FLASHBACKS TO CAMP BUTNER
By Clyde Solmon, HQ Co, 2nd 353rd
Arriving at Camp Butner August 24, 1944 the first morning standing reveille, I got chewed out by the Captain for having polished boots. "Get that damn shine off those boots." Being the only one, they stuck out like sore thumbs. How was I supposed know the Infantry was supposed to look slovenly? I had been in AA (anti-aircraft) where a shine was mandatory.
The first formation of the day, the Captain said, "We will now police the area and for the next fifteen minutes I only want to see assholes and elbows." And the bootsÖ.a hangmanís noose for those on high who came up with the idea of reversing the hide to make combat boots. They were colder and absorbed water like a sponge. If it was better the steers would have grown the hair on the inside. Think about it.
I attended a class for the operation of flamethrowers. One of the men lost control of the nozzle and all records were broken for the hundred-yard dash. No one was injured but only because of the quick action of the Lieutenant in charge. Participating in night maneuvers my second week at Butner, a sergeant in charge of the squad pointed and said to go that way. I said, "Wrong way thatís toward the Enemy." He said, "You follow me." And about five minutes later we were captured. Sitting in the holding pen for prisoners having a smoke, he gave me a nudge and said, "Isnít this better than crawling around with the snakes and bugs all night?" I was learning Infantry tactics fast.
The Lieutenant and my squad minus three men went out on the range one morning to practice assaulting and capturing a house. The first man crawled within a short distance of the house, ran the rest of the way to the windows threw in a grenade and stooped down below the window. I was second in line, my job to step on the first manís back and dive through the window after the grenade had exploded. I started my run but stopped short when the first man jumped up and started an Indian war dance. After a minute of this he bent down and held up a cottonmouth snake at least three and a half feet long and, I swear, three inches in diameter. I walked back to Lt. Cagney who was sitting in a jeep and said, "Lt. You can take my stripes or put me in the Guard House. I'm not going down there and trample snakes." The lieutenant called the practice off. The fellow that killed the snake couldn't understand what all the excitement was about. It was only a snake.
Two squads on men were biking on the narrow road back roads of the camp. A jeep came along the road with a captain and lieutenant aboard. We moved to the side of the road still walking. I turned to face the Jeep and gave a nice salute, my foot went into a small pothole and I went ass-over teakettle. Very embarrassing. I was razzed for a couple weeks about my new type of salute.
In going through the live shot-and-shell of the obstacle course, I usually had more dirt inside my pants than the outside. Thatís crawling low. I also left my watch crystal and the face somewhere along the way. It was a new watch, a gift from my father. I never had the nerve to tell him where it went.
I received a three-day pass to visit my younger brother (Navy) in a Brooklyn Hospital injured in the landing at Anzio in Italy. I called my wife and had three grand days in New York. I never did visit my brother but I sent a get-well card. When I told him the story after the War, he said he would have done the same thing if things had been reversed.
We went on a five-mile forced march on a day the temperature reached 100 degrees. Before it ended every ambulance in the 89th was pressed into service to pick up and treat the men for heat prostration. I caught up to a lieutenant who was bent over and dragging the butt of a rifle on the ground. I said, "Sir can I help you with that rifle?" He picked his head up, looked me in the eye and said, "Go to hell." I replied, "I think weíre there Sir." Later resting in the shade of some trees with the hike over, the lieutenant came by me and placed his hand on my shoulder gave it a squeeze. No words were spoken and none were needed. A notice of meals to be served at the Mess Hall was posted. Baked beans and franks, Saturday night. I love New England style baked beans cooked with molasses and brown sugar. Two scoops of white pellets that could have been used in a slingshot. UGHí The franks and bread were a little better.
On a weekend of war maneuvers two squads of the A&P platoon were to plant mines as a defensive measure for the Headquarters CO using only small amounts of explosive. The area to be mined was mapped out. A sergeant noticed a colonel was using a small footbridge to get a better view as to what was happening and said the bridge was in the area that could be mined. That night the sergeant mined the footbridge. Sure enough the next day the colonel headed for his viewing site on the bridge. WHAM! The bridge blew and the colonel went down and his aides rushed to pick him up. Great glee from the viewers. The final results, the sergeant had to walk the eight miles back to camp as a private and apologize. The message right or wrong-- you canít pick on the brass. Everyone else thought the sergeant should have received a medal. The former sergeant name was W. Wilson. After all these years, I donít think heíll mind if I use his name.
Who can forget the hikes in the rain in the sticky orange mud clinging to everything and the job of cleaning up?
I got a free ticket to the Duke and Georgia Tech football game and sat next to a family that wanted to treat me with all the food that came by. They had a son in the Navy somewhere in the Pacific and invited me to have dinner with them, but I very politely backed off. Later, I wished I had taken them up on it.
I remember standing in formation waiting to march to the train to who knew where. A jeep with the first sergeant and captain came down the line and stopped in front of me. Shuffling papers the sergeant asked if I had ever fired a .45 pistol. I said, "NO," and he said get in the jeep. We took off at high speed for the pistol range. Arriving there he gave me the .45 and told me to fire five shots at the target with no instructions given. I fired the first shot. Damn, what a kick I fired the other four and never touched the target. The sergeant took the pistol, the captain said, "good shooting," and I couldnít help but laugh.
Last but not least, I remember boarding the train and ending up at Camp Miles Standish several miles from home which I managed to get to twice before climbing the gang plank for a wild ride on the Marine Wolf.