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We’ve started transcribing the 925th EAR’s unit history. More sections will be added soon.
You can’t keep trouble from coming, but you needn’t give it a chair to sit on.
Ahead of schedule — that has been the 925th Engineer Aviation Regiment ever since it was only a gleam in the War Department’s eye.
It all began on 1 July 1943 at March Field, California when overseas warning orders were issued for a non-existant 925th Engineer Aviation Regiment. That was the first time it was ahead of schedule.
Activation took place the next day, 2 July 1943.
Then began a “mad scramble” to form a Headquarters and Service Company and prepare it for shipment overseas in four weeks. Troops were selected from other units at March Field who were later to help form the destinies of the unit. It was this same group of men that were later to bring honor and glory on the fighting front to the 925th in England, France and ending in the original home of the Nazi Party — Munich, Germany — on VE Day.
At the offset of the war when plans were laid for gaining air superiority over Europe the need of many air bases headed the list. A rush call was sent out for Aviation Engineers. As a result the 925th spent the first four weeks of its infancy making furious preparations for the forthcoming overseas movement.
Day and night bedlam reigned. Inspections and show-downs followed one after another. Personnel records had to be checked and rechecked. New clothing and equiment had to be issued to each man. Inoculation shots — medical examinations — power of attorney — last will and testament — crating equipment — all sandwiched with specialist schools, a training program and three days of fighting a nearby forest fire.
Thus, just about dusk on 31 July 1943, a weary company boarded the train at March Field and headed across the country to the staging area at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.
Immediately on arrival at Camp Kilmer, 4 August 1943, the routine of processing and show-down inspections began all over again. Twelve hour passes were given to nearby New York City. However, most of the boys stayed in camp to write last minute letters, lapping up PX beer and purchasing toilet articles and incidentals that were reported in short supply overseas.
Overseas — that was where the 925th was going — and the one hole rumors were having a holiday. Where was the outfit going? To England? To Africa? To the Middle East? Maybe it was just a dry-run?
So late on the afternoon of the 19 August 1943 the company marched out of its area and boarded a train for the Port of Embarkation. It was no dry-run.
Several hours later after darkness had fallen the train ground to a stop.
“Fall out all you lugs — on the double. Pick it up and let’s go on the double — yes all of it — barracks bag, M-1, gas mask, full field pack and steel helmet. Sweat and cuss, but let’s move — what the hell is this? It’s a ferryboat, stupid — move on forward gotta have more room — jam In closer there soldier. Sweat a little more and cuss a little more soldier — you’re in the army and you’re going overseas.”
|HMS Queen Elizabeth|
Moving across the Hudson river band music suddenly came out from a pier to meet the packed ferry-boat. But the music, along with the heat and sweat of the night, was soon forgotten when the ferry pulled up by the ship that was to take the company overseas. It was one of England’s Queens of the Seas — The Queen Elizabeth.
The great ship sails majestically out of the harbor about mid-morning on the 20 August 1943 — waved goodbye to “The Lady” and pointed her prow toward the East.
The next five days saw members of this company doing one of two things. He was either sweating out a chow line that ran six decks below or looking for a place to lay his blankets for a few restless hours of sleep.
On the 25th of August 1943 the company set foot on foreign soil for the first time at Gourock, Scotland, a small town at the mouth of the Clyde River.
The 925th Engineer Aviation Regiment was overseas and even the most skeptical had decided it was no dry-run.
But Gourock was not to be even a temporary stopping point. The company walked off the ship on to a train and headed south for England. On the morning of 26 August they arrived at an airdrome, then under construction, at Boreham, Essex, England. This was to be “home” for the next two or three months.
The arrival at Boreham brought many “firsts” for these Sons of Americans. Among these were Mild and Bitters, spam and brussel sprouts, black-outs and Jerry’s nightly air raids.
A new type of barrack was introduced to the new arrivals — the now famous Nissen hut. These engineers learned the secrets of these huts from the ground up — because they had to erect their own living quarters. The building site was the center of an apple orchard and for several weeks the men waded in the “Blimey” and “Bloody” mud building their home. Other construction work included the headquarters block and the Aero Club.
The camp site was located about 30 miles from London, but no passes were available to this capitol of the British Empire because the “B” bags containing the blouses did not catch up with the outfit for about six weeks. Consequently everybody had to be satisfied with a few nearby local pubs, the apple orchard and above all — the nearby haystacks.
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas A. Glass of Joliet, Illinois assumed command of the regiment on 29 August 1943.
At the same time six seperate Engineer Aviation Battalions were attached to the 925th Engineer Aviation Regiment. Each unit maintained it's own seperate identity and command function, but the activities of each to be coordinated under the supervision of the regimental connand.
Life in England for September and October consisted chiefly of getting the Regimental Headquarters established and at the same time supervise the construction of four heavy bomber bases.
Huge quantities of equipment had to be collected from depots scattered over England. Encluded in this was all the important heavy equipment such as D-8 tractors with bulldozers, carryall scrapers, power shovels, heavy rollers and topographic reproduction equipment.
Operators were testing their new equipment and moving out on the jobs where the growl of the “cats” could be heard from dawn until long after dusk. Truck drivers were mastering the technique of driving on the left side of the road. The staff sections were setting up and acquainting themselves with their duties. And the Company continued to wade mud, build Nissen huts, police the area and take on a part time training program.
