Until Tomorrow, One Man's Story: Chapter 4
by Hurland Leo Clark, Hq. Co, 2nd Bat, 114th Reg
"Alert! Fall out with full pack. Supply officers, report to supply tents and draw ammunition for all troops. Platoon Sergeants march the men to the mess hall for a two-day supply of field rations -- canteens will be filled with fresh water. Personnel carriers will be parked beside each barracks, drivers to remain with the vehicles at all times."
These orders were received when Army G-2 was notified that a Japanese invasion task force was enroute to the continental United States. The potential site was unknown. Our beaches were not fortified so we knew that unless we could sink their task force before they landed, we would have our work cut out for us after they landed. America would then find out the horrors of war; our mothers, sisters and wives would be exposed to a savage and rapacious enemy. We were determined that it would not happen. We slept in our clothes that night and many nights to come. Finally, word came down that the Island of Attu, in the Aleutian chain off the coast of Alaska, had been captured. This was the latest expansion move of his Imperial Highness. It was still 1942; the war was not even a year old yet and Japan was knocking on our doors. The entire population of that tiny island was transported to Japan as prisoners of war. It was not until 1943 that the American G.I.'s recaptured Attu. For the G.I.'s who were stationed in the Aleutians during the war, thanks for pulling duty in a harsh, almost forgotten post during a time we needed you most. If the Japanese had been able to hold on to Attu, they could have used the rest of the Aleutian chain as footholds and supply bases as they walked right across to the mainland. We knew that the next time could be Seattle and we had to be ready.
Training intensified, new obstacle courses were made using machine guns firing live ammunition over our heads. The guns were set to fire thirty inches or more above the ground and we were made to crawl under this fire through mud, shell holes and coils of barbed wire. If you raised your head too far, you took a chance of having a .30 caliber bullet ricochet off your helmet. Officers, stationed above and behind, were able to set off explosive charges nearby and shower us with mud and debris, giving the feeling of an artillery barrage. Of course, you were expected to make the journey and come out with a clean rifle. Silhouette targets would pop up now and then; usually when we would be negotiating the most difficult places on the course. Each time we shot, our hits were counted and a score was posted. Those who were not able to hit the target the minimum number of times was in for long and arduous training, starting with the basics in shooting a rifle.
The army, in its striving for uniformity, made it easy for a few of us to circumvent the worst part of the course and still complete it. In setting up the machine gun emplacements, the gunners were instructed to fire timed bursts, each gun (on the right), waiting for the one on the left to complete its firing before opening fire. When Danny Lewis and I realized this, it was a simple matter to place ourselves in front of the gun on the extreme left flank. As soon as the gun stopped firing we would get up and run until the gun on the extreme right would start up, then we would hit the ground and crawl until the left gun ceased firing. We would then repeat the procedure. It worked well. Because were in full view of the officers at all times, they must have approved; for nothing was ever said about our doing it that way, at least not to us. We were always waiting, reasonably clean, when the rest of the less than foolhardy reached the end of the course. This shortcut worked well during the daylight hours, but it would not work at night. During the night runs, something new was added. Parachute flares. When the flares were floating down, we had to stand motionless, and we could not do this and still time the bursts so that we could hit the dirt before the next firing.
Then there was another kind of obstacle course. This type was a little milder. It was more for exercise. A run was made up of walls, ditches, ropes and the usual tires and culverts to crawl through. We usually ran this course while wearing combat gear, but one day our platoon leader let us go through without the equipment. The run was timed and bets were made with other platoons, on how speedy we all were. This competition led us to another competitive run, only this time; the fastest in each platoon ran to see who was the fastest in the Company. Battalion was included and the fastest in each Battalion ran for "Regiment Speedster." His Company cheered each runner on and bets were made. I lost to a college track star, for the regimental honors. Second fastest in the regiment was not too bad, though.
With all of the training we had, we were still considered a "training" cadre -- part of the 44th Infantry Division. Permanent assignments still had to be made. I was taken out of one Company and transferred into a different Regiment. First to "G" Company, then to Headquarters Company, Second Battalion. The 44th Division was a National Guard outfit from New Jersey and New York. It was made up of 71st, 174th and 114th Infantry Regiments. Most of the National Guardsmen were sons of the wealthy. It was the expected thing to join the 71st Regiment when one became of age from that area. These were the officers and noncoms that helped to train us draftees. Our Division was split up. The 174th Regiment was pulled out and sent to the South Pacific and earned a record to be proud of. A new Regiment was formed, the 324th. Men were pulled out of the two remaining regiments to form the base of the new
Regiment and a batch of eighteen year old draftees were brought in to fill the ranks. We were told to go easy on these kids -- no swearing at them or rough talk. It was probably the first time many of them were away from home and the Brass was not sure how they were going to react. These new recruits had to be trained, so back into the field we went. This time we were to help with the training.
As soon as the recruits finished their basic training, I was sent to Communication School, to learn the d-dit-da-dit of radio, installation of telephone systems, and the intricacy of secret codes and message centers. I was to be entrusted to carry a top secret, portable, deciphering machine. Through this machine all messages were encoded and decoded, from and to the Battalion. Hand grenades were issued to be used to destroy the machine, if capture was imminent.
We spent most of the winter out in the field, putting to practice all we had learned. The natives told us that it was the worst winter in 25 years; for that part of the country. The snow was so deep that many of the defense plants had to close. Boeing Aircraft Company sent across the mountains to Spokane to get snow fighting equipment. As the snow fell, so did the temperature. Canteens on our hips froze solid. We slept in our clothes, shivering under our two thin blankets. Our teeth chattered and we had to wear our gloves and stocking caps (pulled down over our ears) to keep from freezing them off as we waited for the dawn.