Finance in the Brownshoe Army - Part I165, 9/1/2003
By Bill CATE
After completing the basic enlisted finance course at Fort Ben in September 1946, I headed for Germany. We sailed from Pier 13, Staten Island, on September 13th for a voyage of 13 days but - other than sea sickness - no bad luck was encountered. Our tub./ship was the 'MIT Victory'' - a converted Victory ship of the sort Henry Kaiser built in record numbers, in record time...but they didn't set any records for speed or comfort! As I had volunteered to be the ship's librarian (a ploy I had learned from an old hand), I was exempt from all other shipboard details, especially KP! I'm sure my stomach would have agonized even more in the kitchen area with all its smells and such.
A VERY choppy ride across the North Atlantic convinced me I was lucky the Navy turned me down for enlistment. At one rough point I was standing/hanging at the rail getting rid of my earlier chow when a sailor from the Navy gun crew slapped me on the back saying, "What's the matter, dogface...weak stomach?" Between gags I was able to respond, "Weak, HELL! I'm throwing it as far as anyone else!"
From Bremerhaven we rode the train down to Marburg, Germany - home of the 3rd Repple-depple (Replacement Depot). I say "we" because I'd buddyed-up with another Finance enlistee along the way. This was PFC Logan "Cal" CALHOUN from Barren County, Kentucky. I looked up to "Cal" as he'd had a bit of combat experience in the 86th "Blackhawk" Division. His division had been pulled back to the States from Europe for redeployment against Japan but when that proved unnecessary here he was heading back to Europe only in Finance this time instead of the infantry.
While waiting for our assignment, we just killed time at Marburg. Chow was served from hundred-ration pans into our mess kits. Plop! After eating we then went through a line to dump our garbage and then several more large cans (what are usually known as 'garbage' cans) filled with water. On the lip of each can an immersion heater was mounted. This was a sometimes-dangerous device to heat the water so it would sterilize our mess gear for the next meal. I said sometimes-dangerous because they were fueled with regular gasoline and had been known to explode. By the second day I had to go on sick call. Either due to something I ate or the immersion-heater hadn't gotten the water hot enough to sterilize my mess kit. I HAD THE TROTS!
Sick call was held in one large room. At one side was the doctor sitting on an ammo box using a footlocker for a desk. On the other side of the room were all of us "sickies" waiting our turn. NO PRIVACY at all. So you got to listen in while waiting your turn.
The next day we got our assignments and Cal and I were destined for the 55th FDS at Nurnburg. Actually, I had been told I was being assigned to the 45th FDS in Linz, Austria. Somebody made a mistake somewhere and I've often wondered what life would have been like if I'd gone that way.
We arrived in Norbert on a very rainy and gloomy September day. All of the glass over the train platforms had been broken out during the bombings so we got the full benefit of the rain. We were met by a couple of guys from the 55th who had a 3/4 ton 'weapons carrier' for our transportation. This meant we rode in the open back so we could soak up some more rain! Nurnberg itself was also depressing as right across the street from the 'bahnhof' everything was rubble for 15 blocks in every direction. NO buildings left standing.
We picked our way around craters and potholes until we were well out into the suburbs. An area called 'Ziegelstein" ("Bricks"). We passed a large school named the Hermann Goering Schoolhouse (the name was changed later I'm sure). We finally arrived at 65 Eichendorfstrasse, a large estate which included an in-ground swimming pool. Things were definitely looking up!
The 55th FDS was manned with 3 officers and 17 EM. LTC Fred KEB was the Disbursing Officer. He had been an NCO when WWII broke out and had been commissioned under the Thomason (?) Act. The Deputy was a former schoolteacher named Cornelius I. THOMPSON. He was an intelligent, educated, mature officer. It was easy to respect Lt Thompson although he wasn't always easy to work for.... He kept expecting everyone to do their best!
At the 55th FDS, in I was assigned to the Accounting section (which consisted of SFC MALLOY and me!). Army accounting in those days was simple single-entry bookkeeping. The main job was to keep the cashiers accounts straight, which was no small task. At this time the Army was still using "invasion currency" for money. These were German Marks printed by the Allies. As far as our cashiers were concerned they were equivalent to Monopoly money...because whenever they came up short all they had to do was sell a few cigarettes and they could get all they wanted. This was a time when barter was much preferred to cash. A first-class haircut (from the barber who came to us regularly at the house) was three cigarettes...as was a female companion for the night, or so I was told!
