Another ASTP Story by Warren Heyer

A draftee in early 1943, 1 was sent to Camp Haan, near Riverside, CA. After a very short six-week basic training, I was assigned to the crew bakery, loading and removing bread from the ovens. In a few months, I began hearing about the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) and found that my initial score on the classification test, AOCT, had not been quite high enough to quaify me for ASTP. So when I explained to the personnel sergeant that I had been sick when I took the test, he suggested I take the test again.

On the second try, my score was high enough, and I soon found myself on a bus to Los Angeles, where I would study engineering at Los Angeles City College. We were sent to live in the dormitory at Chapman college, across the street from LACC. With my duffel bag on my shoulder, I entered the cool, green courtyard, surrounded by a four-story dormitory, and heard the beautiful sounds of a jazz clarinet echoing off the walls. I thought I was in heaven.

Our ASTP unit Commander was a middle-aged First Lieutenant, who must have been a reservist called up for the duration of the war. He seemed befuddled by his job, and very much out of touch with military procedures. Once, for a reason I can't recall, I was required to make an appearance before him I saluted, and made my statement. He, rather than respond to my statement, said, "Son, your shirt pocket is unbuttoned." Flustered, I said the only thing that came to mind, "I'm sorry, sir!" "Well," he said, "I want you to write 200 times for me, 'I will keep my shirt pockets buttoned'."

Amused, I went to my room and for the next few days spent my spare time writing out my punishment. When I told my friends about my assignment, they were unbelieving. "What kind of an army are we in, anyway? That sounds more like grade school." A week later, I went back to his office, told the Sergeant that I wanted to see the Unit Commander. "What for?" he said. "Well," I said, "I have to deliver something to him." I showed it to the Sergeant, and he went into the inner sanctum shaking his head, with me following. "Sir," I said, after saluting as smartly as I knew how, "Here is the assignment you gave me." He didn't remember giving me the assignment, instead seemed troubled about something else. I refreshed his mind, and he asked if I had learned my lesson. "Yes Sir!" I said, turned about-face, and left his office.

We all liked being in college, but we liked being in Hollywood more, with its glamour, and with the beaches of Santa Monica nearby. I studied, and was doing rather well enjoying the science and math classes. But many of us just had a good time, going to classes, talking to the girls, and heading for the nightlife every evening. Because there were so few civilian men students in the college, the girls were eager to meet us, and we them. We should have suspected that something would happen to spoil the fun!

Gradually, we noticed that first one, then another of us would be missing. The rumor was that bad grades had sent several soldiers back to the real army. That made us all nervous, and most of us became more serious about studying. Some of the fellows formed a committee to visit the college administration and the commanding officers of the college unit, to find out if the rumors were true. They reported to us, "Yep, those guys are gone to the infantry, and more of us are going to go if we get bad grades." So the committee called a general meeting of the student group, and invited faculty, administration and the commanding officer to speak to us. First the Captain explained the grading standards that we must respect. Then our spokesmen made their observations. "Several of those guys who flunked out had grades that were only marginally low. They should have been given a second chance." After hours of discussion, we reached an agreement with the commander and the administration: teachers assigning the grade of D to students would rank the grade, with D- I being a high D, and D- being a low D! Students with all D- I's would be given a chance to improve their performance and stay in the program I think that the reason the teachers were so willing to put up with such nonsense was that they were sorry for us, feeling guilty because they were not in the Army, and unwilling to give a grade that would send someone out to be killed.

At any rate, the whole arrangement fell apart when it was announced the ASTP program would be canceled, and we would all be sent to combat units. It seems that the whole ASTP program had been set up by some visionary congressmen as a pretext to keep us bright guys from getting killed. They recognized that previous wars, particularly the American Civil War, had killed off all of the brightest and best of their young men, leaving the postwar world with a shortage of intelligent people.

That's my take, anyhow. So I found myself in the infantry, assigned to Company 1, Third Battalion, 355th Infantry Regiment, 89th Division. I was sent by bus along with many others of us north to Camp Roberts, and out to the Hunter-Liggett Military Reservation, where the 89h was on maneuvers, playing war games. We got to participate in the last few weeks of the maneuvers. To TM, it was great sport playing soldier. We would walk all night, dig foxholes, fire at the "enemy" if we ever saw him, all without any understanding of the objectives of the action. When we joined them, they were battle-hardened and weary soldiers. They were glad to see us, and welcomed us without making fun of the fact that we were a bunch of "college kids." Rather, they were glad of the opportunity to unload their grievances on us, and to prepare us for the grim realities of their kind of warfare.