| My name is Norman Southergill and my wife suggested
that I put down on tape some of the remembrances of my life in my Military
Career. I think a little background is needed first in that part of my
Military Career was affected by my earlier life.
My Father died when I was 12 years old, and as a result of that, I am told, I started to stutter quite severely. When I was 16 in 1940, my mother and I went into Hartford so I could join the Navy, because at that time if you were 16 with your parents consent, they would let you enlist. The Navy recruiter, after having talked to me for awhile started to laugh and his remarks were, "Son, before you can say tor tor tor, pea pea pea torpedo, the ship would be sunk," so he refused to allow me to enlist.
Anyway they took the National Guard out of Manchester Armory sometime in 1940-41 and they activated what they called the Connecticut State Guard, which is required by the State Constitution, that we have 1500 Men throughout the State under arms at all times.
They activated what was known as the Connecticut State Guard, and I joined Company G. and having been involved with Company G, I did learn how to march, counter march, manual of arms, and the way people talk in the military. So when I graduated from high school in 1942, World War II was on. I went to work for Teaney Brothers for a short period of time, then on March 16, of 1943, I think they loaded every man who graduated from Manchester High School in 41 A & B in 42, onto a train in Depot Square in North Manchester, and sent us on up to Fort Devens, where we were issued our clothing, and inoculated with all kinds of shots in both arms, and indoctrinated into army life, chow lines, barracks, and all of the above.
On the third day, they marched us into the company streets, had us count off by threes. Every third man one step forward, right, left, right face, forward march into the truck, and we proceeded about two miles up the street, to where we were told we are going to form the 150th Combat Engineer Battalion. So after we had been assigned our barracks, and got our bedding and things of that nature, we started to train to become Combat Engineers.
Well the first day up in the motor pool parking lot, where they were starting to instruct us in marching, the platoon sergeant called me aside and said, "you don't need this, you know how to march, why don't you go down to the supply room." So I went down and they assigned me as a tool room keeper, for the third platoon in "A" Company. Now a tool room keeper is in charge of the chests that belong to that platoon. Where they keep all their pioneer tools, their ropes, their hammers, and anything that is needed in construction. You have to keep axes and saws sharp, machetes sharp, and everything cleaned and oiled and kept in a good condition.
Because I was tool room keeper, I was assigned to Headquarters Squad, Third Platoon. The Headquarters Squad consisted of the jeep driver, Dumais, the truck driver for the third platoon, which was Henault and myself. Along with the platoon officer, who at the time was Lieutenant Monzione.
We proceeded to get into our training. We did a lot of our training down by the river using assault boats, and things of that nature. One incident that is on my memory, is that our Colonel and the headquarters motor pool sergeant came down one day with an amphibious jeep, going to show us what new equipment they had just received. So they proceeded to go down a ramp and into the river where the jeep promptly sunk, because they had forgotten to put the plugs in and then they had to get the wrecker down there and hook on some lines and pull it back out again.
Another incident that is in my memory was we had done most of our training and I had gone home on a pass, on a Class A Pass, which you should not go more than 40 miles from your base, but we had driven back to Connecticut. I'd been out with Lucy and got back to camp just in time to fall out in the morning for revelry.
We went out that day and they were digging fox holes. Well, as tool room keeper, I didn't think I needed to dig a fox hole. I had all my shovels and stuff assigned to somebody else. But the Lieutenant said "Southergill you've got to dig a hole too". Well, having been born lazy and never gotten over it, I found one already dug, and crawled into it and promptly fell asleep. I did not hear the whistle blow to take us out of there to go back to the theater to see one of the sanitary films that they were showing.
When I finally came to, I crawled out of the fox hole, looked around, and there wasn't a soul around. But then out of another fox hole came a Platoon Sargent. He too had fallen asleep, so we both walked back to the theater. We walked in just as the lights came back on and we walked back out again. Nobody had missed us, so we didn't get into any kind of trouble on that.
Another time that is in my memory, we were going on a twenty mile forced hike, and I wasn't interested in hiking twenty miles. I bummed a ride on the supply truck with Whitey Stegman who was also from Manchester. Now, this was a ton and a half truck. We hadn't received our two and a half ton trucks yet.
