Response to Tonya

by Raymond E Kitchell

This is an exchange between you webmaster, Ray Kitchell, and Tonya, our Army photographer who accompanied us on the Tour of Remembrance.

Thoughts after 55 Years

Having been in Europe many times since the war (I spent eight years with the UN in Vienna), the 89th Infantry Division's "Tour of Remembrance" was not a major sightseeing event for me. On the other hand, it was a very unique, stirring and emotional experience.

First, as you know, my 30-year old son Mark accompanied me. He was a history major in his undergraduate work at the University of Virginia and inherited an interest in the history of warfare and, of course, the 89th Division in World War II. I am not the typical returning veteran having spent most of my post-war civilian career with the US Civil and Foreign Service (AID) and the United Nations. As such, I have traveled and lived all over the world. Nevertheless, nothing prepared me for this unique experience provided by our Society. Probably the strongest feelings I had concerned meeting, for the first time, such a large group of 89th veterans, their wives, and their children since I had never been to a reunion. But meeting these folks in the process of honoring those who fell in action, at the two US burial grounds, the joint memorial service with Germans of those who lost their lives in the crossing of the Rhine and the silence of Ohrdruf made it all a very bonding atmosphere. These feelings were not diminished by the fun we had dining, drinking, and talking together.

I shared one emotion that I bet everyone else felt - mourning the untimely and heroic deaths but thanking the Lord that it wasn't me. Also, I think on the part of most if not everyone on the Tour, there was little or no feeling of lingering animosity or hostility as we recognized that history has rolled on for both the Germans and ourselves. Having been in East Berlin earlier in the year and then traveling through what used to East Germany on the "Tour", the differences that had existed, could be seen and felt, between the two former partitioned pieces of Germany. To use a popular phrase, it was time of closure.

Educated Soldiers

You asked what I meant when I said that many of the 89th soldiers were educated. As you know, Mark and I have been working on setting up a website for the Division Society. Because so many of its soldiers came to the Division from the Army Specialized Training Program and Air Cadet Programs, like myself, we have made it a major feature on our site. There follows two portions of what we have processed for the website. The first gives one a general background of the program, which should explain what I meant. The second is my own personal experience, one of many GI stories to be included. As you can read, many of America's most promising young men didn't survive but gave their very best.

My best buddy in college, Ray Kraft, was sent to the 106th division, which was spread thin on a quiet sector. Then the Germans initiated the Battle of the Bulge there. My friend manned a machine gun right where they made their first breakthrough, was wounded, and ended up in a prisoner camp with trench foot. He was lucky. [A comprehensive and official version of (1)"The Procurement and Training of Ground Combat Troops" was published in 1948 by the Department of the Army. Selected extracts and abridgements from this publication and from (2) "Scholars in Foxholes The Story of the Army Specialized Training Program in World War II", by Louis E. Keefer, are used to put the 89th soldier's personal stories in context. Readers desiring more information on the ASTP and the Air Cadet Programs are referred to these sources.]

During World War II, the US Army ran the single biggest education program in the nation's history. The Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) sent more than 200,000 soldiers to more than 200 colleges and universities to study engineering, foreign languages, personnel psychology, dentistry, and medicine. Selected for their high IQs and previous educational experience, the young men believed they would eventually be assigned to technical duties requiring such training. Many expected to become officers. The results were quite different.

The ASTP was formally established in December 1942. It differed from some of the preliminary proposals in placing attention not so much on the production of officers as on the production of specialists who might or might not ultimately be commissioned. The specialties were chiefly scientific, engineering, medical, and linguistic. The maximum number of men to be in the program was set at 150,000. Enlisted men under twenty-two years of age and having an AGCT score of 110 or more (later raised to 115) were eligible. During 1943, about 100,000 students for the program were taken from the three major forces and about 50,000 from new inductees. Unit commanders were not pleased about releasing such men to the ASTP.

