VE to VJ Day: Cigarette Camps
This announcement was issued on June 15. In the meantime troops already had commenced to pass through some of the camps. For several months its men were to experience the pangs of always the bridesmaid, never a bride. These camps were all part of the Normandy Assembly Area. Establishment of the area was an emergency to expedite the redeployment of troops from the ETO. In addition to the three camps, the area later included Camp Phillip Morris and the city of Rouen. As the Normandy Assembly area boss, it was the job of the 89th to assign incoming troops to the various assembly camps, providing living and messing accommodations, replace shortages of personnel and equipment of transient troops, and take up excess equipment such as trucks, jeeps, weapons, blankets, spare clothing, extra field equipment. The Division was also to assist in packing and crating, to make arrangements for transportation to boats, and perform a thousand other details required to swell the tide of homebound soldiers.
It was quite a change for an outfit that had come to regard itself as a rugged combat organization. Engineers who once had thrown bridges across streams under fire, or cleared minefields and built roads, found themselves running water lines, disposing of garbage, electrifying camp areas. Antitank and cannon companies, reconnaissance units and one entire artillery battalion were converted into MPs, much to the concern of the men affected (however, your Webmaster didn't mind patrolling the streets of Rouen in a jeep, an excellent opportunity to meet and befriend the lovely mademoiselles). Communications platoons took over the extension and maintenance of telephone lines and exchanges. Radio nets were set up for emergency communications. Service companies found themselves suddenly providing rations for thousands of men, instead of the small organic groups to which they were accustomed, and so onÉ. The men took heavy punishment from the transient troops who rode triumphantly in the big semis toward the boats at the harbor, shouting happy insults of the variety generally conjured up by line outfits needling rear-echelon units. But 89ers gritted their teeth and made the best of things.
Lucky Strike, the largest of all the camps forming the NAA, where the 89th had disembarked into the ETO one cold January morning, probably will be the longest remembered by men of the Division. The camp was grouped around a two-and-one-half mile concrete airstrip poured by the Germans for use by bomber planes. As already noted, it was not a pleasant place or memory and it was a solemn crew that took over the operation of the camp they had previously cursed. There were some major differences, however. Each of the four blocks, two of them large enough to accommodate an infantry division each, had its Red Cross section, movies under circus tents, and USO shows. There was plenty of chow, and the mess tents had been raised out of the mud onto concrete platforms.
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