36th Signal Company - Message Center Section

AUGUST, 1944

On the morning of the 15th of August, 1944, most of the message center section of the 36th Signal Company was scattered off the coast of southern France in a variety of craft. On the U.S.S. Bayfield waited Lt. Mercaldo’s team, which was to go in first to the beach. Three other teams, each supplied with S.O.I.’s codes and operating materials, were on LCT’s under Capt. Trescott and Lt. Weiner, Lt. Wells, and Lt. Foreman. Aboard the Achernar, the auxiliary command ship, were two cryptographic technicians, Sgt. Brown and Cpl. Yore, with M-134-C’s: these men enciphered and deciphered messages in connection with the landing operation. Aboard the Dorothea Dix were other message center personnel.

The first wave of infantry went in on all beaches at 0800 hours. Paratroops had earlier in the morning (H-2 hours) landed in the interior. Ultimately all troops poured inland from Green Beach. Lt. Mercaldo’s party (Sgt. Amsrud, Cpl. San Roman, Pvts. Yarcho, Wood and Keplinger) hit Green Beach at 1100 hours; it was, considering what one might have expected, a peaceful arrival. Coincidentally with their landing, American planes came over and bombed the waterfront of nearby San Raphael, whereat Pvt. Wood took refuge under a beached duck—until informed that it was full of ammo. The party advanced from the beach to the highway, moved along it approximately one mile, and set up on the beach side of the highway, and 1 mile east of Boulouris, the first Division message center in France. This installation had communication by motor courier with all regiments, and with the Bayfield by SCR-300

Throughout the rest of the day, the remainder of the section (excepting those assigned to remain in, Italy, at the Rear) landed at Green Beach and hiked or rode to the message center. Vehicles were driven directly to the de-waterproofing area. At 1600 hours, Lt. Weiner moved forward with an advance detail to set up a message center in Boulouris, where the M-134-C’s were installed by evening in the message center building, a resort home. Occasional shells came over, but with no adverse effect. Message center personnel wrestled all night with an overwhelming flood of traffic, largely in cipher. Many of those who slept were bedded down in the garden to the rear of the house, and were disturbed only once by the bombing of an ammo-laden LST at the beach, which being hit by a single bomb, was continually wracked by bright explosions all the night.

At 1130 hours, August 16th, Lt. Mercaldo led an advance to the town of Frejus, and opened a message center there in a yellow-brick girls’ school building at 1330 hours. A small code room was established in the rear of the building beneath a stairway; M-134-C traffic continued hot and heavy. The traffic desk was located in a large classroom. Sgt. Wilt and several other scavengers discovered fur-lined German packs behind the school, under debris. Mattresses were found, and put to use. Several 88 airbursts came in about 1600 hours. At 2000 hours the Boulouris message center closed down, packed up and came along to Frejus.

On the 17th of August, the CP advance moved toward Le Muy in convoy, starting at 1000 hours. The message center detail moved first into the town of Le Muy, then at 1600 closed and moved up to the division advance C.P. occupying one of a cluster of farm buildings two miles northwest of Le Muy, called Collet Redon. This was a communal farm of six families.

The message center stayed several days in Collet Redon. The installation was made in a spacious barn, which the farmers cleared for us of ripening tomatoes and farming implements. The traffic desk was made of tables borrowed from the farmers’s wives. and stood before the barn-door: the M-134-C was installed, next to the TT and TG apparatus, in the rear of the room. One farmer had an ample wine supply, which made our duties far lighter. Traffic remained heavy. The Frejus message center closed at 1630 hours, August 17, and joined the Advance.

Evenings at Collet Redon were enlivened by air-raids toward the Coast. The Luftwaffe could spare no great number of aircraft, but the ack-ack was as colorful as always. Paratroops had landed near the farm on D-day, and Cpl. San Roman, Pfc. Kenney and Pvt. Anderson went out and gathered the silk chutes on the hills and in the fields: message center and a host of alien "sweaters" went briefly berserk cutting them up into scarfs and foulards. Some of the men, among them Sgt. McMurray and Pfc. Williams, took chilly but pleasant baths in the irrigation ditches of the vineyards which surrounded Collet Redon, and everybody ate a good many grapes on the house. A number of smashed gliders lay round about the farm. Citizens of San Raphael and Frejus had been drafted by the Germans to set tall wooden poles, closely spaced, in all the flat areas near the coast, in order to destroy gliders and injure parachutists. (One of the draftees told Sgt. Wilbur that when they were superintended, they dug-in the poles to a depth of three feet, but that when the guards weren’t looking, they dug no more than a foot. Thanks to this patriotic goldbricking, many of our gliders pushed over the poles with ease in landing.) Sgt.Clay made great friends with all the toddlers of Collet Redon, and Cpl. Larussa bowled them over with his Cajun French.