The invasion of Sicily in July 1943 made a heavy demand for replacements. With Selective Service falling behind in the delivery of its quotas and with RTC quotas incorrectly adjusted to the actual rate of ground causalities, the replacement training centers could not meet the demand. The Army Ground Forces were obliged to take replacements from divisions and other units in training to meet the heavy current demand. Shortages appeared, training was interrupted, and readiness of units for combat was delayed. The number of infantrymen taken from divisions for replacement purposes, about 26,000 by January 1944, was comparable to the number of replacements who might have begun training in the summer of 1943 if replacement-training facilities had not been reserved for ASTP trainees (new 18 year-old inductees) who had failed to appear. The ASTP thus happened to contribute to the quantitative crisis, which prevailed in the Infantry at the end of 1943. The crisis soon overwhelmed the ASTP.

The ASTP, operating on a scale of 150,000 trainees, became increasingly vulnerable when personnel shortages threatened to impede military operations in late 1943. The efficiency of divisions (including the 89th) in training was being gravely impaired by the wholesale transfer of their infantry privates to the replacement stream. The program was immediately cut and eventually abandoned. A large number of trainees, almost overnight, became infantry privates. For its trainees, the ASTP was a series of disillusionments. Some, had they not been sent to college, would undoubtedly have gone to officer candidate schools, to the advantage of themselves and of the Army Ground Forces. Others had lost any rank (all trainees were reduced to the rank of Private no matter what rank previously achieved), which was not automatically returned when transferred, and indeed, promotion was difficult because officer and non-commission ranks had not been diminished.

The first element to be sacrificed to the growing need for combat soldiers was the ASTP. Following the virtual dissolution of the ASTP in February 1944, the Ground Forces obtained 73,000 men, virtually all in the youngest and most vigorous age group and in AGTC Classes I and II. Almost 50,000 of these men had been members of the Ground Forces before their assignment to the ASTP. A few weeks later, on 29 March 1944, the War Department ordered the transfer to the Ground and Service Forces of 30,000 aviation cadets who were not needed by the Air Force and who had originated in the other two commands. Of the 30,000 transferred cadets, the Ground Forces received 24,000, of whom 20,000 had formerly been members of the Army Ground Forces (AGF). Most of the aviation cadets were in AGCT Classes I and II and they were physically an even better lot than the ASTP students. The AGF assigned virtually all the aviation cadets and 55,000 of the ASTP students to divisions, the remainder of the of the ASTP students going to non-divisional units. Thirty-five infantry, armored, and airborne divisions received an average of over 1,500 ASTP students each.

Twenty-two divisions received an average of 1,000 aviation cadets each. All divisions still in the United States, except those scheduled for earliest shipment overseas and the 10th Mountain Division which contained an exceptional proportion of high-grade men, received infusions of new manpower. Some infantry divisions, those which were most depleted (like the 89th) or which had the lowest intelligence rating, obtained over 3,000 men from the two sources combined. All divisions assigned the ASTP students and aviation cadets mainly to their infantry components. Some division commanders thought that the majority of replacements whom they took to port were inferior to those men who had been lost, not only in training but also in stamina and other qualities essential to combat effectiveness. This was not true of replacements received from the ASTP and the Air Corps, who generally were recognized as superior in all respects save training to the men whom they replaced. The typical division subjected to large-scale stripping in 1944 received about 3,000 replacements from these sources. Stephen E. Ambrose aptly describes the effect of ending the ASTP and its release of soldiers and airmen to principally infantry divisions in his excellent book Citizen Soldiers. 4 From the beaches to the Bulge, infantry divisions and RTCs were largely composed of ex-ASTPers, former air cadets, and very young draftees and enlistees. About half of the reinforcements flowed from the States to France -usually Le Harve - organized by divisions, such as the 99th and the 106th Division, the latter hit first by the Germans in The Battle of the Bulge. The remaining were not organized at all. They were simply privates on their way into battle wherever they were needed. Ambrose quotes Captain Roland, Closing with The Enemy, "The marvel is that the draftees divisions were able to generate and maintain any esprit corps at all. Formed originally by mixing men indiscriminately from throughout the nation, thus severing all personal, social, community and regional bonds, identified by anonymous numbers and replenished through the notorious Reppel Depples, their only source of morale, other than their shared experience of hazard and hardship, was the character and patriotism of the soldiers. Fortunately, that proved to be sufficient."