I mentioned my buddy, 'Cal' CALHOUN. By the way, he stayed in for a career also and retired as a CWO-4; now lives in southern Kentucky. Besides making the Atlantic crossing together and arriving at the 55th together, one thing that helped bond us together was our religion. We were both Catholics as was one other guy in the 55th: SSgt Simon Peter BRZOZOWSKI. One of the problems with being Catholic is you are aware of sin and the need to confess and repent whenever you stray. As a Catholic may not receive Communion with a serious sin on his soul until after going to confession, it can be an embarrassing situation when you have your buddies watching over you like two big brothers and you suddenly need to go to Confession. Talk about peer pressure! Or was it 'fear pressure'? Anyway it was enough to keep us three away from the three-cigarette-for-a-night-girls. Unfortunately, sex and booze were just too readily available and several of our guys in the 55th threw their hopes for the future away by losing control of their lives.
A case in point was a former wartime Warrant Officer who had re-enlisted as a Master Sergeant. When sober, he really knew Finance, but as time went on the sober periods were more infrequent. He was busted to Private, made it back up to Staff Sergeant, then busted again. One night (after the 55th FDS had been moved into a German Kaserne in nearby Fuerth) I was on duty as Corporal of the Guard when the MP's brought our boy in on very rubbery legs smelling like he had bathed in some cheap distillery. I signed a receipt for him then tried to get him up three flights of stairs to his room; no easy job considering he was hardly able to stand up. Finally he was 'boarded out' of the Army as "unable to adjust to military life"...after 18 years of military service!
We were a separate unit under Third Army and pretty independent. Our supply sergeant was also our chief scrounger...and he was very good at it. To help his efforts, we chipped in a few bottles of our whiskey ration each month. We lived and ate well! We had German women to clean the house, do our laundry, make our beds, and cook our meals. They were paid a modest amount from our unit "slush fund" but the big benefit was that we fed them a fairly hearty midday meal. Lots of bread and vegetables. On one occasion our Supply Sergeant came up with a huge tub of lard which was a cause of much joy among our German staff. They spread it thickly on bread and ate it with great gusto...as fat had been non-existent in their diet they had a deep craving. Of course it turned our stomach to watch.
As I said, keeping the cashiers accounts in order was a major undertaking. One night I was helping a cashier by running an adding machine tape on a pile of his paid vouchers. I entered the numbers very carefully then went over the tape to make sure everything was absolutely correct. When I took the vouchers and the tape back to him, he exclaimed, "Oh nuts! That just makes me further out of balance!" and threw the tape away! As I said, there wasn't much of an incentive for them to get things 'right' when it was so easy to "plug" the numbers by putting another wad of "play money" in the drawer to 'make things balance'.
Very soon we had our first currency conversion and that killed the "easy way" to balance accounts. The new money was "scrip" and was denominated in dollars and Germans were not allowed to have any. Except that the black marketeers soon had scrip by the fistful. The conversion from the "invasion marks" to dollar scrip was a major exercise, of course. Unit conversion officers brought in large quantities of the invasion marks from their soldiers and were given the new scrip to issue. We had a large room full of boxes of the invasion marks which had to be tallied laboriously over several days. We had finally verified the counts on all the 'old stuff' and balanced out okay...then one of the cashiers came in with a huge carton full of the invasion marks. They were leftovers!!! I don't even remember what we did with them. I did learn a lot... of how NOT to have a good currency conversion!
I must have remembered though. Just after I arrived in Vietnam in 1969 as Finance Officer of the AMERICAL Division up in Chu Lai, I received a phone call in the wee hours from my old friend Kirby LOTT down in MACV telling me it would be a 'good idea' for me to check the division message center for traffic. It turned out there was a message announcing the latest currency conversion. I guess I fooled everyone as soon I received one of my Bronze Star Medals due to "my extensive knowledge of currency conversions". As usual, it was my hard-working staff that made things go smoothly but I kept the medal anyway.