Raymond E. Kitchell, SV BTRY 563RD FA
I was with the 775th Tank Destroyer Bn. when we had just come off desert maneuvers and were transferred to Camp Cook, California, in mid-1943. We were issued new tanks (a marked improvement over the death traps used in North Africa) and commenced training with them. During this period I saw the announcement (in the Stars and Stripes, I think) re ASTP applications. I went directly from high school, to Sperry Gyroscope as an apprentice machinist, and then soon volunteered for the Army near the end of 1942. While aspiring to go to college, in my previous circumstances it never seemed a real possibility. That's why I jumped at the chance. Truthfully, I also wasn't too happy about stories of tank destroyers being wiped out in North Africa either.
I was accepted and sent to a STAR unit at Stanford University where all candidates were given a six-week refresher course before taking a final qualification exam. What a welcome change that beautiful campus was. While language specialties, pre-med and military government were part of the ASTP program, the vast majority of slots were for engineering. The story was that the Army would need a lot of engineers for the reconstruction period after the war was over. From what I've read since then, the principal purpose was to keep the US colleges and universities from going bankrupt given the current lack of male students because they were all in the services. Whatever, mathematics had not been my strong point in high school and I didn't do so well on the exam. The officer interviewing me said that they expected about 2% of all admitted to flunk out the first semester and that it would be a miracle for me to make it. Nevertheless, my determination apparently impressed him and he passed me to go onto a regular ASTP unit (parenthetically, 25% or more actually failed to complete the first semester). I held out until they closed the program at the end of our third semester but was beginning to sink because, as stated, I wasn't made out to be an engineer.
I was assigned to Oregon State College (now university) in Corvallis in the Willamette Valley, a beautiful spot. It was an accelerated beginning curriculum in engineering and related subjects, e.g., mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc. Unfortunately, while I was doing good in math courses as I took them (algebra, solid geometry, trig, and calculus in that order) other courses were relying on a level of math I hadn't yet reached, e.g., in physics, which made it very difficult for me. However, there were a few courses such as speech and geopolitics, which were much more interesting to me and opened my eyes about what college work could encompass. The living at OSC was good. Dorms were converted for soldiers but were relatively comfortable and the food was good. What was wonderful was to be sought by the female students for dances, picnics, horseback riding, canoeing and you name it. Life had improved considerably. We were there for three semesters or about nine months as I recall - quite a hectic pace. In the third term, my marks in math-related subjects were falling and it seemed more and more likely to me that I might flunk out but was saved by the bell - i.e., after the third semester the program was shut down because of manpower needs for the invasion of Europe. So much for reconstruction.
Let me digress for a moment. In 1974/75, I was administering the USAID grant program to universities (mostly land-grant institutions) who had expertise in particular fields of interest to us (e.g., agriculture, health, etc.) and were willing to participate in the AID program. We provided grants to help them increase their existing capacity and knowledge to assist developing countries in their areas of expertise. As such, I participated in the selection of universities for negotiation of grants, developing the grant agreements, evaluation of their progress and recommendations for continuation/extension/termination. In this capacity, along with the AID agriculture officer, we negotiated a grant to Oregon State (now a) University for dry-land agriculture. It was a thrill and flush of memories to see the old campus again. It would be less than honest if I didn't admit to a good feeling when the President of the University took my colleague and me out to a very nice dinner.
Back to 1943. What a scene it was when we all boarded the train in down- town Corvallis for our trip to California. The girls were weeping and kissing us all good-bye. It was like a movie. Naturally, most of us were sad to be leaving and now that I knew what the army was really like, I was even sadder. Well, it wasn't the Mojave dessert but it wasn't much better either. We were off-loaded at Camp Roberts and trucked up to the Hunter-Liggett Military Reservation. Ill never forget that scene. We were in a large field and, in turn, an officer from each regiment or battalion would read off the names of those us assigned to his outfit. I held my breath every time one came to the "K"s for the infantry and prayed when they came to the "K"s in the artillery (I had been a gunner in the Tank Destroyers). Naturally, I waited through the whole thing in a state of some anxiety and agony until they were finished as my name and others had been inadvertently missed. Fortunately, I thought, I was assigned to the 340th FA Bn, Battery B (Capt. Lightbaum commanding). It was quite a shock to suddenly be lugging pack howitzers up and down the mountains and scrubbing the dirt Battery Street clean, and the beauty of the area escaped me at the time. At any rate, then began my less than illustrious but memorable career with the 89th Infantry Division.
