I am certainly not a militarist, but I am and I will always be proud that I served in the U.S. Army in World War II for three years, one month and 10 days, from December 1942 to February 1946. I voluntarily enlisted at New York Army Headquarters at 29 Whitehall St., Manhattan. I was immediately rewarded by beginning my military service as a technician fifth grade. I was really a corporal technician and my Army pay was $66 a month instead of the $50 a month I would have received as a private. Some guys I served with said I was “the lowest form of life” because I ranked as the lowest grade of noncommissioned officers. But I was an officer by military standards and I could give military orders in appropriate situations.
I officially joined the U.S. Army, I believe, in February 1942 as a member of the enlisted Reserve. I was sworn into the military service after a two-day physical and mental examination at Governors Island. “What do we do now?” I and the other recruits asked. “Go home. We will call you when we want you.” Since I had joined the Signal Corps, they gave me a Signal Corps armband to wear.
My draft board didn’t like it when I told them, “You can’t draft me. I’m in the Army.”
The woman who was chair of the draft board didn’t seem to believe I was in the Army. I got her to call a sergeant who was in charge of new recruits. He told her, “Leave him alone. He belongs to us now.”
Except for the Signal Corps armband, I had no real proof that I was serving as a soldier. I was stopped once or twice by cops who didn’t seem to believe that I was in the Army. Some alleged that I was just a clever draft-dodger. I proved they were wrong and I was personally annoyed that the Army didn’t have some assignment for me.
This all happened during the hot summer of 1942. I was able to enjoy going to the beach in Rockaway and other places, always making sure I wore my Signal Corps armband. A few months after I was sworn into the Army, I was ordered to attend the National Youth Administration School at 32nd Street in Manhattan to study radio and electronics. The classes were held six days a week and since it was a government school, it actually paid me some money every week.
I graduated from the NYA School in November and was told that I would soon be called for active duty. In the meantime, I stayed home with my parents and my sister and enjoyed living in New York City, especially attending Broadway shows, Yankee baseball games and visiting friends and relatives.
Finally my orders came in the mail. I was ordered to report to Fort Dix, N.J., on Dec. 26, 1942, for active duty. I was also ordered to travel to Camp Crowder, Mo., a few weeks later for basic Signal Corps training. My Army serial number, 12090921, and my rank as technician fifth grade were also confirmed.
I enjoyed my last few weeks as a civilian as much as possible, going to more shows and seeing more friends and relatives. I was not told what time I had to report for active duty. Some of my friends said they would come as early as eight in the morning. The orders didn’t specify any time.
I decided that I would take advantage of my former civilian status on Dec. 26, 1942, one last time. I decided to report at 3 p.m., which would give me some time for a nice big breakfast. I arrived at Fort Dix at 2:45 and I signed in for active duty in the U.S. Army. I was in the Army now.
I was told to attend an important lecture, which was just beginning. It was about how to make a bed the Army way. Everything in the armed forces is the Army way, there is no civilian way. What we had to learn was how to make a bed with “hospital corners.” “Hospital corners” are one of the greatest things ever invented. When you make a bed this way, the bed is tight and warm and comfortable. I still use them even though I have been out of the Army for many years.
I became a civilian again on Feb. 5, 1946 after serving first in the United States and then two years in Great Britain and almost six months in the U.S.-occupied territory of former Nazi Germany.
I was sad when I waited for the train in St. Louis to take me home to my family in the Bronx. There is a lot of truth to the old saying, “Don’t cry; you found a home in the Army.” I did get a complete college education and even personal spending money because of my military service, which helped me build my personal career. Our Uncle Sam was a good uncle to many of us. We learned how to build a career with the help of the Army.
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