Remembrances: Darrel Carnell
My remembrances of our voyage on the S.S. Bienville are scant. The only things that stick in my mind were the awful chow, my seasickness and the stench of overflowing urinals deep in the bowels of the ship. The urinals were long galvanized troughs that slopped over with every pitch and roll of the ship. Ditto for the mess hall, if one could call it that. The tables were stainless steel affairs bolted to the deck and as the food was placed in one's mess kit it was taken to the tables and was consumed standing up. The tables were long and narrow and the mess kits would slip and slide with every gyration of the ship, often dumping their contents on the unlucky soul who was unfortunate enough to be at the low end of a particular gyration. After we arrived in Le Havre and before we disembarked church services were held on deck. I remember thinking it was a pretty corny idea when the chaplain asked us to conclude the services by singing God Bless America. And I still thought it was corny when we started to sing. But before I knew it tears were streaming down my cheeks and down the cheeks of others, as well. I don't think I had ever before really and truly appreciated and loved my country as much as I did that moment.
When we finally got off that smelly tub it was dark and terribly cold. My first step on French soil was in a mud puddle that had accumulated at the foot of whatever they called that stairway we used to disembark. And then the freezing trip to Camp Lucky Strike where we were assigned to 20-man squad tents with only an anemic coal burning stove to ward off the chill. The ration of so many helmets of coal per tent per day was never adequate and we spent much of our waking hours trying to scrounge any flammable material with which to feed the stove. The nights were particularly bitter and I wore or slept under or over every article of clothing I possessed. I wore my long johns, socks, boots, OD's, field jacket and wool knit cap and spread my raincoat and shelter half under me and my blanket and overcoat over me in my unsuccessful endeavor to keep warm. Men never stopped going to the latrine during the night and they never bothered to buckle their combat boots. The jingle those buckles made as the men walked to the latrine is something I'll never forget. Nor will I forget the Spam sandwiches that seemed to be the mainstay of our diet at Lucky Strike. The bakers did a creditable job of baking their bread from which the cooks sawed slices between which other cooks threw chunks of Spam. No pickles, no lettuce, no nothing except spam and bread. We sometimes called them jam sandwiches because the Spam was just jammed between slices of bread.
My next clear recollection of France is the restrooms at a public building in Le Treport. I don't remember whether the building was a brasserie, a dance hall or a theater but the public restrooms were at the end of a hallway. The men's room was to the left and the ladies' room was to the right. The men's urinal consisted of a tiled wall next to the entrance with a gutter at the bottom. If there was a door to the men's room it was constantly open because men emptied their bladders while continuing to talk to their female companions standing at the entrance. There could have been no doubt in the women's minds as to how well (or poorly) their male companions (or the rest of us, for that matter) were endowed because it was all there in open view!
Funny how one remembers some things and forgets others. I didn't drink at the time so I was not very impressed when some of the guys returned from Fecamp with milk bottles filled with Benedictine Brandy acquired in exchange for a few cigarettes. I was more interested in finding someone to wash my clothes and the first word I learned in French was "savon" which I was led to believe meant, "soap." I don't remember our trip to Luxembourg but it was there that a companion (I don't remember who) and I were challenged after dusk and we didn't have a clue as to what the password was. We did some fast talking with our hands raised high and finally convinced the sentry that we were not German spies on our way to murder General Eisenhower. I think it was the next day that Sergeant Dorigan wanted the battery to be assembled and told me to sound Assembly on my plastic GI bugle. I could only think of the Irving Berlin song about "How I hate to get up in the morning" and winds up with "Someday I'm going to murder the bugler." I figured that buglers were disliked as much in the German army as in ours and that I'd make a tempting target for a disgruntled sniper. So I didn't think much of the idea of blowing my bugle in a combat area. The next day that plastic GI monstrosity somehow fell off my jeep and was run over by a following vehicle. And I was thus without means with which to blow bugle calls until we crossed the Moselle. I never liked that plastic bugle very much, anyway.
As I remember it, the battery commander always went ahead of the firing battery to select places in which the guns would be positioned. And the day we crossed the Moselle was no exception. When we got to the far side there was some sporadic firing somewhere out yonder and Van Loton got a bug up his butt about finding out who was doing it. He wisely figured that his .45 automatic wouldn't be of much help in a shooting match and while my carbine would not be of much more help it was still better than his .45. So Van Loton appropriated my carbine, leaving me with no firepower a tall. Which I remedied by picking up a Mauser 98, that I still have to this day. That Mauser was my weapon of choice for the rest of the war because I not only had tracer, armor piercing and ball ammo for that baby but I could also retire my carbine to the zippered canvas cover on the dashboard of my Jeep, never to be removed (or cleaned) until war's end.
But I digress. I had never been able to use a double-edged razor blade without inflicting serious injury to my face. As a consequence I used a Schick Injector razor and blades exclusively. When we got overseas Schick Injector blades could not be found and my supply was rapidly becoming exhausted. Either just before, or just after, acquiring that Mauser I entered a house and found to my delight a flugelhorn (just an overgrown trumpet), a collapsible opera hat, a bowl of still warm water and a straight razor with strop, shaving mug and shaving brush. Although I had never before used a straight razor I taught myself how on the spot. I gave myself a really close, comfortable and smooth shave! By the time the rest of the battery made its way across the Moselle I was sitting on the front stoop of that house, freshly shaved, top hat on my head and playing St. Louis Blues on my newfound flugelhorn. The top hat disappeared shortly thereafter but the flugelhorn was still with me when the battery made it back to Twenty Grand where it, too, suffered the same fate as that plastic GI bugle. I became so proficient with that straight razor that Freddie Sabbatini and I set up a barbershop at war's end in Ebersbrunn. Freddie cut hair and I gave the shaves. I kept that razor, mug, brush and strop throughout my years at the University of Florida and switched to a safety razor only when Gillette came out with a system similar to Schick's.