Heads of Colonel Glass’s regimental staff sections were named. Major William J. Sabo was appointed executive officer; 1st Lt. Raymond W. Angstadt, Adjutant; Captain John J. Haley, S-3; and 1st Lt. Gordon L. McGriff, S-4.
1st Lt. Franklin K. Kennedy III assumed command of the Headquarters and Service Company on 30 september 1943. Howard W. Way was 1st Sgt., having come over with the unit from the States in this capacity.
Men of the unit were gradually becoming acquainted with England and the English people. Navigating the highways and roads in motor vehicles headed the list of difficulties for a while. All the road signs had been removed long before when invasion of England became eminent in l940-41. Frequent inquiries among the natives for directions were necessary when long trips were being made. The drivers begun to think it was sabotage when they got an answer like —
“Hi say Yank go this way — straight-a-way — bear to the right — and straight-a-way to the roundabout — bear to the right and then bear to the left — you cawn’t miss mate — you cawn’t miss, ta.”
A bicycle became almost a necessity to those who enjoyted a nightly visit to the local pub. One lesson all pedalists had to learn the hard way — a bicycle can’t be left to linger too long in front of a pub because it often becomes too “tipsy” to bring it’s rider back to camp. Many skinned shins, elbows and noses were suffered by this negligiance.
The English language — the foreign kind — had to be learned. A truck wasn’t a truck — it was a lorry. A wagon wasn’t something pulled by horses it was a railway freight car. The hood of an automobile was a bonnet and the top was the hood. A shilling was a bob and a radio was a wireless.
What’s that? One of the 925ths men played “engineer” and pulled a loaded passenger train from London to Chelmsford. It’s unbelievable — and without the consent of the train’s crew too. Must have been one of Casey Jone’s grandsons.
|1st Sgt Erdmon Davis|
On 20 Octcter 1943 the company had a new 1st/Sgt., Erdmon O. Davis, replacing Howard W. Way.
Thanksgiving rolled around and before it was over it was one day that was never forgotten. Orders arrived at 0900 hours to move the unit to Welford Park, Berkshire with the first elements to be on the road at 1300 hours. This was the first move since receiving the huge quantities of supplies and heavy equipment. Only four short hours to do it in and on Thanksgiving day at that. But it was done.
A turkey dinner with cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie was cooking when the orders came. When it was ready to serve the biggest part of the company supplies and equipment were loaded. So the men sat down under an apple tree or on the pile of supplies he was loading and ate — a hellava way to eat Thanksgiving dinner most thought. The company moved out shortly after eating on the first convoy movement of it’s own power
The convoy arrived a Welford Park late that night loaded with a cold, hungry and tired group of men. Much to their surprise they found a mess hall with food and hot coffee waiting to be consumed. A still greater surprise developed when some of the men were shown to the familiar Nissen huts where a warm fire was burning and bunks already made. They all slept the sleep of the weary that night.
Movement to Welford Park was made with the air of mystery. But it was soon discovered that a Provisional Engineer Command was being created and that the 925th Engineer Aviation Regiment was to assist and become part of that command. As a result the Regimental Headquarters ceased to function except for necessary basic duties. All attached battalions were relieved and Regimental staff officers were assigned to the various staff sections of the Provisional Command Headquarters.
Enlisted men of Headquarters and Service Company were assigned to similar sections in the Command Headquarters and the company motor pool was given the job of servicing and supplying drivers for the Command’s transportation.
An air of mystery still prevailed while the Command Headquarters continued in the process of being formed.
The first casualty occurred on 23 December when PFC Jack Abernathy was seriously injured in a jeep accident near Newbury, Berks. He was transferred out of the unit while he was in the hospital and several months later a letter revealed that he had recovered and was back in the States. The death of Zee Dunkerson also occurred in a hospital along about that time and he was accorded a military funeral.
The men marched almost a mile to a consolidated mess for each meal. Some of the boys “supposedly” cleaned house at a local pub. W.O. (Pee Wee) Smith burned his guard post hut by accident. A “coffee shop” was opened in company supply for “inspecting officers”. The rain and fog made life miserable and the first ETO Christmas for the unit came around.
Every effort was put forth to make it a gala affair. M/Sgt. Nelson R. Dyke and Sgt. Roy L. Carter played Santa Claus — and the Christmas spirit flowed freely. Corporal Henry M. Smith gave an unforgetable performance at the party that night. For the majority of the men it was their first Christmas overseas — and all sadly longed to be home with loved ones.
The first month of the new year found the Regimental staff still functioning in the Engineer Command Headquarters. 1st Lt. Jennison was appointed adjutant, relieving 1st Lt. Angstadt, Captain Raymond C. Hottinger, MC, was assigned to the unit as regimental surgeon, relieving Major Hospodarsky.
On 1 February 1944 the unit reverted to its original status as a Regimental Headquarters and moved out of Welford Park north to the Watton Airdrome in Norfolk. The Regiment assumed supervision of construction on two airdromes with two battalions. Major Haley was appointed executive officer following the transfer of Major Sabo. Captain Jackson was appointed S-3 officer and 1st Lt. Robert Baker took command of Headquarters and Service Company, relieving Captain Kennedy.
A vigorious training program was inaugurated consisting of night marches, over-night bivouacs and practice construction of refueling and rearming strips for fighter-bombers. The first “practice” strip was made operational in less than one day by one of the Regiment’s battalions. Methods for streamlining the unit and make it mobile as possible were rehearsed over and over — meaning more “dry-runs”.