THE WAY I REMEMBER IT
World War II was starting its third year before I became old enough to participate.
I enlisted at age 17 while attending Texas Tech. An Army Specialized Training Program had opened up at Tech in the School of Engineering . That’s exactly where I was.
In ASTP you wore a uniform, slept in the dormitory, and attended regular basic classes in engineering. We were taught how to make a bed and keep our room in order, and were given regular physical training exercises. We also were taught how to march—close order drill they called it. I never did find out if there was a long or distant order drill.
We completed one semester of instruction when the military decided they didn’t need any of those long-range engineers; what they needed was Infantry, and right now.
So, we received orders to report to Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio for our assignment. We did all the physical stuff like standing nude in a straight line and going through a lot of motions. You soon learned that being naked was a large part of army life: at physical inspections, in the shower, changing clothes and then there was the great communal row of johns with all the privacy of the land between Lubbock and Amarillo .
Orders came in about ten days to report to Camp Fannin near Tyler , Texas for Infantry Basic. Just what I needed! Infantry Basic in East Texas in June, July, August and September. And here they showed absolutely no respect. Up at 4 or 5 in the morning, train and sweat all day, scrub your fatigues after supper, hang them out so that you could wear them the day after tomorrow. You had two sets, and if you didn’t wash them the Sargeant would smell you, and that wasn’t good.
We did all the regular training stuff: march everywhere we went, shoot the rifle, the machine gun, the BAR (browning automatic rifle), throw hand grenades, dig fox holes. The first 10 inches of digging was easy in the sand, but after that it turned into hard clay. And the little all-purpose digging tool we were issued was only about 18 inches long. I’m glad nobody was shooting at us, because most of us had some part of us protruding. We also did the crawling through barbwire with machine guns firing above us. Eighteen inches high they said. I really don’t know, but I sure dug up a lot of dirt with my belt buckle. We also did the 25 mile hike. We did it at night because of the heat. It rained. I think we were Company F, which means we came after ABCD&E. The mud was deeep and slippery. We couldn’t have captured a pine tree when we got through.
Unkle Otto Hoffmeyer had a cousin who lived in Tyler who had two daughters. A Buddy and I enjoyed visiting with them several times—and eating some good home cooked food. During Basic you could get only day passes, and not every weekend. I guess they felt that Tyler would be overrun if they released several thousand recruits on them.
After four months of basic training, I was given a 10 day “Delay in Route” to report to Camp Rucker , Alabama . We were released at about noon, and when my two friends and I saw how many guys were hitchhiking, we rented a hotel room, went to a nearby bakery and each bought a pie. The next morning we headed for the highway to find a ride home. We were real soldiers now!
Vic Mathias — August 12, 2005