We are very fortunate to have much of the story of Alvin’s life preserved for us in his own words. We present his memoirs in six segments:
- Youth and School Years
- Early Employment, Courtship, & Marriage
- War Declared
- Serving Overseas
- Back Home
Part 3 of 6 . . .
On December 7, 1941, Ron Mountain and I had gone pheasant hunting out east of Muskegon. I don’t remember if we got any game that day but on the way home we had the radio on and heard the news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. I felt a sickening feeling for those involved and I knew that there was a good chance that I would be involved.
The draft for all branches of the military was started and war against Japan was declared. It became scary for everyone. It wasn’t too long after that I got my draft card and classification and it was only a matter of time till I would be called.
Trade Skills Training
In the meantime, the paper mill job was poor pay and not much future. Earlier on I had taken a drafting correspondence course and was continuing at my pace. The government started training men for new machine trade skills to work in the war effort. In a short time I quit the paper mill and enrolled in one of these programs. I think there were naysayers as to my future, but Charlotte was behind me. The government allowed me to draw unemployment while on this program and I hadn’t lost any pay yet, at least no more than a dollar a week. I learned precision grinding (cam shafts, etc.) and spent about two months before I completed the course. I was getting a bit apprehensive at the end of the course. Could I really get a job?
On the Monday after completion, armed with my Completion Certificate and showing enrollment in drafting, I applied for employment at Sargent Specialties in Muskegon. I had my eye on this shop from the beginning. After about 5 minutes of interview, I was asked if I could come to work the next day. That started my career in the machine trades.
It wasn’t long after that I began to meet some of my co-workers around town and they had left the paper mill to do about the same thing.
Mostly my job was grinding precision gun parts for the government. I was making more money but things began to be rationed, especially gasoline. Car pooling is not new now as I did it then. I gave a lot of my stamps to a co-worker and he picked me up on the way to work. It worked out okay as everyone was trying to conserve for the war effort.
Earlier on, I and several million others were required to register for the draft and receive a classification; mine was 1A. Nothing changed at that time except we had to notify if we made any changes like moving, changing jobs, etc. Life went on sort of as usual but with apprehension.
Notice to Report
It wasn’t long, however, that I received notice that I was to report with a group of others to go to Battle Creek for physical examinations to determine if we were physically able for combat or other service. I passed all tests. I was given two weeks to get things in order and to report back to Battle Creek. It goes without saying that wasn’t the best news I ever had.
Charlotte and I went to visit our parents and I think I worked up until the last week. Walter and Lucille Young (Charlotte’s sister and husband) gave me a going away party at the Tannery Gymnasium. Walter worked at the Tannery. They went all out and had relation from Grand Haven and some of my co-workers, etc.
Probably my biggest concern was leaving Charlotte alone without an income or job. I did have some comfort that our landlords had become good friends and also Margaret and George were close by. George had a family started so he would be deferred for a while at lest. We decided that Charlotte would keep the apartment and try to make ends meet. We sold our car and a lot that we were buying.
Battle Creek, Michigan
Then on a dreary morning in April of 1943, I and about a hundred others boarded a train near Laketon and Getty and headed for Battle Creek with only the clothes we had on.
Here we were issued military clothing, given all kinds of shots like small pox, etc., then a barrage of tests and examinations both oral and written to determine what kind of a job to give us. I soon found out that I would be in the air force.
After about three days we and many others were on a train again headed for destination unknown – or at least known only to the officer in charge.
St. Petersburg, Florida
After a couple of days we were in the state of Florida. Groups were being dropped off at several locations but the last groups including me were dropped off in St. Petersburg, Florida. We debarked and were taken to the Vinoy Hotel, which was one of the best at that time, and had been taken over by the government. Here we would take our 5 weeks basic training. Our accommodations were great but we had to do a lot of marching and close order drill during the daytime hours. We had a good drill sergeant so it was not too bad.
I soon found out that married men could have evenings and weekends off it their wives were in town. So within a week, Charlotte was there staying a short walk away. Charlotte got a job and we enjoyed ourselves the best we could. We especially enjoyed the million dollar pier – we spent a lot of time there on weekends. We had not seen stingrays and sharks, etc. before and the fishermen were always catching them off the pier.
New York City, New York
The time slipped by fast and soon I was off to New York City to take a technical class in aircraft engines. It was to last about six weeks so Charlotte was soon to meet me there. I was staying at the Manhattan Towers Hotel in Manhattan and Charlotte was able to get a room about a block away. No wives were allowed to stay in our hotel. I had lots of time off after class hours so we really had a great time touring the city, even at night in Central Park and along the Hudson River.
I was not aware of any muggers at that time. We saw several first line shows. I could get in free as a serviceman and paid a small fare for Charlotte. The whole city was bustling with military. Many were leaving the harbor for overseas, and many of these would never return. The Empire State building was closed so we did not see inside it. Probably the thing that amazed me most was the subway system. You could ride forever for a nickel or dime. Charlotte’s dad got ill and she had to go home before I finished here, but in a short time I was on the way to San Antonio, Texas.
