Clair P. Lyons, MP HQ
I was inducted into the Army on March 24, 1943 and received basic training in the Cavalry at Fort Riley, Kansas. On completion of basic training, I was told about the ASTP program, and due to my AGCT score of 138 I was being sent to the University of Wyoming for testing and assignment to a college for further training. I had never heard of the ASTP before and was not given any choice, but it sounded like a pretty good deal to me. I was assigned to the University of Denver in Denver Colorado to take Basic Engineering. Although we were part of the University of Denver, 400 of the Engineering students were housed at Regis College, located on the Northwest corner of the city. About eighty language students were housed a few blocks away at the El Jebell Temple, formerly a Masonic temple.
When the program was essentially terminated eight-months later, most of us were transferred to the 42nd Infantry Division at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. My first assignment there was to an Infantry Company. After about six weeks of infantry training, it was decided that the 42nd Division Field Artillery needed a truck driver worse than the Infantry Company needed me. I was transferred to the Service Battery of a 105mm Howitzer Bn. About the same time a big Greek-American named Leon transferred in from an AA Battery after spending about three years in the Aleutian Islands. He was built like a Mack truck and, apparently, his isolation in the Aleutians made him crazy as a loon in some ways and afraid of nothing. In the alphabet-oriented army, Leon came close to Lyons and we were thrown together a lot.
It seemed we were always getting into trouble together. After some months of this, we decided that the 42nd (Rainbow) Division with it's stupid "Rainbow salute" was the most chicken outfit in the whole army. Leon talked me into volunteering for Parachute School with him as it was the only way out. Our CO was very happy to approve our applications as an opportunity to get rid of two troublemakers. After parachute training at Fort Benning, I was sent to an Infantry Replacement Training Center (Retread Unit in the Army vernacular) at Camp Gordon, Georgia. After spending most of the winter marching all day in the mud and trying to sleep in pup tents at night, we were pronounced "Infantrymen" and sent off to Europe. On February 27, 1945, after processing at Camp Kilmer, NJ, I and over 12,000 others were loaded onto the Queen Elizabeth in New York Harbor and shipped to Europe. After docking in Scotland six days later, a train ride to Southampton, a trip across the channel in a stinking French ship, and a short ride in an LCT, I arrived in Le Havre, France. We were immediately loaded into trucks and sent to a Replacement Depot. The Battle of the Bulge had just ended and the need for Infantry replacements was very great. At that time the 89th was being staged in Luxembourg for its first entry into combat, and the MP Platoon's TO called for additional men at that time. Most of the other 12,000 were sent to Infantry Companies, but I was assigned to the 89th Division Military Police Platoon. It was March 11, 1945. The 89th was committed the next day. I was assigned to Sgt. Hememeyer's Squad. He was a large "older" man (maybe 30 or so) and a very impressive sight when sitting on his motorcycle. I admired and respected him.
While I had almost two years training in the Cavalry, Infantry, Engineering, Field Artillery, and parachuting, I knew absolutely nothing about being an MP. I received very little instruction and, for a while, had no idea what I was supposed to do. I worked mostly on instinct and had the desire to stay alive. Due to the nature of our job, I was on my own a good part of the time. Until the end of hostilities, some days the only people I saw that I knew were Sgt. Hermsmeyer or Cpl. Millard or a couple of others on my squad.
When the Division was sent home, my ASR score of 46 meant I had to stay. I was transferred to the 83rd Division Military Police Platoon to serve in the Army of Occupation in Linz, Austria. An observation about "replacements". Although about 20 of us joined the 89th the day before they were committed to combat, and served with them all through the days of combat, we were never really accepted as equals except by those in our own squads. This became very apparent on our return to France where we were housed together in Rouen. At first, I took this personally until I found the other "replacements" were treated the same way.
In recent years, I have found that this was not unusual in WW II. A friend of mine who was a Captain and tank commander with the Fourth Armored Division had similar experiences. He was transferred into his unit just prior to D-day and was wounded three times, including very serious wounds at Luxembourg. After the war, Luxembourg awarded him their highest military decoration. He said he was never really accepted and does not go to reunions anymore where all they talk about is their time in training. I assume that this was not a problem for those transferred directly from ASTP to the 89th as they came in as the Division was being reformed.
