Army Days

February,1943, was the auspicious month of Alva’s husband becoming a private in the United States Army.

After induction at Fort MacArthur in Long Beach, California, I was assigned to the Signal Corps and sent to Sacramento for  basic training. The facility was a bunch of  abandoned tar paper covered barracks that had temporarily housed hundreds of Japanese Americans before they were sent to more permanent detention centers.

In our first orientation the base commander mentioned that there would be no passes for the first month, but any barracks that had no gigs (faults with its housekeeping) could have a 3 day pass after that. Aha! Maybe I could have Alva come up for that three day pass. I was already very lonesome for her. But what a challenge! There were about thirty bunks per barracks, and not one man could be gigged even once for thirty days. I would have to inspect every bed every day for thirty days and correct any deficiency myself.

With such an incentive, I decided to go for it. I carefully verified the date of eligibility at the orderly room, told them of my intentions, and called Alva to plan for a train trip up for the occasion. We were excited. But I had my work cut out for me. Some of the men in my barracks made their beds right and kept a clean environment around their cot, but I had to do a lot of adjusting and cleaning every day.

Along the way during training routines I managed to apply for the Aviation Cadet program, hoping to become a pilot.

I did well in the training, and so had a good reputation as the fateful time approached. Maybe they would make an exception if we were gigged, seeing as my wife would be there. But what do you know? The thirtieth day came, and our barracks didn’t have a single gig! We were the only barracks to get a pass, all the rest had many gigs. Hooray! My efforts had paid off. I called a hotel and reserved a room for the next day when Alva would arrive.

I met her at the depot, where she complained about how tacky she looked after the miserable wartime train ride. Not to complain, honey, you look great to me!

So we had a second honeymoon, less than two months after we were married. Yum!

I finished basic training, and was assigned to a teletype maintenance school just a short distance away on the campus of the University of California Agricultural and Engineering College at Davis. This assignment prompted an automatic promotion to T-5 (Technical Corporal). This course would take something like six months, so I asked if I could live off base, but they said no.

Well, there is more than one way to skin a cat, as the saying goes. I called Alva and told her the news. I suggested that she come up anyway, and we could be together on off duty hours even though not overnight. She was all for it, so I rented a room next to the campus for her, and arranged for her to eat meals at a boarding house where some of the professors ate. She came up on the train, and settled into her room. We had several wonderful months in Davis, a quaint little town. The cherry trees on the Ag orchard were ripening, and we tasted many different varieties as they became ripe. Alva loved talking to the Ag professors at meal times. She knew a lot about gardens and animals from working with Dad at the feed store, and they loved to teach their pretty visitor more. Alva had a bunch of admirers fawning over her-thankfully they were all pretty old.

There were several other young army wives doing essentially the same thing, and they hung out together while we husbands were in class.

 The army made room in our class schedule for us to go out and do close order drill (marching). One day a sergeant from HQ marched us around the campus. The narrow, twisting roads with curbs and intersections required precision marching. It was a beautiful, warm, spring day, and Alva and her other army wives were out enjoying a walk. Three pretty young gals in pretty summer dresses came into view and stopped to watch us make the corner ahead. The sergeant, rattled by sight of the girls, gave us the order to turn right at the intersection. It was at least two steps too soon, and the inside lines, all eyes fastened on the girls, began to hit and trip over the curb, man after man. The sergeant, seeing his formation being fragmented and noting the cause, spat out a loud command, “Eyes front, dammit!”

I was at the back, and watched the whole fiasco with glee. I passed Alva I made the shame-on-you sign. Those rascal girls really enjoyed that, exulting over their power over men!

I received news that my application for cadet had been approved, subject to my going over to nearby Mather Field, and taking and passing a physical and an academic test. I went over, passed the tests, and was now an Aviation Cadet in the Army Air Corps.

We closed down Alva’s arrangements and she headed back to Glendale. So ended our pleasant stay in Davis.

My Aviation Cadet experience had a peculiar outcome, so I will rush through it:

A train trip, Davis to Salt Lake City;
A month of basic training, Air Corps style, in tar paper covered barracks;
A train trip, Salt Lake City to Wayne, Nebraska;
Several months of College Training Detachment, waiting for our turn for pre-flight at Santa Ana, CA;
Train trip from Wayne to Santa Ana;
Two weeks at pre-flight, only to be washed out with half of our squadron because “there were too many pilots in the pipe line;”
Reassigned to the Signal Corps;

Train trip from Santa Ana to Sea Girt, NJ, a Signal Corps overseas replacement depot.

I spent approximately two months there, waiting to be assigned to some European army. We heard later that the whole bunch there was sent to the Italian invasion.

One day a courier came and instructed me to report to the orderly room. When I got there I was handed a big packet containing orders, severance pay, train tickets, meal tickets etc. I couldn’t imagine what this was all about.

I sat down and began reading the papers. I found out that Plxweve had weathered the storm and didn’t go bankrupt after all. They had sued the offending customer, won the case, and were needing engineers to resume their business. They had petitioned the army to release me from the service as an essential employee. The request was granted and I was transferred to the enlisted reserve, but only for six months. The company would have to renew the request at the end of each six months. Wow! All this without a word to me.

Of course I was delighted. I had made my gesture towards the armed services, nothing worthwhile to them had worked out, and now they were recognizing that I could do more good as a civilian. And I could get back with my honey! She had been such a trooper through all of this-she especially disliked the wartime train travel. Travel was not hard for me, as I loved train travel, and the government moved individuals around with Pullman accommodations (sleeping cars) and meal tickets. Anyway, I gathered my stuff into my barracks bag, got on the train, and made my coast to coast trip home (where Alva was-we didn’t have a place of our own yet).