The Remembrances of:
Kenneth Sipser (Cont'd) ~ Carl J. Lawson ~ Jack G. Ohringer
ANECDOTAL MILITARY HISTORY
KENNETH SIPSER - ASN 32714090
I was born November 14, 1922 in New York City, but grew up in Brooklyn, New York to which my family moved when I was seven. It was there on January 12, 1943 1 was inducted into the United States Army, serial No. 32714090. 1 was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey for orientation, then to Fort Eustis, Virginia, and assigned to a unit of the Anti-Aircraft Artillery. Aside from getting basic military training, and becoming familiar with how to handle big guns, I learned how to successfully dodge the Military Police on my regular and frequent unauthorized weekend round trips home on the Washington, DC to New York express.
In the early fall of 1943, 1 applied for and was admitted to the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) which promised a commission in the Corps of Army Engineers upon completion of the two year study program. Accordingly I was transferred to Clarkson College of Technology in Potsdam, New York, and assigned the arduous task of attending classes, and doing other student things like homework and taking exams, etc. We were housed in the Community Center building in the middle of town, and each morning we gave credence to the fact we were in the US Army by falling out for reveille and saluting the American flag. We then had breakfast, and were marched off in cadence to a full day of classes. Those who did not maintain an appropriate academic average were dropped from the program, and were sent to units frequently of their own choice. Most, like myself attended classes faithfully, maintaining at least the minimum allowable grades.
Needless to say, there were serious concerns when in early February, 1944, a rumor surfaced telling that the ASTP was going, to disband, and that the soldier-student participants would be re-assigned to various branches of the Army. Having learned that rumors were stories that were rarely false I decided to apply for immediate transfer to the Army Air Corps. I and several others traveled to Syracuse, NY where I took and passed the several required physical and written exams, but it was all too late. Apparently the machinery to disband ASTP, and to ship us to the infantry was already in the works, and so less than a month later all of us were on a train heading south. Rumors abounded about our destination, and it became clear that with some slight possibility of deviation from the rumor mill, we were headed for an infantry outfit on maneuvers in the deep south. How deep it was became clear when we got off the train to find ourselves in Louisiana. We were herded onto 6x6 trucks which took us through several small backwoods towns, after which we plunged into dense jungle no less threatening than if we had been transported into deepest Africa. The steam rising from the many lakes we passed, and the Spanish moss hanging ominously from the dead tree branches only added to our foreboding of the terrible days to come.
The first humans we saw were soldiers dressed in very drab olive drab, carrying guns, wearing helmets, and it was clear they were different from the humans with which we had been associating these past months. These were swarthy, rough and tough and mean looking, hard, unshaven, vicious brutal beings, while we.... we were college students, pale faced, but respectful, manageable, predictable, and above all friendly. A scene which struck me particularly was of a group of rough looking soldiers standing, in an approximate semi-circle, while the one in its center pointed a finger accusingly and angrily at some of the others. It all seemed terribly barbaric and violent I learned soon after that this was a group of officers, and the finger pointer was no less than Lt Col. Gleszer, West Point graduate, and CO of the Third Battalion. We were told that he was very West Point, a rough, demanding officer. At another time and date, when we had been in battle only several days, we heard that he collapsed under the strain, and had to be taken to the rear.
The shock of this new environment for the newcomers was made much worse when we learned next day after an almost sleepless night in poorly made pup tents, that we had arrived just in time for one of their frequent 25-mile hikes. Needless to say, it was a disaster, and we of the northern ASTP contingent which had been sprinkled into the regiment by random assignment did not do too well, and we found each other later that day after we independently fell out of the march, and had to be trucked or am ambulanced to the new maneuver area. Interestingly, there were no cat-calls or jeering from the stalwart old timers, rather empathy and understanding.
I found out soon enough I had been assigned to M Company, 290 Infantry Regiment and it was only a matter of days before I became integrated fully into a lifestyle I saw differently, and through other eyes only a short while ago. After about a week it was difficult, from outward appearances to differentiate between the members of the old guard and the old-ASTP-niks.
