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Memories of the 1940s

June 2009

During World War II, PC changed its academic calendar to a quarter system. Students could go to school year-round, and could graduate with a degree and an army commission in 28 months. The college students shared the campus with aviation students from the 39th College Training Detachment of the Army Air Forces.

Summer Quarter, June-August 1942

W. T. Johnson, 1943 Pac Sac

W. T. Johnson, 1943 Pac Sac

With the country at war and with us in ROTC we knew that we would soon be called up one way or the other, either through the draft as enlisted men or by appointment as officers, so to get in as much education as we could, most of us signed up for summer school. For some reason, the college changed from a semester system to a quarter system. My sophomore year started about the middle of June 1942. I don’t remember the courses I signed up for exactly, but one course I enjoyed was Spherical Trigonometry taught by Dr. Herbert E. Spencer. It turned out to be easier to understand than the trig I had in high school. Another interesting course was Dr. Neill G. Whitelaw’s Astronomy. My roommate, Harris Johnson, decided to move upstairs with an older friend, Charlie Williams, and I inherited a freshman from Anderson, Oren Jones. I remember the campus as being very pleasant that summer. I continued to go home as often as possible. After the hazing I got as a freshman, I chose not to be guilty of it myself, and I saved my two freshman roommates as much grief as I could.

Fall Quarter, September-December 1942

Oren’s friend from Anderson, Dave Humphreys, had spent the summer in Smythe Hall and wanted to live with us. So we got a bigger room on the third floor so Dave could move in with us. My most memorable event this quarter was picking cotton. Apparently a cotton grower had lost his laborers because of the war and asked for help by students. I remember riding to the cotton field in the back of a truck together with other students. We were offered pay at the rate of $1.00 per hundred pounds picked. On hand were cotton sacks and scales. The going rate had been $0.60 per hundred. That afternoon I earned $0.25 and never considered a career as a cotton picker. The Army Air Corps cadets had arrived, had taken over a dorm, and drilled in the streets. I never knew anything about their classroom training. This quarter I probably had a course we called “atomic physics”, economics, and beginning Spanish.

Winter Quarter, December-March 1943

I had enlisted in the Enlisted Reserve Corps and was numbered in one of the country’s number systems and received Army Serial Number 14 183 363 (my roommate Dave Humphreys got 14 183 364). In later years I figured out the meaning of this number. The first digit, “1”, stands for a volunteer joining the Regular Army or the Reserves. A “2” in that spot would have stood for the National Guard and a “3” or “4” would indicate Selective Service. The second digit, “4”, meant that I was in the IV Corps Area. Our Military Science textbook contained a US map showing the nine corps (pronounced “core”) areas. Georgia and South Carolina were both in the IV Corps Area. … I have little memory of the courses I had in this quarter.

Junior Year, March-May 1943
Interrupted by W W II

My Junior year at PC was very short, as I remember. I had one quarter as a Junior at PC before I entered the U.S. Army, and while in the service I took courses taught by American college professors at two military schools which were credited to me when I returned to PC. Just after basic training at Camp Croft, SC, while attending Mississippi State College, at Starkville, MS, I took several courses … Mechanical drawing, English composition, chemistry. After VE Day I attended Shrivenham American University, Swindon, England, and took other courses: Advanced algebra, music appreciation, German. While there I played in the concert band directed by Thor Johnson from the University of Cincinnati. I don’t remember which of these courses were creditable. At any rate, that Spring quarter was wild. The Seniors were being called to active duty as lieutenants at a rapid rate, so we underlings had to take their places in various college functions. For example, without any training or previous experience they promoted me to band director, sergeant major plus playing the clarinet.  I was embarrassed and felt that I had failed. My two room mates from Anderson were both drafted and ended up wounded at Anzio.

I think this was the quarter I took my hardest physics course, radio vacuum tube theory. For the final exam Dr. Whitelaw told us long in advance that the only question would be to reproduce from memory the wiring diagram of a superheterodyne radio as shown in the textbook. We worked on this on blackboards for days before the exam. I think I ended up with a “C”.  An interesting course, taught by Professor Marshall Brown, was Europe since 1500.