We were traveling in convoy going down a rather steep hill, when a civilian car came and cut into the convoy. The convoy ahead of us came to a stop, and Whitey stood on those brakes and that truck just would not stop. So we ran right into the back of this civilian's car and was he mad. He came out yelling and yelling. Up came the motor pool sargent who was in charge of the convoy. He looked at the guy and said, "You know it is against the law to cut into a military convoy. Tough!" We drove off and left him.
Then we were up on our bivouac, and the next night we were going to start the twenty miles back. I couldn't get into that truck again, so I ended up in a command car and along came the Colonel and said, "Everybody walks". So I left my field pack in the command car, took my cartridge belt with my canteen and my rifle and proceeded to join the line of march.
We were having fun. They had the scrimmages out with blanks and they would ambush us with blanks and we would fire back. Anyway, by the time we marched into Devens, twenty miles later, I was carrying the full field pack and three rifles, just to make sure that every man could get across that line, and say he had completed his forced hike.
Another story that I am reminded of is, we had a young fellow from Vermont. Course we were all young, so I couldn't say he was just young. He was married. He would make a phone call home, and his wife who is very insecure and young, cried, and cried, and cried, and said that she could not get along without him. So he went to the C.O. and he asked for a pass. Well we had just got into the military life and they weren't letting us out. The C.O. said " I can't do it, sorry." The guy said OK, and over the fence he went, back home, talked to his wife, and got her calmed down. He came back, reported in, the C.O. gave him company punishment, which was to dig, on his own time, a hole six feet wide or square, and six feet deep. The Lieutenant was to take a tape measure and measure to make sure he had done it all. He did that.
A week or two later his wife complained again and he asked for another pass. They wouldn't give it to him, so over the hill he went. He came back. The C.O. was really in sympathetic with the guy, but there was nothing he could do. He was involved in the military too. So back to the six by six. That fellow got to a point where he could dig a six by six by six in about four hours. We would furnish him with lights outside the barracks, so he could see what he was doing. We really felt sorry for the guy, and yet he eventually got a disability and discharge, because of his wife's condition.
They took us up to Nashua, New Hampshire, maybe up around Manchester, too. They took our Platoon and gave us a job of building a fixed wooden bridge, using 16 inch by 16 inch square beams, all covered with cosmaline. We had to manhandle these things in. It was over a canal. Our hands got burned, our face got burned, that creosol would burn right into us.
Meantime, the rest of the battalion was up in Manchester. They were learning how to ferry equipment across the river. By this, they would take three or four assault boats and put some cribbing on it, and make it into a good size raft. They had outboard motors and they would proceed to take this across to the other side and take a truck on it unloaded and come back. They made two or three trips and doing pretty well at it. When the Sargent, who was in charge of the motor, apparently got feeling a little citnish, he wound it up and then he cut it back. Then he wound it up again and the resulting movement, caused the raft to capsize, and in that process, three of our men got drowned in Manchester, New Hampshire. So that was the first casualties that we had, and that was in this Country.
About then, which was in August, they took us down on a train to Mongo Hill, National Forest, in the Elkins area, West Virginia. We were working up there in the mountain, building roads, maintaining roads, and fighting with the beavers who were trying to flood our roads.
We built a transition course where the trainees were subject to going under barbwire and they were under fire from machine guns that had been fixed so it could not go down to low. They had fox holes and trenches with explosives in it, and these men, it turned out, was a bunch of new officers, which were called ninety day wonders in those days. They were going through it. So we messed it up with water. We got the fire hoses out and we just drowned that place and they came through there and they came out looking like drowned rats. Well, we didn't know it, but the next day, a bunch of Army Nurses was going through that same course, and of course it hadn't dried out. We kind of felt sorry for them, cause they really got messy and muddy in that condition.
About that time, I got a furlough and I came back to Connecticut to see my people and my mother and my little brother, Bob, had gone out to California to a Townsend Convention. Bob had to go home and go to work and Mom was coming home on her own. She got as far as Salt Lake City, Utah, and got sick. She ended up in the hospital with a heart problem, so I wanted to go see her, knowing that I was going overseas shortly. So we got on a train and we headed out. They got as far as Chicago, but the train had a delay because of a derailment, so I had to come back. I never did see my mother from that time on.
I had to go back to camp. We got on the train and was supposed to get off at Baltimore, Maryland. I fell asleep and ended up in Washington, D.C. The conductor gave me a pass to go back to Baltimore. When I got there, I met some of the guys from the outfit. We had all read the train schedule wrong. We thought there was a train back to Elkins at noon on Sunday, but there wasn't. So we had to wait until Monday, which would make us absent without leave. We got enough money together to send a cable to the Commanding Officer of the 15Oth, so that we at least notified them we were not A-Wall, that we were delayed due to no train.
