Here are some notes that my father, John Michael Halloran (Jack), wrote about his experience of serving in the armed forces during World War II. I’ve applied some minor edits, but these are basically his own words. This blog includes his memories from induction through Specialized Training. His notes about actually arriving in India, then serving in Burma, will follow in a subsequent post.
“I received a letter from the draft board in July of 1943. I was told to go to an address to be graded for the service. They designated me as “One-A”, (i.e., fit for military service).
I received a letter from the draft board to appear on a date in August. I was still in high school (in my senior year), and I worried that not finishing school might ruin my life. One of my friends said that I should talk to his father who was on the draft board. His father looked at my papers, made a call to St. Ignatius High School, then told me to bring the papers to the draft board on a certain date and tell them that I was in my last semester of high school and would like to graduate.
The draft board said they could not draft me if I was in my last semester of school. They called St. Ignatius, who told them that my graduation would be in August of 1943, then the draft board told me that on my graduation day, after the ceremony, I was to board a train at 5:00 pm to go to Fort Ord.”
Fort Ord: Basic Training
“At Fort Ord, we were issued two blankets, two pair of khaki shorts (underwear), fatigue shirt and pants, dress uniform pants and blouse, and a cap. Also issued were: shaving soap, shaving brush, three khaki handkerchiefs, two pair of khaki socks, and a pair of brown boots.
When we got to Fort Ord we were lined up in a narrow hallway. As we walked forward we saw a bar over the doorway, with several soldiers standing there. I wasn’t sure if I would hit the bar, so I ducked my head. They immediately said, “Go left.” I went left, and when I got into the room I felt like a pigmy–everyone was taller. They were 6’2, 6’3, 6’4, 6’5, 6’6, and 6’7. An officer came in and told us, “I hope you’ll enjoy being in the Mountain Battery. We’re headed for Muskogee, Oklahoma.” (1)
Camp Gruber: Specialized Training
“We were lifting 75-mm cannons that broke down to five sections: breechblock, carriage, cannon, right trail, and left trail. The five parts each went on a type of saddle that was placed on a mule. There were ten ammunition mules carrying the 75-mm shells, with five shells on each mule, for a total of fifty shots.
The mules we got were wild, right off the range, and we had to rope them, try not to get kicked, and get them used to the saddle. They were skittish when we loaded the gun parts and the ammunition on them.
The camp was Camp Grubber, in Oklahoma. We started walking the mules each morning, afternoon, and early evening. Next, we put saddles on then walked the mules three times a day. Finally, we practiced putting the artillery loads on the saddles.”
Camp Carson: Specialized Training
“At Camp Carson we hiked with the mules up so far on Pike’s Peak. We had down sleeping bags and we slept in the snow.
We accumulated most of the items on the captain’s list. (2)
When training was over, we broke camp at Carson and were split into three groups: about 40% of our troop went to New Orleans with the mules, about 40% of our troop went to Santa Ana and shipped out, and, finally, about 20% of us (me included) went by ship to Bombay, India.” (3)
I think Dad was planning to write about his experience in Burma. He was reading the history tome Burma Road, (4) and The Marauders, (5) some years before he passed. I think these books jogged memories of his time in Burma, and he probably considered compiling these thoughts into a memoir. I wish he had, as the notes I did find are good, although brief and incomplete. Even still, there are details in these notes that, along with his verbal stories, inspired the writing of my fiction novel The Burma Road.
(1) According to his verbal account, the bar above the door at Fort Ord was there for the officers to easily spot who was six feet, or taller. If the private ducked while attempting to miss the bar, this indicated he was tall enough for the Mars Task Force. He was then instructed to turn left. The men who turned left were trained for a special long-range penetration unit being formed to fight in Burma. The other men, who were told to go right, were trained for the European Theatre, or other factions of the war. The Mars Task Force required men of strength and height, as they were packing sections of the Howitzer cannons onto the backs of mules. They needed strength and height to load, and unload, the heavy parts.
(2) Dad told me he and his friends were commissioned by their captain to scavenge around the base looking for items on a wish list. These were hard to come by objects which the captain needed but which were in short supply due to war-rationing, things such as typewriters and writing pads. Dad, and his buddies, would scout for things during the day, then go “lift” them (i.e., steal) at sunset, when they were less likely to be caught. One of the desired supplies, a typewriter, was spotted sitting next to an open window, and they went back after dark and confiscated the booty. Their captain was much wiser, and he stored the prized typewriter inside the barracks, out of sight, where no one could steal it.
(3) I wish I could ask my dad about his memories of shipping out to Bombay. According to Ken Laabs’ memoir (6), B Company went to New Orleans with the mules, then shipped to Calcutta. I don’t know why Dad was not shipped with this group, as he was also in B Company. Was he reassigned companies after he arrived in Burma? Or, are his recollections a little off? Sadly, I’m not able to ask him, as he passed in 2009. So, I’m writing The Burma Road using Ken’s notes as my guide, as I have very few details about Dad’s trip to Bombay.
This discrepancy did present the need for creative story telling when I wrote this part of the novel. I wanted Jack Holloway to ship to Calcutta, but I had to include fictional details about why he didn’t herd the mules to Lido, Burma, then further on to Myitkyina. In my novel, he stays behind at Camp Dum Dum (the camp’s real name, by the way) and later takes a train to Lido. From Lido, he flies on a C-47 to Myitkyina and is under immediate attack when he gets off the plane. This additional change from Ken Laabs’ memoir allowed me to include both Dad’s details about the train ride, and Art Naff’s story about being under fire at the air field. Art is a Mars Task Force veteran that I met and interviewed at the 2016 and 2017 Mars Task Force Reunions.
(4) Burma Road, Nicol Smith, 1942. Garden City Publishing Co., Inc.
(5) The Marauders, Charlton Ogburn, Jr., 1959. Harper & Brothers, Publishers
(6) Mars Task Force, 612th Field Artillery Battalion (Pk), Attached to the 5332nd Brigade (Prov). Unpublished memoir by Ken E. Laabs. Photocopied 2017.
© 2019 Jeanne M. Halloran
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