When the 200,000 ASTP and 71,000 Air Cadets were released for the ground forces, suddenly " there were 190,000 of the best and brightest of the Army's inductees from 1942-43, enough for more than 10 divisions, available for assignment. What an asset at a time when every other combatant was taking conscripts too old, too young, to ill to fight, the U.S. Army was feeding into its fighting force its best young men. More than half of the ASTPers got sent into rifle companies as replacements. The Army had promised them a free education, then changed its mind and put them into the front lines, where most of them would never have been had they declined the offer to enter the program. There was some bitterness and much bitching, then off to a brief basic training course."

Still, in retrospect, at least for those like this veteran, the ASTP training and the subsequent GI Bill gave those who survived a big jump on life.

The above information comes from the following sources:

1. United States Army in World War ll, The Army Ground Forces, "The Procurement and Training of Ground Combat Troops", by Robert R. Palmer, Bell. I. Wiley and William R. Keast, of the Department of the Army Historical Division, Washington, DC, 1948.

2. "Scholars in Foxholes", 1998, COTU Publishing, P.O. Box 2160, Reston, VA 20195-0160

3. "Citizen Soldiers-The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge and the Surrender of Germany-June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945". '

How the ASTP Impacted My Life

I was with the 775th Tank Destroyer Battalion just after desert maneuvers when we were transferred to Camp Cook, California, in mid-1943. We were issued new tanks (a marked improvement over the death traps used in North Africa) and commenced training. During this period I saw the announcement (in the Stars and Stripes, I think) for ASTP applications. I went directly from high school to Sperry Gyroscope as an apprentice machinist and then soon volunteered for the Army near the end of 1942. While aspiring to go to college, it never seemed to be a real possibility. That's why I jumped at the chance. Truthfully, I also wasn't too happy about stories of tank destroyers being wiped out in North Africa either.

I was accepted and sent to a STAR unit at Stanford University where all candidates were given a six-week refresher course before taking a final qualification exam. What a welcome change that beautiful campus was. While language specialties, pre-med and military government were part of the ASTP program, the vast majority of slots were for engineering. The story was that the Army would need a lot of engineers for the reconstruction period after the war. From what I've read since then, the principal purpose was to keep the US colleges and universities from going bankrupt given the current lack of male students because they were all in the services. Whatever, mathematics had not been my strong point in high school and I didn't do so well on the exam. The officer interviewing me said that they expected about 2% of all admitted to flunk out the first semester and that it would be a miracle for me to make it. Nevertheless, my determination apparently impressed him and he passed me to go onto a regular ASTP unit (parenthetically, 25% or more actually failed to complete the first semester). I held out until they closed the program at the end of our third semester, but I was beginning to sink because, as stated, I wasn't cut out to be an engineer.

I was assigned to Oregon State College (now university) in Corvallis in the Willamette Valley, a beautiful spot. It was an accelerated beginning curriculum in engineering and related subjects, e.g., mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc. Unfortunately, while I was doing good in math courses as I took them (algebra, solid geometry, trig, and calculus in that order) other courses were relying on a level of math I hadn't yet reached, e.g., in physics, which made it very difficult for me. However, there were a few courses such as speech and geopolitics, which were much more interesting to me and opened my eyes about what college work could encompass. Living at OSC was good. Dorms converted for soldiers were relatively comfortable and the food was good. What was wonderful was to be sought by the female students for dances, picnics, horseback riding, canoeing and, you name it. Life had improved considerably. We were there for three semesters or about nine months as I recall - quite a hectic pace. In the third term, my marks in math-related subjects were falling and it seemed more and more likely to me that I might flunk out, but I was saved by the bell - i.e., after the third semester the program was shut down because of manpower needs for the invasion of Europe. So much for reconstruction.

