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Finance in the Brown SHoe Army - Part II

166, 9/1/2003

FINANCE in the BROWN SHOE ARMY - Part II

By Bill CATE

You may have wondered, in the light of some of the major operations I was around for, why I started with my days as a private in the 55th FDS. I guess its because those were very formative years where I learned many of the values which carried me throughout my career. The 55th FDS was surrounded by units of the 1st Infantry Division and their motto of, "No mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great: Duty First" was known by all. Further, I was quite impressed with the attention to duty by my boss, T/Sgt Malloy. Lt Thompson had the greatest influence, however, as he kept challenging me to do more and better. For example, one day he told me I was to TYPE correspondence for the Accounting section. I told him I couldn't type. So he explained, "Its really very easy. You put the paper in here...and down here is the keyboard. When you want a letter "a", you press the key with an "A" on it. And so on. You can do it." Well! It was a painful learning process as he would not accept any strikeovers or messy erasures but he WAS patient. He never complained about how slow I was; he just wanted an acceptable result. As I mentioned previously he was a schoolteacher in civilian life. I am still just a two-finger typist, but I'm pretty good at it.

The 55th FDS was very much in the rural suburbs of Nurnberg... wooded vacant land on all sides of "our" (requisitioned) house. Being out in the 'sticks', several of the guys had bought a couple of small motorbikes off the black market. Of course they weren't licensed or even authorized, but they were fun to 'putz' around on, as long as they were only driven around our house. One day one of our guys, named Harvey, got restless and headed out and away down towards the Hermann Goering Schulhaus. He was spotted by the MP's who quickly gave chase. It then tuned into a great "chase scene" like in an old Western (except no horses). We could all hear the roar of the motorbike, the sound of the jeep with siren in pursuit, and one of the MP's firing his pistol into the air....oh, what excitement! We were all watching the action unfold from our second story balcony. Suddenly "our boy" decided to cut cross-country just beside our place thinking he could shake the MP's.. Big mistake. The field he tried to cut across had recently been plowed. So the motorbike skidded and tossed Harvey into the dirt where the MP's quickly apprehended the 'bandit'. Of course the motorbike was confiscated and Harvey was arrested.

As most of us weren't quite as adventurous as Harvey, we got 'away from it all' by hitching a ride to the nearby Linde Ice Stadium which was operated by the Red Cross. The ice skating was fun and they also operated a snack bar of sorts. As everything was some sort of Army ration, slightly disguised, it was nothing like today's glitzy snack bars, but they tried their best and it was appreciated. My buddies 'Cal', Sergeant 'Buzz' (Brzozowski) and I were among the most regular patrons so one night we were delighted when the snackbar manager told us he had a special treat for us: steaks, french fries, milk and fresh sliced tomatoes! The steaks were from stew meat, the potatoes were fried in some strange oil and the tomatoes were local produce (which we weren't supposed to eat because of the fertilizer used by the Germans). Despite all that, it was the most delightful meal we had  since leaving the States!  That manager was a real friend.

One thing in the 55th FDS that really griped me had to do with promotions. Shortly after arriving there I was promoted to PFC as no 'promotion quota' was required. Only a few months later, LTC Keb called four of us PFC's into his office - me, Calhoun and two others. He announced that he had authority to promote two of us to T5 (Technician Fifth Grade). As Calhoun had been a PFC much longer than the rest of us (back to when he had been with the 86th Infantry Division), he was to get one of the promotions. As LTC Keb said he didn't know enough about us other three, he had us DRAW STRAWS for the remaining promotion. I DID NOT draw the winning straw so I didn't like this form of selection. The following month, LTC Keb had us other two guys back in his office as he had authorization for one more promotion to T5. This time he FLIPPED A COIN! As I called it right, I got the promotion, but I still disliked this form of awarding promotions. I guess it was because he simply didn't make the effort to learn about our relative qualifications. Perhaps he didn't think that making T5  was such a big deal. After all, a common saying was to describe a confused, bewildered individual as akin to a "T5 going to an NCO meeting" (T5's were NOT non commissioned officers)! Whatever, that leadership approach really irked me back then and still does today. 

