Texas Military Forces Museum


111th Observation Squadron
World War II Narrative History

Part II:  Fort Dix

Ground echelon

The fear that this latest overseas alert would prove to be a false alarm was soon dispelled when we boarded a troop train on the morning of September 22, 1942. Upon arrival at Fort Dix, New Jersey, we were assigned to side-boarded tents and were ordered to remain within the camp area at all times. The four days spent here in-processing for overseas duty were as hectic as any we had yet experienced. "Line up for a clothes issue at Supply." "Fall out for a practice run through the gas chamber." "Fall out to be issued rifles and tommy-guns." Passport photos were taken. Sleep came when you could stand still long enough. Telephone calls could be made only from carefully monitored pay stations. Day differed from night in no respect insofar as activity and wakefulness were concerned. "Fall out and have your dog tags rechecked." "Lay out all equipment for inspection." "Physical inspection in fifteen minutes." "Do you have ten thousand dollars insurance?" "Do you need glasses?" Everything you need but SLEEP!

Supper on September 26 was mindful of Thanksgiving Day at home -- roast turkey with dressing, cranberry sauce, celery, olives, pickles, apples, bananas, oranges, ice cream, with all the milk and coffee you could drink. At dusk we loaded our barracks bags aboard waiting trucks in a drizzling rain, shouldered our well-filled packs and rifles, and took places in ranks for another roll call. All present and accounted for!

The trek to the railway station was devoid of the usual wise-cracks and we hadn't carried our packs very far before we wished that we had left out such items as after-shave lotion, talc, and mouth wash. At the train yard we reclaimed our rain-soaked bags, answered another roll call, and listened with mingled thoughts as "I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time" blared forth from a public address system.

The train ride from Fort Dix to New York City was uneventful and most fellows did a good job of catching up on much-needed sleep. After dismounting from the train we were faced with a half-mile hike to the ferry. The weight of our bags and equipment plus our benumbed physical state combined to make the longest half-mile we had ever walked. When arms and shoulders gave out the bags were dragged along the saturated ground, causing the supply sergeant no little discomfiture. After all, he would need a new bag himself! Once in the huge dock pavilion we were again able to rest in preparation for whatever other fiendish maneuvers might be in store for us. Finally, our turn came and we filed past a horde of checkers and answered with our first names, and middle initials when our last names were called. By this time we knew that we were boarding the gigantic Queen Mary. Strangely enough, we went down the gang plank to get aboard. We'd have never made it if we'd had to go up as anticipated. Each man was handed a large enameled pin button to wear. The number and color of the pin determined the vicinity of the wearer's quarters aboard ship and the hours at which he would be admitted to the mess hall.

Inside the Queen Mary we were shooed up staircases and through corridors until everyone found the bunk reserved for him. The staterooms in which we were quartered had been stripped of all peacetime fittings and in their place had been built bunks from floor to ceiling, accommodating from six to eighteen men per room. Few of us had the energy to even undress, but just plunked our bags, packs, rifles and cartridge belts in a heap on the floor and hit the sack in earnest.

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