Maneuvers and 25-mile hikes and food from field-kitchens eaten out of mess-kits and living and sleeping in the bush lasted another two months during which time I spent a week in the hospital with a bad case of flu. When maneuvers were over we were transported to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where I looked at myself in a mirror for the first time since I had arrived. What I saw was a mean, rough, swarthy, unshaven soldier, my face and shoulders showing I had gained some weight and muscle over my original 130 pounds... Next stop, Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky.
I guess I was not a very good soldier, and it was probably obvious to those who could tell as well as to those who could not, which may very well have been the reason I was assigned to the motor pool even though I could not drive a car. Tom Gass, motor pool corporal taught me how, even how to handle a trailer, and how to back it all up, a skill I would need many times when it was important, but first while practicing I backed over the Company Commander's office fence. No one was around, and I thought for a moment to drive off, but honor and the possibility that someone did see, prompted me to dismount and report the accident. Tech. Sgt. Marshall Kouf ushered me into Captain Nelson's office, and upon reporting the incident I was relieved to see the Captain try to hide a smile, which broke out into laughter. He, an always humane, wonderfully caring person, was very understanding, telling me about the time he was known as Crash Nelson, and not to worry, and that it was OK, but be careful how you drive, etc., and he then assigned me to KP for one day which I felt was quite fair considering the circumstance. I was lucky he made that decision before looking at his fence.
Camp Breckenridge was the place I really learned how to soldier, and where I also met a young lady with whom I communicated for years even after the war was over. As a result, I did get a lot of experience driving my jeep from the motor pool to her home and back, some of which occurred in the middle of the night. In October of that year the 75th Division was given orders to pack its gear and personnel for shipment overseas. When we stopped in New York, I yearned to be able to go home, just a hop, skip and a few stations ride on the Independent Subway, but security would not allow it. A short ferry ride from the shores of Manhattan to a waiting troop transport, the SS Brazil, with the moon hanging low over the darkened City, produced a dramatic farewell to the hometown I would not see for the next 20 months. It was October 22, 1944.
The trip overseas was not without its periods of excitement when reports of enemy submarine sightings were made, or when while playing craps which I did almost all of my free time, the shooter would roll a number on which I was betting. We arrived Swansea, Wales, November 1, 1944, then to the city of Porthcawl where we were stationed for about a month until new orders demanded we pack up and convoy over to South Hampton, England, whereupon we drove our vehicles into awaiting LSTS. We felt ourselves setting closer to our appointed destination when we arrived in an area called Yvetot near Rouen, France. There, troubling rumors abounded telling of German infiltrators, and of their cutting the throats of unsuspecting GIs, which at that time sounded very plausible. We had been hearing reports of the Malmedy Massacre and of German victories in and around a massive area that was The Belgian Bulge.
It was around December 20 when we packed our gear once more, this time heading for places unknown in a convoy many miles long. They say it was one of the coldest winters on record and we were not prepared for it. My gloved hands were all but frozen to the wheel as the bitter cold was made much worse by reason of our open jeeps traveling at 20 m ph and at times 60 to keep the vehicle in front in sight. Stopping overnight in Charleroi and Nantes, we found ourselves in the City of Hotton, Belgium on December 24, 1944, a day that wild be remembered by many for the rest of their lives. Certainly it will forever remain with me. Very severe battles continued in that sector for the next weeks as we pushed into Vielsalm and then Burtonville (see my Remembrances of an M Company Jeep Driver, and M Company's Battle of Burtonville).
In late January, 1945, the battalion was ordered to the Colmar district in the Vosge mountains of central eastern France. For reasons which are now no longer with me, I became lost in the mountains, driving my jeep for several days in places I will never know. When finally I caught up with M Company, it was on the move, and no one was aware that I had been missing. In early February we were given a period of R and R, a respite we could have used to much greater advantage a month earlier.
