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My Army Experience – As I Remember It
By Robert D. LeFever
(Sgt. T4 353R/353B HS/HS)
I got my call to duty in January 1943 and left Fort Wayne, IN for Camp Perry, Ohio. I stayed there a couple of days and was finally shipped to Camp Lee, Virginia. Basic training started after about two weeks and during this time I came down with a bad cold and was running temperatures of 104° which landed me in the hospital for two weeks! When I returned to duty I went back to the group I had started with and we finished basic training together. After basics, I was transferred to the truck mechanic school for an eight-week course.
Now as you can imagine, a young man of 20 and away from home we needed some kind of recreation on the weekends and we usually wound up in Richmond, Virginia. We were at a very busy nightclub on this particular night and I wanted to make a call home to Fort Wayne. When I was finally able to get my turn at the phone, I placed my money in and all of a sudden it was as if I was in Vegas! Quarters started pouring out of the phone to the tune of $15 which bought a lot of beer that night!!
When I completed the truck mechanic school I made PFC and was subsequently sent for advanced training at the Atlanta Ordnance Depot in Georgia for a three-month course after which time I was to be made sergeant. However, Washington had other plans! They had sent out a memo stating that there would be no more ratings! Even though we were in school the Army was not about to let us get “flabby”. Every day we “double-timed” back and forth to the shop and on Fridays we had a five-mile hike. This assured that we would be fit and ready to go at all times. I really enjoyed my time at this school and especially liked working on the motorcycles. I worked on them four days a week and got to ride them one day a week. Now I had never ridden one before but it did not take long to learn and we used to take them through some pretty tough obstacle courses, which could have landed me in the infantry. During this time we were called upon to perform in a Bond Drive Parade. We went to the warehouse to get our gear and to our surprise we were all given brand new motorcycles to ride!! The route took us right down the “main drag” which was Peach Tree Street. Also during my time there I had been given a Class A pass for the weekends but in order to get to town, which was twenty miles away, I had to either hitchhike or ride the big Army bus. My training was completed in August 1943.
I had a ten-day delay en route to my next destination which was Camp Chenango in Pennsylvania so I decided to take a train home to Fort Wayne for a few days and reported to the camp after my visit. After reporting in, I met up with some of my buddies from school. Everyone was pretty tense as guys were “shipping out” every day going overseas to Europe and I thought for sure that was where I was headed since some of my buddies were sent there. But after a month, I was finally shipped out only I was heading west! The train I was on sopped right in Fort Wayne. In fact the depot was only about one mile from my home...that was sure something! After about an hour we continued to Camp Stoneman. We were there for three weeks and did a lot of hiking during the day. We then loaded up by truck and continued onto Oakland Bay in California. We then boarded a ship heading out into the Pacific. The date that we sailed was October 22, 1943.
We made a few stops on the way for fuel and supplies. One stop that I will not forget was in the Fiji Islands. As we pulled into the harbor the natives came out to the ship in their boats and they were wearing grass skirts! They were eager to trade and I had a pocket watch but the handle on top of the stem was missing so I thought “why not”. I sent the watch down on a rope and the native held it up to his ear to see if it was running but since the part was missing he decided not to deal so...no grass skirt for me!
From the Fiji Islands we criss-crossed over to the New Hebrides Islands which were pretty big and I counted several “flat tops” there. At the time this was the main naval base. I was then interviewed by a guy from Chicago. He wanted to know my background and decided to send me to the 353rd Engineers in New Caledonia.
I arrived in New Caledonia in early December 1943 and reported to Captain Manzer. At that time I was assigned to the H/S Company and placed in the motor pool. My first job was working on the water duck. I was then assigned to Sgt. Paul in the motor pool. I worked with a bunch of real nice guys and remained in the motor pool until I was discharged.
I left Tokyo Japan on January 4, 1946. My route home took me to Oregon and I arrived there on January 16, 1946. We traveled down the Columbia River. I didn’t think that big boats such as ours could make it down but the Columbia is very wide! After we docked, we were taken inside to a large room and given a BIG STEAK AND FRIES dinner and boy was that ever delicious! I was officially discharged January 25, 1946.
Once home I took it easy and tried several jobs until I finally found one that I liked which was working for the city of Fort Wayne in the Transportation Department. I started as a mechanic and was promoted to a Foreman and then to the Superintendent position which I held until I retired in 1980 after thirty-three years of service. I married my wife, LaVersa, in March 1947 and we have 2 daughters, 3 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren.
I know that a lot of guys never made it home and for that alone I count my blessings but I have also been blessed by having my family and my health and I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my story with others so that this period in history will not be forgotten!
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