55th Finance Disbursing Sec, Nurnberg161, 9/1/2010
Major Lewis S. ROBERTS was browsing through RAFINO reports #27 and #28 with particular interest in Col. Cate's article"Finance in the Brown Shoe Army" about his experiences with the 55th Finance Disbursing Section at Nurnberg, Germany. Since I was a charter member of that organization I feel obligated to tell its history prior to Nurnburg.
In April 1943, I completed the Advanced Enlisted Finance Course at Wake Forrest College and was assigned to the Headquarters, Army Finance School at Duke University to await attendance to a Finance Officer Candidate class. Things were going great until late June 1943, when the Adjutant sent for me. The good newsâ€”"You're being assigned to a mobile Finance Disbursing Section at Fort Harrison, Indiana that is preparing for overseas duty." The bad newsâ€”"Here is your application for O.C.S. Apply again when you get overseas."
The 55th Finance Disbursing Section, along with nine other Finance Disbursing Sections, came into being at Fort Harrison, Indiana in July 1943. The authorized staffing was one Major, one 1st Lt. one Warrant Officer, one Master Sergeant, One Tech Sergeant, one Staff Sergeant, two T/3's, six T/4's and six T/5's. I was a T/5. Our first assignment was to get our section equipped and ready for field duty. We built special type crates for our office machines. We bolted slats to the bottom of typewriters and crank-operated adding machines so you could drop them upside down into crates, screw the lids on the crates and be ready to move.
Next, we each had a crack at practical office procedure, i.e., compute enlisted payrolls and officer's pay vouchers, compute travel vouchers, prepare schedules of disbursements and collections, post cash book and cash blotter, and prepare account current. After this training, we were given our regular assignments. I was assigned to the Accounting section. Of course, there was a continuation of military training. The organization was issued three 45-caliber pistols (for officers) one Thompson sub-machine gun (given to the Supply Sergeant) and sixteen carbine rifles. Everyone had to fire the sub-machine gun for familiarization, and all enlisted men had to fire the carbine for record. I qualified Sharp-Shooter.
In early September 1943, we departed Fort Harrison by train for travel to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. We spent about two weeks at Camp Kilmer waiting for a ship. During that period we went through the "live fire" training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Also, I managed a trip to New York City to see the sights, which included a live concert by Benny Goodman featuring Gene Krupa on the drums. Wow! The rest of our time at Kilmer was spent doing miscellaneous chores, including K.P. and yes, while there, I was promoted to T/4.
In late September 1943 we departed Camp Kilmer and boarded the Queen Elizabeth in New York. We sailed unescorted to Scotland, transferred to a Liberty ship and sailed to Belfast, Northern Ireland. In Belfast we spent several weeks at a British camp on Donegall Road. We then moved to Portadown, Northern Ireland where we set up our office and quarters in a family house. Since we paid in local currency, we had to obtain British adding machines for pounds, shillings and pence. We remained in this delightful town until mid-June 1944, when we were air-lifted to Hereford, England in a B-24 Liberator Bomber. While there, we were designated as part of ADSEC-COMZ (Advance Section, Communications Zone).
On 6 August 1944, we moved to Southampton, England, boarded a Landing Craft Infantry (LCI), crossed the English Channel and hit the beach at Normandy. We disembarked with full field packs and rifles. We bivouacked near the beach that night. The next day our equipment and transportation arrived. We moved inland about twenty miles, where we unloaded our equipment, set up pyramidal tents for office and quarters, uncrated our office machines, and began operations. Our lighting was courtesy of Coleman. At this point we were attached to the 17th Replacement Depot. The 17th was a forward replacement depot for Third Army, and was required to move as the front lines moved. So, we moved when the 17th moved. The next two months were rather hectic. We'd work a few days, bundle up our work, crate our office machines, strike our pyramidal tents, load the trucks, move a distance, unload the truck, pitch our tents, uncrate our office machines, and start working again. This procedure was continued over and over as Third Army advanced.
We were bivouacked north of Fontainbleu, France when Paris fell. Needless to say, we were in Paris the next day. What a celebration! Many Parisians thought we were with the Free French Army.
We continued our trek across France and in mid-October, 1944, arrived in Toul, France, where we set up our office and quarters in a school house. While there, I received word that my brother, a sergeant with the26th Yankee Division was killed in action near Nancy, France (about 20 miles from Toul.) I checked out a jeep and visited his grave near where he fell in Alsace-Lorraine. He's still buried there.
From Toul we moved to Neufchateau, France, then to Metz, France and to our last stop in France atthe French Maginot Line near Thionville. We were there during the Battle of the Bulge. The thick, freezing fog was so bad you could hardly see your nose. The day the fog cleared, I counted over 2,000 U.S. bombers overhead. Before our next move I had a 3-day R&R to Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxenbourg.
In early April, 1945, we crossed the Rhine River over pontoon bridges, and set up operations in Freiburg, Germany. We took over a family house for our office and quarters. There was a two-door steel safe in the house, so we called the engineers to blow it open. The explosion shattered all the windows in the room. The safe only contained a roll of German coins.
In late April 1945, we moved to Nurnberg, Germany. The City was a pile of rubble. We moved into a German estate in suburban Nurnberg and established our office and quarters there. It was a gorgeous placeâ€”all the modern conveniences, including a bidet. Also there were ten German ladies to cook our meals, make our beds, clean house and do our laundry. We thought we were in Heaven!
While in Nurnberg I was promoted to Staff-Sergeant and the war ended. We watched the German aircraft pilots fly in to surrender and saw truck load after truck load of German prisoners pass by.
After the war ended, additional organizations were assigned to us for payment. We worked day and night to get the job done. Some personnel offices were short-handed and, being a good touch-typist, I was occasionally detailed to help prepare the payrolls. The 55th F.D.S. was a dedicated, harmonious, loyal and hard-working group of men. It was an honor to have served with them.
On 1 November 1945, I accumulated enough points to go home. I was transferred to the 610th Tank Destroyer Battalion for movement to the U.S. We spent some time at Cigarette Camps in France awaiting ship space. While at Camp Lucky Strike, I managed a 3-day pass to Paris. It was a joyful visit. On the last day, our truck driver got drunk and I had to drive the 2½ ton GMC back to camp.
On 9 November 1945, we boarded the USS Westpoint at Le Havre, France and sailed for the U.S. We docked at Newport News, Virginia and moved by rail to Fort Meade, Maryland where I was discharged on 17 November 1945. I returned to my old job with the Norfolk and Western Railroad in Norfolk, Virginia.
Although the following does not pertain to the 55th F.D.S., I thought you might wonder how and when I returned to Army life.
In May, 1947, I re-enlisted in the Army in the grade Staff-Sergeant and was assigned to the Virginia Recruiting District Headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. In September, 1948, I received a direct commission as 2nd Lt., F.C. in the Army Reserve. I was called to active duty in November, 1948, and ordered to attend the Basic Finance Officers Course in St. Louis, Missouri. The rest is another story.
This is a picture of the 55th F.D.S. personnel taken at Hereford, England in July, 1944. From left to right:
1st Row T/4 Johnson, T/5 Fenston, T/5 Guretse, S/Sgt. Mattison,
T/5 Petroff, T/4 Sillick, T/3 Roberts and T/4 Damon
2nd Row T/Sgt Weiner, T/4 Barnhardt, T/5 Ashley, M/Sgt. Horsley,
T/3 Phillips, T/4 Scott,
T/5Bauman, T/4 Duffy
Missing From Photo: Maj. William Pinney, Jr., 1st Lt. Fredericks, W/O Ruben Balaban T/5 Tucker