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Then Mollica ordered “Fix bayonets!” We began slowly
advancing in a line with leveled bayonets.

Riflemen — Life & Death in WW-II Infantry

by Paul N. Haubenreich, Sr. and William L. Schaible

Crossing the Atlantic (excerpt)

Finally the day came to ship out: September 11, 1944. It was late in the day when the Second Platoon, with the rest of the 407th Infantry, boarded troop trains and pulled out of Camp Kilmer. We suffered from the heat in our woolen uniforms. We rode with the windows open (no air-conditioned coaches back then), taking a last look at America (unlovely, urban New Jersey). Although the distance was not great, darkness had fallen by the time we clambered down from the train at a dock on the New Jersey shore of the Hudson. There wasn't much to see: the metropolis was “browned out” to avoid glare that would backlight ships at sea, making them easier targets for torpedoes from the German U-boats that sometimes lay in wait on the surface at night a few miles offshore.

Soon we were standing jammed in the automobile deck of a ferry for the journey across the harbor to where our troopship was docked. As we filed off the ferry onto the enclosed pier, we found that despite the late hour. Red Cross girls were there to dispense coffee, doughnuts and cheery words. Surely everyone on the pier knew that many of us would not be returning to these shores alive, but such thoughts were not evident as we joked and laughed. After a brief pause without breaking ranks, we moved on down the pier, burdened down with packs, rifles and duffel bags, to the gangplank. There platoon officers checked off the names on his roster as we moved single file across the gangplank and through a cargo door in the side of what appeared from our limited point of view to be a very large ship.

The Platoon was led through passageways in the steel bowels of the ship into what had obviously been a cargo hold, now converted to accommodate about 200 men. Sleeping racks, separated by narrow aisles, filled the space except for the cover of a hatch to a lower deck, which was covered with folding canvas cots. The racks were made of pipe and taut canvas stacked five high. Each bunk was so close to the one above that there was not nearly enough room to sit up, only just enough room to roll over. Literally one had somehow to achieve a nearly horizontal position alongside, while holding on to the side of the racks, before inserting his body into his slot.

Despite the novelty of our surroundings and the cramped space, we were all soon fast asleep. The ship must have left the dock not long after we dropped off to sleep, for when we wakened after several hours, its slow rolling told us that we must be out of the harbor and on the open sea.


These paragraphs open Chapter 2 of Riflemen — Life & Death in WW-II Infantry. Buy this book today to read the entire first-person account of Company K’s journey from basic training, through the European Theater of Operations, and (for some, at least) home again.

Copyright © 1997, 2008 by Paul N. Haubenreich, Sr.