I hope that this is the type of information you are seeking. Please note that this is as I remember it now over fifty years later and most specific dates and most names elude me. I am enclosing a chapter from a book I(see just below) wrote several years ago for my grandchildren about my military service in WW II. This chapter covers my time in ASTP. It is directed to my grandchildren but you may find something of interest in it. Also is enclosed a page of photographs of Sgt. Hermsmeyer and our squad.
ASTP at the University of Denver
Near the end of basic training I was told to report to the main headquarters building at Fort Riley. I had thoughts about the Articles of War with all the death penalties and wondered which one I had been caught violating. I was set down across the desk of a five-striper non-com. He explained to me about a new program being started by the Army. By this time, we appeared to, be winning the war, and it was apparent that at wars end, most of Europe would be destroyed. The government felt that it was the responsibility of the United States to help our allies rebuild as rapidly as possible. To do that they would need many engineers. They would also need doctors and translators in larger numbers than available. To fill these needs, the Army started an Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) to provide candidates through accelerated training at cooperating colleges. The candidates for this program would be selected based on their AGCT and aptitude test scores. The minimum AGCT Score would be 125 (versus the aforementioned score of 115 for Officers Candidate School). My AGCT Score of 138 and mechanical aptitude score of 148 placed me high on the list of candidates.
I would be sent to the University of Wyoming to confirm my qualification and determine my placement in the program. I was very surprised, but it looked like a good deal to me. This trip to Laramie, Wyoming, was much better than any of my previous train rides. It was no less than on a Military Pullman with actual sleeping berths and a black porter who actually worked for the Pullman Company and who made up the berths. I had my first lesson in Pullman etiquette from one of the older men who informed us that the porter was paid practically nothing by the Pullman Company and depended on tips for his income. The usual tip at that time was one dollar per night. However, as we were only making $50 per month, less deductions, for laundry, insurance, and contributions to the Red Cross, netting us about a dollar a day, fifty-cents for each of the two days on the train would be fair. Well, after months on an army cot, which we had to make up ourselves, a day's pay wasn't too bad for this luxury. For about four-days after our arrival at the University of Wyoming, we spent six or seven hours per day taking exams on many different subjects. With the very thin air of the two-mile high elevation of Laramie, this was hard work, but a welcome change from basic training. After the exams were graded, we spent a couple days waiting for assignment.
The group just ahead of mine was sent to Carnegie in Pittsburgh, a two-hour drive from home. I wasn't that lucky, I was sent to the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, two thousand miles from home. But I wasn't unhappy about that. Over the next few weeks 800 ASTP students were accumulating at the University. Four hundred engineering students, including myself, were placed on the campus of Regis College, a Jesuit college in normal times, but taken over by the University of Denver for the ASTP program. Another eighty or so language students were housed at EL Jebell Temple, formerly a Masonic Temple, not too far away. The 400 students were divided into 20 sections of 20 students each. The First Section was made up entirely of men who had completed at least one year of college. The other sections were divided in accordance with the results of the tests taken at the University of Wyoming. I was placed in the Second Section. Most of the others in this section had several semesters in college, while I had none. As I never really had to study in high school, I had not formed any good study habits and the first term was rough. I was billeted in a converted classroom with about 40 students next to the dissection lab. A formaldehyde smell came into our room from the several human cadavers the lab contained. With the commotion of forty students it was impossible to study there, so travel time to the crowded library cut down on study time. Somehow, I did survive the first term, as did all the others in my section. Enough people in the other sections did not survive and the student body shrank by several sections. The ASTP program was about 80% Army and 20% college, retaining the worst parts of both. We retained the discipline of the army with all it's minor nit-picking orders, procedures, inspections, etc., which in military vernacular was called "chicken shit." On the college side we had a very difficult curriculum that covered a lot of material. There was no dropping any subject and if you did not keep up you were out of the program.
