C. Harold Mathews, Jr., C CO 353RD
And now for your, "for the record" information about my ASTP experiences. I first began to hear about ASTP through rumors in mid-May, '43 when I was in the 10th week of my 13-week infantry basic training at Camp Roberts, California. And it became more than a rumor, in fact, it turned into an involuntary program when I, along with about a half dozen others from my training company were ordered to report for an interview. We met jointly with an interviewing officer who told us of the upcoming college training program and then individually as he delved into our personal and academic backgrounds. I had taken three years of Spanish in high school but had a very general curriculum in my one semester at UCLA before being inducted into the Army. So based on my interview, I expected to be considered for language training. A few days later, we were summoned individually before a panel of officers who fired rapid questions at us about our backgrounds, ambitions, education and training. Then one of the officers, of obvious Mexican-American background, began to question me in Spanish. I struggled through it; not knowing how I had done, but was later informed that I had satisfactorily passed the board.
Two days into week 12 of basic, I was advised that I had been accepted into the program and should be prepared to ship out the next morning at 0900. There was one other GI in my barracks who had been similarly notified, so the next morning when the rest of the company went out for training, we were driven to a local railhead where we boarded a train and headed for Stanford University where we re-entered the world of academia.
After several days of testing and interviews, I was shocked to learn that my thoughts about confining my education in language had vanished and that instead, I was being placed in the engineering training program. The next few days were spent auditing math, science and engineering classes and then after ten days at Stanford, my name showed up with a contingent being shipped to Oregon State College in Corvallis, Oregon to be trained as an engineer. We arrived at OSC around the Fourth of July and began classes on July 12, 1943 in anticipation of earning our college degree and a commission at the end of a very accelerated eighteen-month program. It was a very rigorous program and generally I think we all enjoyed the college life although as 18, 19 and 20-year-olds, we were also anxious to join in on fighting the war. By the end of our first term, the idea of becoming commissioned had disappeared and, by the end of the second term, the future of the program appeared to be in peril. We did complete the third term, however, and received our certificates for completing the ASTP Basic Engineering training along with our notice that the program was being terminated and that we were being shipped to the infantry.
We left Oregon State at the end of March 1944 and first went to Camp Roberts for a day or so and were then sent to a "conditioning camp" with the 89th. The Division was completing mountain maneuvers at Hunter Liggitt and someone had rightfully decided that, fresh from college, we would not be in the proper physical condition to withstand the grueling demands that we would face. So, first, we were to go under an intense three-week program of marching and physical training to get us in shape to join our outfits. For most of us, it was a great adventure and we were looking forward to getting on to the business of soldiering and winning the war. At any rate, at the end of our three weeks we were ready to go, only to find out (happily, I admit) that the maneuvers were over. Next came the move to Camp Butner, and, in my case, promotion to communications sergeant for my company. Upon arrival overseas, we had a slight realignment in the company and I was moved into a rifle squad as assistant squad leader. Then shortly after entering combat, my squad leader experienced night vision problems and was transferred back to Division headquarters and I became the squad leader. By that time, my ASTP days seemed like a distant memory as we got on with the business of fighting the war to a victorious conclusion.
After the war and my return to civilian life, there was no question about returning to college and my ASTP training popped to the surface again. Through my Oregon State classes, I realized that engineering was in fact the right course for me. And although I couldn't just pick up where we left off in ASTP since our classes were very accelerated and too broad brush, I was able to receive partial credit for some of the non-engineering classes I had taken. After college graduation, I pursued an engineering career and retired eleven years ago after 37 years with IBM, the last 32 as an engineering manager.
I look back with very fond memories of my ASTP days. They really didn't do anything for my Army career but they were very enjoyable and I certainly gained a benefit from them in my post-war pursuits. I'm still not sure I understand why the program was started or why it so abruptly ended with such a large number of our college men being shoved into the infantry as cannon fodder.