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.