group that was to go to Mobile AL for some weeks for training on a piece of radio equipment. I could only go back to the Hotel to tell Jean and Miriam that I couldn’t see them anymore - for a time.

They got on the Bus for Springfield OH, from which they had just departed a few days before.

I went back to the Base, and shortly joined about 10 other men for the trip to Mobile. We were expected to stay only a few weeks.

After the training was ended, we returned to New Orleans, and I called Jean to tell her she should come back down by herself, and stay as long as I was in New Orleans.

She did that, and we secured a one-room apartment on Canal Street in New Orleans, at what would now be called a “ridiculously low” sum of money.

I don’t recall how long we had there, but it must have been at least a month. We had a wonderful time with each other, and with visiting the “sights” of New Orleans, including Bourbon Street of nefarious reputation, that didn’t affect us at all.

We also went swimming in a below ground pool there, and the water was so warm, you almost thought it was heated. It was so humid that our stamps would stick together. We learned to separate them.

While there, we had our first “month-i-versary”celebration, and our land lady baked us a cake. Since we didn’t eat all of it, what was left was put on the top of a chest of drawers. The next morning, all we could see were ants all over it.

The time finally came when our orders were secured, so Jean went back home. But, in just a few short days, I was given a 30 day furlough prior to leaving for overseas. So, I went home for that time.

When the 30 days were over, I got back on the bus and headed south. Around the last of September 1943, we were loaded onto a “Troop Train”, with blinds on the windows, and headed for Newport News, Virginia. Along the way, though the train had to stop some, we were not permitted to even look outside, lest someone would recognize that we were transporting troops to the East Coast.

The train trip took several days, as I remember it. But we finally arrived, to then be loaded onto the Troop Ship, the USS General John Pope. While the ship was still in the harbor, all of us had to remain below deck, to hide the fact that we were troops.

Of course, leaving the East Coast, we assumed we were going to Europe. But, after we were out in open waters, with no land in sight, we were permitted to come top-side and see that we were sailing south.

We ended up going through the Panama Canal, which I have described earlier.

I don’t want to leave New Orleans without relating a rather sad story about a man who was inducted with me, went to the Reception Center with me, and then to New Orleans with the 897th.

For some reason, he was assigned a job in the Company Commander’s office. He had access to all of the troop movements of our company - along with the 898th and 899th companies.

Whether it was a “fear” of going overseas, or just what, we were never able to discover. But, he began, surreptitiously, to investigate the various troops and companies he found in the records. He apparently found the access too much to resist, and, thinking he could arrange a transfer for himself out of either of the three companies going overseas, he did just that. He felt he was destined to stay “stateside”. In addition, he took a couple of others with him, for safety.

We never knew what or how it happened - only that he had been “found out”, was court-martialed - along with his cohorts, and the next time we saw him was when he was marching within the confines of the “brig”, I suppose it was called, carrying his rifle on his shoulder, looking neither left nor right. We saw him, but ostensibly, he never saw us.

Very sad.

Fast forward to the end of the Japanese War. We were on a troop ship, I think returning home, (I thought we flew. But now I think it was on a ship.) Anyway, some of us were in the Radio Room, and heard some Ham Radio Operators communicating back and forth, and lo and behold, there was our “brig” friend who had apparently been sent overseas after all, and set up a clandestine radio station for the Ham bands. There were dozens of them - all illegal until the war was Officially over.

All Amateur radio activity had been banned by the Government “for the duration”. With the war now over, the Hams could operate legally, but not with the bogus call sign they were using. They assumed they would not be prosecuted since the Japanese had surrendered.

I had no further contact with him, but I understand he returned home when all the rest of us did. What he did after New Orleans, I have not the slightest idea.

I always felt sorry for him. He was a real nice guy, with great electronic talent. But, temptation was just too much for him.

There, but by the Grace of God, go I.

I Corinthians 15:10 “………by the grace of God, I am what I am.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just love your fascinating stories, Uncle Myron! Keep 'em coming! ~Diann