San Antonio, Texas
This was supposed to be a shipping-out point. On the way I was given the orders and put in charge of a group of one hundred plus me. I had all the meal tickets, and so on. We had Pullman first class meals and all. It lasted about six days. When we arrived in San Antonio our standard of living was reduced to tents! I was there a few weeks and did nothing constructive while there. I had contacted Charlotte and said to stay home until I called. This was not a fun place and I was glad when I got orders to go to Rome, New York.
Rome, New York
This was some more training on aircraft engines. I learned that I would be there for a while so Charlotte came there also. It was in mid-winter and very very cold, and there was not much entertainment there. Today, Woodstock!
While I was there I got a two-week furlough so Charlotte and I went back to Michigan for two weeks. It was good to travel together for a change. I believe Charlotte stayed home while I went back to Rome as I knew I was going to be shipped some place else. In short order I was shipped to Daniel field in Augusta Georgia.
I had no idea how long I was going to be there but I asked Charlotte to come down as I was having a lot of time off. Augusta is a nice place and we enjoyed time together. Charlotte found work and a place to stay taking care of an elderly lady for room and board.
Racism, and Southern Un-hospitality
Without doubt the blacks were treated terrible. The first couple of times I got on a bus I went to the back and the driver stopped the bus and said to me “you cannot ride back there, it is for the blacks”. I know how Rosa Parks felt. There wasn’t too much entertainment there but there were some nice parks there and a movie house close to where Charlotte stayed. I was able to stay off the base at night so I hitchhiked back and forth, about five miles. The southerners were not quick to show “southern hospitality” to us Yankees and were reluctant to give us rides. I felt as if they were still fighting the Civil War.
By this time I had heard that my friends, Ray Woods and Miles Watson were also in the service and also Clyde Olson and many others. I believe my brother Allen joined the Navy about this time.
I had a good correspondence with my mother about once a week, so she kept me pretty well filled in. also there was a distant cousin in Grand Haven (Susie Karskadan) related on mother’s side that helped me keep in touch. Also Wilmer Way, a second cousin from my dad’s side went into the service as a medic about this time.
After a few weeks here in Augusta I got orders to go to Inglewood, California to North American Aviation for more training on aircraft. I was assured it was for five weeks and I would return to Augusta so we decided Charlotte would stay there while I went to California as I wouldn’t have much time off while in training.
It was a five day trip by train, first class, and was a relaxing trip. We had sleeping accommodations and a diner. I did not have too much time off while here but I did get two or three weekends off. A buddy and I took to exploring the town – Hollywood, Long Beach, etc. – we went to the USO and saw shows and even were guests of the Hollywood high school for one night. They had set up the gym with cots for servicemen on the weekends. They served breakfast and we were grateful for that. The USO, United Service Organization, was to provide entertainment and food for traveling servicemen. I fell in love with California from the very beginning. The people seemed so gracious after coming from the south where the Yankees were not really welcome.
My class came to an end and I was given orders to return to Augusta Georgia, about a five day train ride, first class, of course. I was glad to get back to Augusta to Charlotte.
I had a pleasant experience on the way. I had a cousin, Ralph Harwood, who lived in New Orleans and worked for one of the telephone companies. I had earlier wrote my mom and got the address and telephone number and alerted them that I might visit them so I did that. I had a couple of extra days before I had to check in. They met me and showed me the town, which was quite an experience for a farm boy. I stayed overnight and caught a train out the next day. They wanted me to stay longer but I wanted to get back to Charlotte as I suspected she might be getting a bit uneasy. Not easy being alone in a strange town for going on six weeks.
We stayed on in Augusta for a few weeks. I had been in the military about 16 or 17 months by this time.
One day they took a group of us out to a simulated ship that was out in the water and made us jump off about 25-30 feet into the water with full army gear, rifle, barracks bag, etc. That gave me a very strong hint that I was headed overseas very shortly. The day we jumped into the water there was a few that couldn’t swim and they became livid and would not jump. I remember the officer in charge telling them that they would be court martialed if they didn’t jump. When I left the area they were still talking. I didn’t mind as I could swim. It was for everyone’s good to be able to abandon ship.
Greensboro, North Carolina
It was now about early October 1943 and I got orders to go to Greensboro, North Carolina. I wasn’t going to be there too long but Charlotte met me there for the last few days before being shipped out. We were both aware that could be our last time together as the war was raging all over Europe and Asia. One bit of irony, I was able to take Charlotte on the base for a meal and there we met Miles Watson who had been my bunkmate when I boarded with his parents when I first went to Muskegon. Small world!! More on this later.
Camp Kilmer, New Jersey
Shortly Charlotte and I said our final goodbyes and I was off to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, to get all overseas gear, like clothing and our last shots for all kinds of things and a lot of final instructions. Charlotte took off for Michigan and home.
Continued . . .
- Youth and School Years
- Early Employment, Courtship, & Marriage
- War Declared
- Serving Overseas
- Back Home