Although this was not a typical college campus (no girls, no intercollegiate sports), it was on the edge of one of the finest cities in America with free (to us) streetcars into town. We were also learning something that would be useful after the war. It sure beat Fort Riley. The insignia for the ASTP was the lamp of knowledge and a sword. Due to our relatively good fortune compared to other parts of the service, the lamp was often referred to as a gravy bowl. I have heard that some of us were berated by mothers who had sons fighting overseas. We even made fun of ourselves such as singing our unofficial theme song which started out: "Take down your service flag mother, your son's in the ASTP." However no one had volunteered for the ASTP, we were all ordered there just as we were later ordered overseas. And I will guarantee you that there were many much easier jobs in the army. At the end of the term there was a one-week break. Six-day furloughs were available to some, but with home 2,000 miles away, there was no way I could make it. And on a take-home pay of about a dollar a day, I couldn't afford to go any place else. By the end of the second term, I was doing all right and life was tolerable.
Near the end of the second term, we were all given a medical aptitude test. It appears that they wanted to increase the number in the medical part of the program. Sixteen, from what were left of the eight hundred, were individually called in and advised our tests were high enough to be eligible for transfer to the medical program if we were interested. I said no thank you, as my interest was more in engineering. At the end of the term, 10 of the 16 were transferred to the University of Iowa to study medicine. Several weeks into the third term we were all transported to the main campus of the University in downtown Denver. We were told in effect that the powers-that-be had decided that the Army was more in need of infantryman than future engineers. The engineering part of the ASTP was being terminated, and we would all be transferred to combat units. That sure upset the gravy bowl! The study of medicine sounded pretty good then, but it was too late! The education part of the program ceased and those of us who had furloughs coming received short ones. Donald Schirmacher, a friend in my section whose hobby was transportation, planned my trip home so that it would not take three days like my last one. The first leg was on the Rock Island Rocket, a streamlined train that traveled from Denver to Chicago in twelve hours. Financially, I hadn't planned on this trip, and after purchasing a round trip ticket to Pittsburgh; I had less than $4.00. I didn't worry much about that as I had made arrangements with my friend, Bud Bussard, to pick me up at the train station in Pittsburgh, and take me the last 125 miles to Reynoldsville. Also on the Rocket was another section mate, Bill Loatherington and his wife. His wife had prepared a basket full of food for the trip, and she assured me that she had prepared enough for me. She had fried chicken, sandwiches, and fruit, so that I didn't have to buy anything except a drink on the train.
I left them in Chicago, and had a free lunch in the nearby USO There was a small town in Ohio where the trains changed crews. The women there felt it was their patriotic duty to feed every serviceman on every troop train and on every passenger train that stopped. They had sandwiches, coffee, and a lot of other homemade foods. So again I had a free meal and a sandwich for a later snack. We reached Pittsburgh about 8:30 pm, but no Bud Bussard. I bought something to eat and waited until about 11:00 before deciding he wasn't coming. A wise decision, as I later learned that Bud had gone to the wrong railroad station, decided I had missed the train, and went home without me. I went to the bus station and found that there were no busses to Reynoldsville until the next afternoon. The only bus that night in that direction was one going to New Kensington and on to Tarentum. I remembered my Uncle Nick Shaganaw, a Pennsylvania State Policeman, was stationed in Kittanning, a town between Tarentum and my destination. I jumped on the bus just as it was leaving and asked the bus driver the fare. He said I would have to buy a ticket to the first stop, which amounted to something like $1.75, and told me that the fare the rest of the way, payable when I got off, was so much more. I don't remember the exact amount, but it was about twice what I had. I told him how much I had and told him to put me off when I had gone as far as my money would take me. We made several stops and at each stop after about the third, I expected to be put off; but we kept going until the bus was almost empty and we reached the end of the line. I went to the driver with what money I had and figured I was in trouble. He told me I didn't owe anything. A man who had got off at a previous stop had heard our original conversation, and had paid my fare to the end of the line! Was he my Guardian Angel? It was well after midnight and there was no traffic. I had figured that I would call the State Police Barracks to see if my uncle could pick me up, but there were no telephones available. I started walking towards Kittanning which was 18 miles away, hoping for a ride. But this was wartime with strict gasoline rationing and nothing came by. I walked the entire 18 miles. I walked into the State Police Barracks about 5:00 AM. My uncle gave me the keys to his 1937 Chrysler to drive the rest of the way to Reynoldsville. The time passed very quickly and I returned to Denver without further problems.