Let me digress for a moment. In 1974/75, I was administering the USAID grant program to universities (mostly land-grant institutions) who had expertise in particular fields of interest to us (e.g., agriculture, health, etc.) and were willing to participate in the AID program. We provided grants to help them increase their existing capacity and knowledge to assist developing countries in their areas of expertise. As such, I participated in the selection of universities for negotiation of grants, developing the grant agreements, evaluation of their progress and recommendations for continuation/extension/termination. In this capacity, along with the AID agriculture officer, we negotiated a grant to Oregon State (now a University for dry-land agriculture.) It was a thrill and flush of memories to see the old campus again. It would be less than honest if I didn't admit to a good feeling when the President of the University took my colleague and me out to a very nice dinner.

Back to 1943. What a scene it was when we all boarded the train in downtown Corvallis for our trip to California. The girls were weeping and kissing us all good-bye. It was like a movie. Naturally, most of us were sad to be leaving and now that I know what the army was really like, I am even sadder. Well, it wasn't the Mojave Desert, but it wasn't much better either. We were off-loaded at Camp Roberts and trucked to the Hunter-Liggett Military Reservation. I'll never forget that scene. We were in a large field and, in turn, an officer from each regiment or battalion would read off the names of those assigned to his outfit. I held my breath every time one came to the "K"s for the infantry and prayed when they came to the "K"s in the artillery (I had been a gunner in the Tank Destroyers). Naturally, I waited through the whole thing in a state of some anxiety and agony until they were finished. My name and others had been inadvertently missed. Fortunately, I thought, I was assigned to the 340th FA Bn, Battery B (Capt. Lightbaum commanding). It was quite a shock to suddenly be lugging pack howitzers up and down the mountains and scrubbing the dirt Battery Street clean; the beauty of the area escaped me at the time. At any rate, then began my less than illustrious but memorable career with the 89th Infantry Division.

My ASTP training didn't help me a bit to get a promotion. When I was transferred from the 340th to the 563rd Field Artillery and became a ration clerk and assistant truck driver in Service Battery, I was passed over three times when I should have been promoted to the T5 driver job. In fact, it took an Act of Congress to make me a PFC. Lack of promotion was a big disappointment to me since I liked the military and worked hard to try to be a good soldier. At Syracuse University after the war ended, I enrolled in the ROTC. In my second semester I was told I couldn't be commissioned because of my near- sightedness - strange after having earned two battle stars with the 89th. I finished my graduate work in 1952 and applied for a direct commission, but I balked when after along process of application and review, I was asked to go to OCS first. What a stroke of luck that was since the Korean War was just around the corner.

Any treatment of ASTPers and Air Cadets in the 89th Infantry Division should also include, in my opinion, the special program that was set up after VJ day. The Army was challenged on how to keep five or six million soldiers out of trouble in Europe while waiting to be demobilized. One of the partial solutions was to establish two American-style temporary universities in Europe (in France and England) at the undergraduate level. They were staffed by former faculty members now in the Army and by contracts with civilian Professors from the United States. When the announcements seeking applications came out, I was in Rouen. The 563rd FA Bn had been taken out of Lucky Strike where we first were after our return from Waltershausen in central Germany, and made MPs. Mostly, MPs patrolled the streets in jeeps to keep the GIs out of trouble - but that's another story. One night while patrolling, a major gas line outside the city, I tried to think of what I wanted to be in adult, civilian life. I had the habit of writing long, descriptive letters to my mother and a friend, who read a few, said I had a flair for writing and should pursue it. At the same time, I was very impressed by the destruction of the war and somehow wanted to be a part of preventing another one. This lead me to conclude that I wanted to be a foreign correspondent without the foggiest idea of what that entailed. There were two slots allotted the division for journalism. I applied, and to my great surprise, got one. In an earlier letter to the Rolling W, I described my good luck in getting out of town just before trouble was about to come my way me due to an episode with a drunken driver for EM Club guests but that's not germane here.