My ASTP training didn't help me a bit in getting a promotion. When I was transferred from the 340th to the 563rd Field Artillery and became a ration clerk and assistant truck driver in Service Battery, I was passed over three times when I should have been promoted to the T5 driver job. In fact, it took an Act of Congress to make me a PFC. This was a big disappointment to me as I liked the military and worked hard at trying to be a good soldier. At Syracuse University after the war ended, I enrolled in the ROTC but in my second semester "they" told me I couldn't be commissioned because of my near-sightedness - strange after having earned two battle stars with the 89th. I finished my graduate work in 1952 and applied for a direct commission but I balked when after along process of application and review, they reneged and asked me to go to OCS first. What a stoke of luck that was since the Korean war was just around the corner.
Any treatment of ASTPers and Air Cadets in the 89th Infantry Division should also include, in my opinion, the special program that was set up after VJ day. The Army was challenged on how to keep five or six million soldiers out of trouble in Europe while waiting to be demobilized. One of the partial solutions was to establish two American-style temporary Universities in Europe (in France and England) at the undergraduate level. They were staffed by former faculty members now in the Army and by contracts with civilian Profs brought over from the States. When the announcements came out seeking applications, I was in Rouen. The 563 FA Bn. had been taken out of Lucky Strike, where we first were after our return from Waltershausen in central Germany, and made MPs. Mostly, this involved patrolling the streets in jeeps to keep the GIs out of trouble - but that's another story. One night while patrolling a major gas line outside the city, I tried to think of what I wanted to be in adult, civilian life. I had the habit of writing long, descriptive letters to my mother and a friend, who had read a few, said I had a flair for writing and should pursue it. At the same time, I was very impressed by the destruction of the war and somehow wanted to be a part of preventing another one. This lead me to conclude that I wanted to be a foreign correspondent without the foggiest idea of what that entailed. There were two slots allotted the division for journalism. I applied and to my great surprise, got one. In an earlier letter to The Rolling W, I described my good luck in getting our of town just before trouble was about to come my way me due to an episode with a drunken driver for EM Club guests but that's not germane here.
We were collected up, shipped out of Le Harve and on to Shrivenham near Oxford. I think we were in a former training camp barracks for British officers. Nothing luxurious but comfortable. I took three courses: Introduction to American Government, Introduction to Journalism, and Public Opinion. Three things of great importance to me happened to me there. First, I loved the courses (non-engineering, I might add) and did great. Second, with the help of a Captain who was a former faculty member of the McDill School of Journalism of Northwestern, I decided to go to Syracuse University in upstate New York. I had the foresight or good luck to write SU immediately (as suggested by The Stars and Stripes) and applied for admission which was a great break because I didn't have to start off-campus as many returning vets did due to the sheer numbers who took advantage of the GI Bill. The third factor was that, with my ASTP/OSC and Shrivenham credits, I started at SU as a second-term sophomore, remaining to graduate cum laude in political science and journalism and earn a Masters degree in public administration. Many years latter, 1969-70, I was selected for senior training at the National War College at Fort McNair, which made up for the T5 rank I never could achieve.
In terms of the original focus on this story, I cannot stop without one more comment. The GI Bill, as is well recognized, was an opportunity for veterans unequaled in history and has paid tremendous dividends to the nation. While those of us who failed to obtain rank or other recognition while in the service were happy just to come back alive and in one piece, the peoples representatives gave others like myself the opportunity to make something out of our lives. With 30 years of public service and over twenty years of the same in the international sphere, I like to think that in my case the taxpayers got their moneys worth.