Four or five of us then went on a spree to see Baltimore. We went down to the motion picture theater where they were something like twenty five cents, you could see two second rate films and a Burlesque show. We went to the Y.M.C.A. and got a bed and a blanket and a pillow for about 75 cents. That kept us out of the cold anyway.
The next day we caught the train back to Elkins. They met us downtown and took us back up the mountain and they issued us arctic sleeping bags and we were cold. We had suntans on. We were freezing. It was the first of October. I got my sleeping bag and my pup tent. I didn't bother to take my shoes off, and jumped into that sleeping bag, trying to get warm, and I'd say we zipped that thing up to around our necks and zipped it right back down again. That's how hot it was. We were not cold. We proceeded to undress in the sleeping bag.
The next morning when we got up, we had to break the ice in the water containers. That's how cold it was. But that day, we moved down off the mountain to Elkins in pyramidal tents. We had some fairly decent stoves. There, we got involved with carbide lamps. Of course it's a mining area so you can buy the carbide and the lamps. Everybody had a carbide lamp because they didn't have flashlights. You would be running around with your carbide lamp trying to find out where you were going in the mud.
Shortly after that, they moved us to Fort Dix, New Jersey and put us in pyramidal tents. Now we are talking Thanksgiving. It's cold, and they had an old army stove that looked something like an ice cream cone, upside down, with a door in it's side. I defied anybody to get that thing warm, the way they had issued it. But Anabt, Dumais, and myself had one pyramidal tent plus my tools, and we all being energetic went out and looked around. We found some bricks and I found some old grates from an army cook stove. We came back and we built up that stove on bricks, and took an old coffee can and cut it out to make a damper out of it. We could get that thing cherry red. It was nice and warm and comfortable in that thing. The other guys were freezing to death.
Then we had a forty watt bulb to light up his whole tent. Well, we scrounged around and got enough electrical cord to make three extension cords off that one outlet and we each had a sixty watt bulb over our bunk so we could read when we went to bed. Of course we didn't have any radios, televisions, or those things back in those days.
We got re-equipped there and got some new men in. Then, we moved up to Kilmer, in New Jersey also, where we were in nice modern barracks, and a beautiful place. It was the first time we had trays when we went through the chow line, instead of using your mess kits. All we had to do was KP and guard duty. Boring, boring, boring.
A bunch of us went down to the medics with little coughs and colds. We shook our thermometer to a point where they send us to the hospital, where they had some good medicine and nurses. We would go there, keep warm, hang around, and have a good time, until we learned that they were letting some passes go out. So then we all got well real quick.
We got discharged from the hospital, went back, and I couldn't find any shirt, or coat, or jacket that belonged to me. Of course, they had my serial number in them, but they had chevrons on them. I was a Tec corporal, what they called a T-5 then and there was a non-coms club on the base. All these guys who could possibly fit into my shirts and jackets, had borrowed them to go to the non-coms club. When I got back they all gave them back to me because they knew that they could borrow them, if they needed them, anytime they wanted but at least they were back hanging on my hooks for a change.
Then I learned that I could get pass to go to New York. So I called up Lucy and told her I could get a pass to go to New York City. I ask if she could come down and visit me there. Well, her mother said no way, nothing, nohow. But Phil, her brother, suggested to his wife that she come down with Lucy as a chaperone. So they did and we arranged to meet in New York. I got a pass. We met in New York City and had a lovely time together. The three of us went out and I forget now what we did do. We went out to eat, wondered around the town, and then I had to go back to camp. I figured that was the end of our seeing each other for awhile. I got back into camp and learned that I could get another pass, because nobody else wanted them. I showered and shaved, changed uniforms, and grabbed a pass. I went back to New York. I got back and went up in the hotel. I walked down the corridor, and just as I turned the corner by their room, Ann and Lucy were locking the door. They were coming out to head for home, or whatever else they were going to do that day. So if I had been just a few minutes later, I would have missed them. But the Lord was good to me, and there they where, and we had another good time together.
I went back to Kilmer and it was very shortly after that, that they took us down to the piers, in New York and loaded us on the Queen Mary. We were the first troops on board, so they made us the KP'S for the entire trip.
Forward to Part II