We were collected, shipped out of Le Harve and sent to Shrivenham near Oxford. I think we were in a former training camp barracks for British officers. Nothing luxurious, but comfortable. I took three courses: Introduction to American Government, Introduction to Journalism, and Public Opinion. There three things of great importance to me happened. First, I loved the courses (non-engineering, I might add) and did great. Second, with the help of a Captain who was a former faculty member of the McDill School of Journalism of Northwestern, I decided to go to Syracuse University in upstate New York. I had the foresight or good luck to write SU immediately (as suggested by The Stars and Stripes) and apply for admission which was a great break because I didn't have to start off-campus as many returning vets did due to the sheer numbers who took advantage of the GI Bill. The third factor was, with my ASTP/OSC and Shrivenham credits, I started at SU as a second-term sophomore, and graduated cum laude in political science and journalism and earned a Masters degree in public administration. Many years later (1969-70), I was selected for senior training at the National War College at Fort McNair, which made up for the T5 rank I never could achieve.

In terms of the original focus on this story, I cannot stop without one more comment. The GI Bill, unequaled in history, was an opportunity for veterans and has paid tremendous dividends to the nation. While those of us who failed to obtain rank or other recognition while in the service were happy just to come back alive and in one piece, the people's representatives gave others like myself the opportunity to make something out of our lives. With 30 years of public service and over twenty years of the same in the international sphere, I like to think that in my case the taxpayers got their money's worth.

Too Young to Sign Up

You might be a bit confused with what I have said but this is what actually happened. I was a senior in high school when Pearl Harbor was bombed and turned 18 the April following. My mother made me promise to finish school and when we graduated, my buddy and I went to enlist in the Marine Corps. He was accepted but I was rejected because of nearsightedness (I remember the Recruiting Sergeant saying to go home and eat a lot of carrots and then come back and try again).

I went to work at Sperry Gyroscope as an apprentice machinist after having also been rejected by the Navy and the Army for the same reason. The Army told me that the only way I could get in was to be drafted and placed in "Limited Service". Eighteen year-olds were being drafted but in the fall Congress passed an Act lowering the draft age and I immediately "volunteered". In what was to be my usual pattern of luck in the Army, I was inducted a few days before Christmas. I was not satisfied with being "limited" so while taking a physical meant to catch the goof-offs and malingerers, in a "branch immaterial" basic training at Camp Roberts, California, I memorized the eye chart, was reclassified 1A, and was transferred to the 775th Tank Destroyer Battalion in training on the Mojave Desert.

Interestingly, when the war was over and with my ruptured duck and two battle stars, I went to Syracuse University on the GI bill and enrolled in ROTC. After two wasted semesters I was informed I couldn't stay in the program because I was nearsighted and couldn't be commissioned. C'EST la vie!

The only problem was that my "branch immaterial MOS" designation for limited service remained with me throughout my service even though the designation was dropped in '43 or early '44 when the need for gun fodder was acute. It did contribute, however, to my lack of promotion and it took an Act of Congress before I made PFC.

Our Mindset

Obviously, the opinion of GIs in WWII and the nation as a whole was much different than that of any war or action since. We were attacked without notice, our armed forces were seriously damaged, and we were unprepared and ill equipped in the first place due to isolationist sentiment. We were in danger of being defeated or seriously threatened for the first time since the War of 1812. While some tried to avoid service and others remained passive until their draft number came up, in general we all knew why we were in the Army and what had to be done. In short, the situation and the needs were much clearer and the usual grumbling in the ranks (e.g., get the troops out of the hot sun) was a way to let off steam, not the beginning of any rebellion. Fear of combat and how one handled it is another thing, but by and large we all handled it with honor. In today's environment, it is sometimes difficult for some to understand why American soldiers should be fighting in foreign lands. Hopefully, this is not a serious problem within the armed forces today since they are all professionals and not draftees.

Another personal example of mind set might be illustrative. When I was a sophomore in high school in 1939, it was clear to me that we should and would be at war with Nazi Germany. To prepare myself for service, I elected to take two years of German. While my limited German did not contribute anything to their ultimate defeat, it illustrates the mindset of many of us in those days. My limited German capability, which was better than those with none, did help with the pretty fraulines who were willing to overlook the non-fraternization ban when combat ceased, but that's another story.

I hope this "letter" is responsive to your needs and feel free to bounce any questions off me. Obviously, a great source of similar information will be available when our website goes online. I will let you know when it happens. Mark and I enjoyed your company and support on our "Tour" and we wish you a happy holiday. Merry Christmas.