While the 55th was still out on Eichendorff strasse, LTC Keb was fortunate enough to have a baby grand piano in his office (courtesy of our displaced owners). During evenings he allowed the enlisted men to go into his office to play the piano. One morning there were 'storm clouds' thundering throughout our unit - someone had stolen a quart of LTC Keb's whiskey from his office! The NCO's decided that the only way to calm him down was to replace the whiskey. So we all had to chip in to buy a replacement. Each EM was allowed to buy 3 bottles of hard liquor a month (through a forerunner of the Class VI system). One of our guys still had one bottle left which he was willing to sell...for the going price of $15 (it had cost him about $1.65). So we calmed the storm and all was 'normal' again. Only, we never did find out which one of the guys had stolen the Colonel's whiskey in the first place. -  Until about 5 years later when I was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas when I happened to see in the releases from the US Disciplinary Barracks the name of Harvey, from the motorbike incident. He had done something else that resulted in detention time plus a Dishonorable Discharge. Just for old times sake I decided to pay him a brief visit before his release date. It came out shortly that he was the guy who stole the Colonel's whiskey! Case finally solved.  

One day in late 1946, LTC KEB has us fall out in formation. This was the first and only military "formation" I recall in the 55th FDS. He proceeded to tell us "the 'chicken' has just come to the ETO (European Theater of Operations) so from now on you will have to shine your combat boots (groan/protests) and have GI haircuts." He went on to explain that the hair could only be 2" long "but they must just mean around the edges"; he couldn't believe we were really supposed to look like soldiers! As for shining our combat boots, that was a real lulu. The combat boots at that time were made with the smooth side of the leather on the INSIDE of the boot and the 'furry side' on the outside. So, we first had to get rid of the fuzz before the polish would take. Most of us used lighter fluid to burn off the 'fuzz' but it was a long time before we ever got our boots to really "shine".

Early in 1947 the 55th FDS was redesignated the 335th FDS and shortly thereafter was moved from our estate on Eichendorfer Strasse in suburban Nurnberg to an old German Kaserne in the adjacent city of Fuerth, leaving our 24 housekeepers behind! We then lost our identity as an FDS and became integrated into the 7810 Station Complement Unit. We were simply known as the Nurnberg Post Finance Office. Now we knew the 'chicken' had REALLY come to the ETO (by this time even the designation 'ETO' had been dropped and the Third Army designation had been moved back to the States). As members of the 7810 SCU we had weekly inspections on Saturdays, first outside in ranks, then in barracks. As there were over 500 men in the 7810th inspections took a long time. As an incentive, the unit instituted a competition for Soldier of the Week (everyone below SSGT). My buddy, T4 Logan CALHOUN, was one of the first to win it. Then I won it. Pretty soon the two of us had pretty much of a 'lock' on it although CAL won more often than I. The reward was a three-day pass but we still had to get our section's permission to take the time off. We really got adept at setting the stage for the barracks part of the inspection. Things like setting the drop lamp swinging as if we'd just got through dusting it one last time. The inspection in barracks took a long time as there were many rooms on the multiple floors. It was kind of boring waiting for the Company Commander and First Sergeant to come by to our room. CALHOUN and I shared a room with SSGT "Buzz" BRZOZOWSKI. One day while we were waiting our turn, CAL decided to get off his feet and stretch out on top of his footlocker...being very careful not to get any wrinkles in his uniform. BUZZ and I stayed on our feet, though slightly envious of his ingenuity. About this time First Sergeant Napier passed by the door to our room on some errand for the Company Commander and noticed CALHOUN resting prone on top of his footlocker. He didn't say anything of course. Not long after the First Sergeant returned, stopped at the entrance to our room, and without a word stepped inside and snapped to attention, as if waiting for the inspecting officer to enter. Well, CALHOUN came flying off the footlocker like a volcanic eruption and somehow came to attention. BUZZ and I just roared with laughter as we knew it was just a hoax. Not a word had been spoken, it was all based on military reflex so I guess we had all made the transition to the peacetime Army.