In mid-February, we convoyed north to Venlo on the Maas (?) River, and then to the west bank of the Rhine. There I participated in clearing the area of German civilians since a surprise river crossing had to be made. Security was essential for the action since it was well known that a significant enemy force was entrenched on the opposite shore. I recall, however, that instead, a British battalion which had already been on the east bank, swept down along the river's shoreline, and successfully cleared the area, allowing the Engineers to do their work. Accordingly, several days later we were able to drive our vehicles over a quickly constructed pontoon bridge. It was in March we moved into the Ruhr, where we stopped in the cities of Bochum and Witten and Dortmund each for several days, engaged mainly in clearing out the last ditch efforts of German military resistance.
It was in April we came upon the first of several prisoner of war camps for captured Russian soldiers in the district of Iserlohn. Since I could get along in German, having studied it in high school and college, I was asked to join the patrols when problems developed. It was in the city of Menden that I learned the war was over, and that our stay in that area would end soon. In May we were ordered to return to France, this time to set up and man one of the cigarette deployment camps. There is no way I can tell how long this lasted, but at some point my brother and I arranged to process our return home at the same time and on the same ship. When, in fact I had sufficient points to be deployed, I went to Frankfurt, Germany where, for several weeks I was temporarily assigned the job of constructing a massive map of Germany for the commanding officer, one Colonel Gleszer. Obviously he didn't know me, but I certainly recognized him.
The trip back to the States was uneventful, arriving at the port of New York, and then being honorably discharged at Fort Dix on February 4, 1946. 1 returned home, then back to school and to the life I knew before. The war experiences and the people who shared them with me were now worlds away, and all were fading with the passing time....
In mid-May, 1990, I received a call from Charley Mender, a name that went with a face and a time 45 years earlier, on maneuvers in the State of Louisiana, and in a Camp called Breckenridge, and in many places called Overseas. His first words tied him unmistakably to the Mender I knew, he with that undeniable New Orleans brooklynese, a dialect to which I related with relish. We talked for a while, bringing each other up to date about our respective lives, and when I asked about the others he told me that M Company had been getting together at a number of company reunions for the previous ten or so years, and that for most of that period they were looking for me as well as some of the others. He also advised me that Eli Reiskin and Dave Lancaster had died.
It was not difficult to understand why they could not locate me. While, I originally lived in New York, got married and raised a family, I had since relocated to Upstate New York to the city of Oswego where I took a teaching position with the State University. In 1987, my wife and I, retired and moved to Florida. When remembrances of the war years would strike me from time to time, I wondered what may have happened to buddies with whom I had spent a great many difficult times. But over the long haul, my thoughts about these things waned, and it never occurred to me that one day I would Ret a call from any of them. After I heard from Mender, I received a number of calls from some of the others, Tom Gass and Jim Trout and Garland Morris, Doc Kirby, Marshall Kouf and Captain, now Colonel Carlton Nelson... It was a home coming, a return and a link to old time friends and to myself at age 21 years, and I was quite overcome with gratitude these folks had taken the time and made the effort to get and stay in touch.
Some months and many phone conversations later a small get together was arranged among several members of the group along with wives, it being suggested that we meet at a motel for three days in Panama City, Florida, a ten hour trip for us. We quickly agreed, and then had some misgivings. Traveling north along Route 75, and then west on Route 10, we began to wonder whether we had done the right thing. After all, I had not seen these people for forty five years, and here we were preparing to spend three full days in a motel with them... talking about what? We could get through rehashing our joint experiences in a couple of hours... What then? We arrived at the designated motel a little earlier than the others, settled into our room, and waited. An hour or so later, we had a call from the desk advising, that the others had arrived, and that they were on their 'way up to our room. Needless to say, I was a little nervous.... Like, Would I even recognize any of them? After shaking hands... Hello.... what then? There was a knock on the door... the moment of truth. I opened the door, Reva at my side, and there was this group of people all standing silently as I pointed to each of the men and assigned a name I could easily associate with his face. Before we knew it we were all embracing as brothers who had been apart too long. We were introduced to wives, and then we sat in our room for several hours talking about everything, and not one word of yesterday or of 45 years ago.
