Military History, World War II, U.S. Army, ETO

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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

Preparing for Overseas (excerpt)

Early in 1944, while the Ozark Division was training in Camp Swift, it became evident that the Army’s strategic plan for fighting a global war did not call for the 102nd Infantry Division to take part in the June, 1944 invasion of Normandy. Instead the Division was required to give up thousands of its men and officers (mostly from the three infantry regiments) to be sent to England, thence into Normandy as replacements for the inevitable casualties on the invasion beachheads. In March, to fill the resulting gaps, the Division received 3,250 soldiers, transferred from the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) on various college campuses. (The editors of this book were among them.)

Transforming ASTP students into effective members of combat units was expected to be a challenging task. Some of the new Ozarks had recently gone through rigorous, 13-week basic training in the ASTP Training Regiment at the Infantry School at Fort Benning before being sent to a university. But others had been transferred to ASTP from all kinds of Army units and had never had basic infantry training. Therefore the first stage in converting college students into “Men of the Ozarks” was to run all ASTP men through an accelerated version of the Army’s standard infantry basic training. For this purpose, the 407th Infantry Regiment organized “Provisional Company C", with a cadre of officers and non-commissioned officers temporarily detached from the regular companies. (The 405th and 406th did the same.) The regimental basic training was designed to teach the new men the basic skills that they would need soon in combat.

The function of an infantryman in combat is basically to inflict casualties on the enemy while avoiding becoming a casualty himself. To be most effective at this, he must have more than learned skills. A combat soldier is sustained by a certain attitude. Pride or esprit de corps is a desirable element of this attitude. Absolutely essential are acceptance of one’s lot; determination to do one’s duty come what may — including extreme danger to life and limb; and ability to endure previously unimaginable discomforts and hardships. The Ozark training officers knew that this attitude would have to be developed. They anticipated that trainees would arrive from university campuses with negative attitudes toward service in the infantry. They had good reason to think so.

The national purpose for ASTP was to use accelerated curricula in universities to produce engineers and other professionally educated personnel who could contribute to the U.S. effort in a war that was expected to last at least until 1946 or 1947. A prerequisite for assignment was a high score on the AGCT (Army General Classification Test). (ASTP trainees were fond of noting that AGCT scores of all students were higher than the threshold for admission to the Army’s Officer Candidate Schools.) But private first class was the highest rank allowed to students while still in school. Many in ASTP were recent inductees, but many were transfers from other Army units (which included the Army Air Corps). The obvious personal benefits of receiving college training while still in uniform led many noncoms to voluntarily give up their stripes as a condition of their assignment to ASTP. So it was inevitable that high expectations were dashed and regrets for lost rank or other opportunities arose when the college training was abruptly terminated in 1944 to provide “cannon fodder” to meet immediate needs in what the high command had now come to believe could be the last year of the war in both the European and Pacific Theaters of Operation..

Besides the disappointment and other rational feelings, some among both trainees and cadre came with preconceived notions, even active dislikes. Some cadre envisioned getting “spoiled college brats” who would have to be whipped into shape. On the other side, some trainees viewed all infantry sergeants as “ignorant, loud-mouthed, petty tyrants” to be endured if not outwitted or resisted.

The efforts at “attitude adjustment” began immediately upon arrival of the trainees at Camp Swift. Schaible recalls the greeting extended the contingent from Purdue University. After the new men formed ranks alongside the rail cars, one of the officers (later identified as Lt. Dewey Decker, from K Company) ordered them to turn and face the train. “That is the ‘gravy train,’” he said, “and you just got off!”


These paragraphs open Chapter 1 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.