On the 20th of August. Lt. Weiner, with 3 motor messengers, 3 message center men and a wire team, was sent out with General Stack’s Task Force northwest to the town of Sisteron. They pulled out at 0600 hours. By 1330 hours the task force had travelled 75 miles and not encountered the enemy.

On the 21st of August. the Collet Redon message center closed, and at 0800 moved out with the Division convoy, maintaining a march message center. We moved 135 miles to Sisteron, arriving at 1400 hours. Lt. Weiner had set up message center in the postal agency of the town: The M-134-C was moved in, and full operation commenced. Shortly after message center began business, a Frenchman rushed into the postal office and hastily took down from the walls photographs of Marshal Petain and the arch-collaborationist, Pierre Laval. A good deal of street-fighting between Maquis and German occupational troops had taken place two days before; partisan strength was great in this area.

During this general period several of our motor messengers, Pfc. Tucker and Cpl. Ashinhurst in particular, were tallying immense mileages pursuing Task Force Butler; Brig. Gen. Butler had at times moved so far in advance as to be altogether out of communication with the Division.

August 22: Lt. Weiner and Sgt. McCray’s team advanced at 0900 to the town of Aspres-Sur-Buech. There was some delay in the establishment of a CP there, and the message center was obliged to operate for a time from the top of a stone wall along the highway, in the very center of town. By 1400 our installation had been made in a private garage opposite a handsome private home with several handsome women in it. On this day Pfc. Tucker, carrying messages to Task Force Butler, was advised that its advance setup was in the town of Livron. He and his assistant driver, Pvt. Yarcho, drove up to Livron, but were puzzled on entering it by the absence of tricolors and the rather guarded reception of the citizens. They found that they had arrived in Livron before Task Force Butler, and were the first Americans to enter the town. On this day also, Pvt. Wood volunteered to accompany Pvt. Anderson on a run to Task Force Butler—a 130-mile run. They also overran their objective; on the way back, their jeep broke down, and after trying to push it for some distance. The two decided to let it lie in the ditch where their efforts had landed it, they unrolled their blankets beside the jeep and spent the night there, disturbed only by occasional passersby who enquired whether they were dead or wounded.

On the 23rd of August. at 1300, Lt. Mercaldo led an advance message center crew to the town of Marsanne, where the agency was established by 1600 in a large municipal building fronting the main square. In the course of this move, message center drivers discovered that the captured German gasoline they were using caused their vehicles to stall at high altitudes. The people of Marsanne were in a festive mood, and a bar on the main square had broken out its hoarded stocks of wines, liquors and liqueurs, even to absinthe.

Shortly after breakfast on the 24th, a German railroad gun began dropping loudmouth shells into Marsanne, and made everybody quite unhappy, GI’s, and citizens who had been enjoying themselves on the streets and in the cafes left quickly for the cellars. The Division CP removed at 1000 to an area one mile out of town, opposite the 117 Cav. Rcn. Sq. CP; message center pitched a CP tent and was in operation by 1100. (Message center’s end of the Marsanne municipal building was reported destroyed by subsequent shelling). Wild rumors of encirclement persisted all day, and the advance detail was content to leave at 2300 for Auriples. There Lt. Weiner’s men had set up in two CP tents in the woods, at 1815. Auriples is situated nine miles from Marsanne and seven from Crest. Personnel slept in clearings of the woods near their vehicles.

The message center operated from the tents in the Auriples woods until the afternoon of August 29 at 1530 hours, when Lt. Mcrcaldo took an advance detail to an area 4 km. cast of Crest, at Chauteau De L’ile. At 1430 of the next day, the division advance CP moved again, this time to Chebeuil, and message center set up in a former Luftwaffe headquarters there, at 1600 hours. This was a very handy location, as there was a garage in the rear for the section vehicles, and the staff could be reached by local runners without leaving the building, simply by climbing a circular staircase in the rear of the message center. Personnel slept in an adjoining barn. At 1915, Sgt. Clay’s team, which had been operating at Chateau de L’ile, closed shop and advanced to Chebeuil.

An advance on the 31st of August, leaving at 1330 hours, set up near the town of Hautverives at 2000.


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