Life in the Military: The Reception Station

After leaving Presbyterian College about the end of May 1943 I had a couple of weeks before going into the Army on Tuesday, June 15. I met the bus about nine o’clock, together with my cousin Harris, and found several other other PC boys from Augusta already on the bus. When we got to Atlanta there was no great rush to get out to Fort McPherson, as I recall. I don’t remember how we traveled, probably a city bus. We eventually reached the place shown on our orders and were assigned to barracks. As I recall, the PFC in charge of the barracks was the meanest man I found in the Army. The first thing I learned was how to make up a bunk. Our week at Fort Mac included no wasted time. Uniforms were issued Wednesday, and necessary administration such as the classification test, the Army physical examination, shots, and mandatory training came about in quick order. On Saturday I was told that I would be on KP the next day and that I would be issued a special blue fatigue uniform. I reported for duty at the mess hall about five a. m. on Sunday and was assigned to a sink in this 900-man mess. As I recall I was involved mostly in washing aluminum trays, cups, and silverware, using preliminary rinsing and steam to get the utensils clean. Between meals the KP crew had to clean the dining room, inside and out. I suppose we finished our duties about eight or nine p. m. and returned to the barracks, showered and turned in the blue fatigues. By the next day, Monday, we knew that we were going to Camp Croft, somewhere in South Carolina, for basic training…

Life with the Draftees

When the train reached Camp Croft on Tuesday afternoon, June 22 …we boys from PC, together with some from Clemson, were assigned to Company A, 33d Infantry Training Battalion. We had been in Infantry ROTC training for two years and knew a little bit about the Infantry. Most of Company A, however, were draftees and knew nothing of the military. I recall all shapes and sizes of the draftees and felt sorry for some of them. We from ROTC were able to help with some of the training such as close order drill and map reading. This went on for a few weeks until we were told that we were being reassigned to another company, Company B, 40th Infantry Training Battalion. Since all of us had signed contracts with the Army to be given training in Officer Candidate School, it meant that all of B-40 would be in good physical condition and well able to absorb Infantry training.

A New Life

Life in B-40 was remarkably different from A-33. Except for the cadre and the company boxer the entire unit included only college-ROTC-educated men, from age 19 to 20. Their colleges included The Citadel, Clemson, Pennsylvania Military, and Presbyterian…Since we went into B-40 in early July we would have gotten up to bayonet training by August, and I remember the terrible heat of that training. We spent a week on the rifle range, walking out several miles each morning. At that time the Army provided salt tablets to prevent heat stroke, and I remember the white areas on my fatigues as a result of the salt tablets. We had a combination of marches of varying lengths and conditions. I remember one in particular at the end of a bivouac. We understood that the commander took a wrong turn and led us on a somewhat longer march off post through Pauline and back onto post. I remember carrying several rifles for a few other men during the last few miles. I was informed in October that I would be in charge of the group of six or seven men from PC in traveling to Georgia Teachers College, Statesboro, GA, for entry into the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). There was not enough room in OCS for us, so we would do something else while we waited to go to OCS… We were assigned dormitory rooms and instructed about classes to attend. I recall that about a week later during physical training on the football field I was informed that I would take the same PC men the same day to Mississippi State College near Starkville…we got pullman berths and continued through Atlanta to Birmingham where we changed to a railway motor car. Enroute to Mississippi the motor car ran over a mule, which caused a long delay while getting the remains of the mule out from under the car. We got to Columbus, MS, about 9:00 p.m. and called the unit at Mississippi State College for transportation. They sent us an ambulance that delivered us to the college about midnight. The Charge of Quarters (CQ) took us upstairs in the big dorm and gave us a room that included my cousin Harris Johnson, who had been in tank destroyer training in Texas. We would be there several months, so my job was over. Almost the entire college was made up of ASTP men, although not all were scheduled for OCS. I enjoyed my time there and had some interesting courses, mechanical drawing, chemistry, English. We got leave for Christmas or New Year’s, and then in February were sent to Fort Benning for OCS.

Officer Candidate School

During World War II the Infantry Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning was in the Harmony Church area of the post. I had been in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at Presbyterian College (known as PC) in Clinton, SC, and had there been more time to finish college I might conceivably have received a commission through ROTC. However, there was not enough time and we in Senior ROTC program were permitted to sign contracts to earn commissions through Infantry OCS, provided that if we did not succeed we would remain in the army as private soldiers. So that was our program – basic training, Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), miscellaneous duties, OCS, and combat training and duty as either a Second Lieutenant (2LT) or a Private (PVT). By attending college in the summer of 1942 I was able to get college credits and to be classified as a Senior ROTC student by the time I entered the Army in June 1943. So when my time came to enter service I had a guaranteed chance to enter OCS at the Army’s convenience. When the end came for the ASTP program some of us with contracts eventually went to OCS and the others went into combat.