Needless to say, it was one of those spirited weekends we've all had which we remember for a long time. We had all our meals together, talking and laughing and enjoying late into the night. The three days went by too quickly, and before we knew it we were bidding each other goodbye, promising to be in touch and hoping to see each other at the next Company reunion. It turned out just that way. The following spring, we got together with the rest of M Company in Branson, MO, and then in the fall we made it to TOM and Faye Gass' ranch in Junction, Texas, and each six months or so, this group has been getting together, and we are there.
Carl J. Lawson
S/Sgt Mortar Section
M Co 290th Inf. Regt.
75th Infantry Division
LAWSON, Carl J.
Weight: 200 lbs.
Born: Santa Rosa, California
Drafted: March 24th, 1943
Serial Number: 39128558
Reported to Presidio of Monterey March 31st, 1943. Three days later on a train on my way to Fort Leonard Wood, MO. I was one of the originals when it was activated. Stayed with them until wounded January 5th, 1945. Co. M 290th Inf. from Fort Leonard Wood went on maneuvers in Louisiana. Then back to Camp Breckinridge, KY, from there to Camp Shanks, NY, then on the United States Troop Transport Ship, Brazil, to Porthcawl, Wales for about one month before leaving Southampton for France. We sailed across the channel on an English ship. Took about two days to get there, was sure glad to get back to American food. We went ashore at Le Havre, France to Lucky Strike Camp. Then on through France to Belgium. We set up in several locations behind the front lines. On December 24th we moved up on the front lines. I was in Co. M, 290th Inf. 81 MM mortars. We dug in on the back side of the hill. I was not the forward observer but the gunner. We fired a few rounds, but to me we were in a holding position, not attacking. I can remember this, as I had my 21st birthday on December 26th, 1944. We remained at this position until January 5th. In the afternoon moved out with the rifle companies to a new area with no report of a big loss of men. One problem we had was our O.D. uniform against the snow showed our every move. About 5 P.M. on January 5th I was hit with shrapnel in the left hip. Back to a field hospital then on to Liege, Belgium where buzz bombs were hitting all around. Two days later transferred to Paris. From there by train to Le Havre and on to a U.S. Hospital Ship to England. Was in England about three months then on to New York on the Queen Elizabeth. From there to Madigan General Hospital at Fort
Lewis, WA- Discharged August 4, 1945. So ended my brief military career.
Staff Sergeant Carl J. Lawson
Jack G. Ohringer
1st MG Squad
1st MG Section 2d Platoon
M Co 3d Bn 290th Infantry Regiment
75th Infantry Division
Dec + 44 45
I was inducted into the Army June 44 and separated June 46. Induction and separation were in New York.
Basic training was in Camp Blanding, Florida. I was then sent to Camp Shanks. From Camp Shanks I was shipped over to Le Havre about October or November of that year (1944). 1 believe I was trucked to a Replacement Depot somewhere in France. Then I guess I went into M Co. 290 Reg't 75th Div. and got up to the front sometime in December.
All I seem to remember about the first few weeks was digging in, walking with either the machine gun and a can of ammo or just two cans of ammo. Lots of shells exploding and some rifle fire, guys getting hit and being tired and cold. I seem to remember some hand to hand combat or rather close up shooting - between the Germans and us.
Seems this went on for months until we crossed the Rhine. Some time in Germany, I believe near Dortmund, we heard the war in Europe was over.
I guess I was sent to some camp to be sent home, however, I seem to have also ended up in some MP Company. I believe I just roamed around on my own for a month or so. I spent some time in Paris, and several other towns in France before getting back to camp and being shipped home.
As you can see I've some very mixed memories. By the way, I was only a PFC and that only because I believe they made all combat infantry soldiers at least PFC.
My 75th Division Dad
Copyright 2001, J. R. Puckett
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