Christmas card sent from Mississippi State during WWII

Christmas card sent from Mississippi State during WWII

From the ASTP program at Mississippi State College we traveled by train to Columbus, GA, by bus to an administrative company at Harmony Church area at Fort Benning, and on foot to whatever OCS company we were assigned. I was assigned to the 12th Company. OCS required 17 weeks of training, but I got no further than the 13th week when I was found short of the leadership abilities required of a lieutenant. In May 1944, after my failure in a night exercise while serving as a company commander leading the company across a wooded area during an attack, I was counseled, removed from OCS, and reassigned to the 71st Division, then being retrained in the Sand Hill area of the post. I was somewhat upset at being “kicked out of OCS” but eventually found the move to my advantage.

Get a New Home

When several other guys and I were delivered from OCS in the Harmony Church area to the 71st Division in the Sand Hill area of Fort Benning we didn’t know what to expect. I don’t remember going to Division Headquarters but I do remember 14th Infantry Regiment Headquarters. The division was being filled up and retrained from a light division with mules to a heavy division with trucks so there seemed to be plenty of opportunities for everyone. I remember that we tried to get in the regimental band while we were in front of the 14th Infantry Headquarters, but they were not interested in us. I suppose that there were orders at some point, but I do remember that some of us walked down the hill to the 3d Battalion area and I walked on to Company M. It was not quite dark, some time in June, and a nearly empty company. I remember that the CQ was Martin Ritz, a corporal being retreaded from an Antiaircraft unit at Fort Stewart. He got me situated in the 3d Platoon, 81-mm mortars, in a very pleasant barracks at the bottom of the hill. At this point I had been in the Army approximately one year and my pay grade had gone back to private.

William T. Johnson Jr. to Mrs. Lillian Brown “Mrs. B”, June 24, 1944

Dear Mrs. Brown:

I have enjoyed the monthly news letters very much even though I have not written you. I have gotten all the copies, I believe.

I washed out of OCS on May 24 and was very much surprised to be sent to the 71st Division here at Fort Benning. As you know, I suppose, Pete Miller is also in the 71st. My cousin Harris was sent back to the 1st week in the 3rd company at OCS.

Could you tell me what has happened to David Humphreys and Oren Jones? I know that David was at Anzio and that Oren went to POE, but that is all.

I have no idea what will happen to me next. The division is not half strength so will probably be in training for some time.

I have no plans yet what I’ll do about school after the war.

William Johnson

(From the Bee-Mail Collection at Presbyterian College)

Senior Year, Sep 1946-May 1947

I attended PC under the GI Bill this year.  All costs were paid by the US Government. My memory fails me on much of this year; after a three-year absence I didn’t feel like a student. I reached home on May 1st, visited the PC campus sometime that month, and found one of my old room mates, Dave Humphreys, already in school. For some reason I remember him in the infirmary, formerly Alumni Hall. At any rate, I registered for the following term. At some point I petitioned the faculty to accept some of the hours I had earned on active duty in the Army. They approved my request, and that meant I could be a Senior and eligible to graduate the next May. I also requested a change in my major from Physics to English, and that was approved. I felt mentally tired and not up to doing the work required for an advanced degree in Physics. I expect I made a mistake in doing this, but at the time it seemed best. When I matriculated in September I was assigned to one of the suites on the first floor of Spencer, with Dave as a suite mate. During this year I was heavy on English courses that required much reading. I remember in particular two big books on American literature and world literature in courses taught by Professor John W. Harris and a book on English restoration drama taught by Associate Professor Edward F. Nolan. I particularly enjoyed Professor James S. Gray’s class on the history of art. I was taking second-year Spanish under Professor R. K. Timmons when the professor teaching first-year Spanish died. For some reason they thought I could handle his job in class, so Prof. Timmons asked me to teach first-year Spanish under his supervision.  I would be paid $3.50 for each class, a fairly large amount at the time. I think I did well enough with the class for the next few months.  Some of the class members were veterans who had started as Freshmen with me in 1941.  My younger brother, James ,  joined me in Spencer for the second semester. He had gone to Mars Hill the first semester and didn’t get along there very well.

William T. Johnson in 2009

William T. Johnson in 2009

William T. Johnson began his career at PC before World War II, and graduated in 1947 after his return from the service. After his graduation, he enlisted in the Army National Guard. He also served in the Civil Service. Due to periodic reorganizations, he mastered many jobs in Antiaircraft Artillery, the Signal Corps, the Transportation Corps, and Infantry. He was stationed in Washington, except for a year of Active Duty during the Berlin crisis in 1961. Mr. Johnson retired as a Chief Warrant Officer in 1984. He posted these memories on his blog, and he has kindly given us permission to publish an edited version.