    One aspect of life in the 7810 SCU was having to fall out in formation for Reveille. As space was very limited the reveille cannon was only a short distance in front of the troops. You can imagine the flinching that went on when it was fired right at you, though right over your head. Smoldering bits of cardboard from the blank round came trickling down on us to add to the effect. It certainly was a real 'waker-upper'!

    By this time many of the original members of the 55th FDS had left. Our Finance Officer now was MAJ. Wesley VIERS, an intelligent and competent disbursing officer. Our Chief Clerk was M/SGT Henry DEGAN. T/SGT Edward MATTHEWS was Chief of the Military Pay Section and M/SGT Charles WALKER was Chief Cashier. Other cashiers were T/4 John LYONS and my buddy T/4 Logan CALHOUN. T/SGT Harold HODGSON was in charge of bonds and allotments while T/5 Richard CLARK, PFC Roger THIEL and PFC Roy WIEDENMEYER  were among the military pay clerks. Of course, I was still in the accounting section although T/SGT MALLOY had rotated home. One of my helpers in the accounting section was a German civilian girl named Ursula. She used to drive me to distraction as whenever I would ask her if she had seen "paid voucher number so-and-so", her first reaction was always to look IN HER WASTEBASKET! As a paid voucher represented cash in our accounts you can understand my consternation.

 As all payments were made in the tightly controlled "scrip", cashier shortages were a real problem as there was no such thing as "cash over/shorts". The cashiers were personally accountable for any shortages. My buddy CALHOUN handled Class "A" Agents and three months in a row he came up an even $100 short...as he only made $120 a month as a T/4 that really hurt! He was ready to ask for relief from cashier duty. He finally figured out who was "out counting" him...IT WAS ONE OF THE OTHER CASHIERS! 

Earlier I mentioned that I was one of three Catholics in the unit. and it helped me avoid the many temptations readily available. While at Fort Harrison I had learned to be an altar server, so I continued to help out there in Nurnberg. The Catholic Chaplain serving our area was from Milwaukee. His name was CHAP(CAPT) Francis KONIECZNY. As he also conducted services for the prisoners at the Nurnberg War Crimes Trials, he frequently asked me to come along to serve.  The most intriguing prisoner I met was the man who developed the so-called "nerve gases" - odorless, colorless and very lethal. He maintained that he was "just a scientist" and had not ordered any of the tests that were performed on human subjects. Of course he was aware of them and duly noted the results. The work he had been doing was so secret and highly technical that the court needed enlightenment which he readily provided. He found it rather amusing that he had taught the court what it needed to find him guilty. Actually he had done this on purpose as he wanted to be convicted by the War Crimes Tribunal. He was a "small fish" in this court and only received a sentence of about 7 years. If he had been acquitted he would have been subject to the "denazification trials" which we had turned over to the Germans for prosecution. As a major Nazi Party member he would have been subject to a 12-year sentence. So he figured he'd come out ahead. His work developing such a dreadful way of killing large numbers of people didn't seem to burden his conscience but I'll never know.

My association with CHAP KONIECZNY also lead me to teach my buddy S/SGT "Buzz" BRZOZOWSKI how to serve at Mass. "BUZZ" went on to make M/SGT and a tour at the Finance School in St. Louis. After 12 years military service he took his discharge and subsequently entered the seminary and was ordained a priest. After a long time at parishes in his home state of Texas, he is now back in St Louis as the resident priest at a large complex for aged and infirm operated by the Little Sisters of The Poor. We are still in touch.

Another result of my association with CHAP KONIECZNY came about one Sunday when I went to serve Mass in Fuerth in an Army Chapel in a damaged library. The building had been taken over by a Military Police Battalion that was involved in railway security (to guard against pilfering of cargo). This battalion had a Protestant chaplain assigned to it. FATHER KONIECZNY found out that the chaplain's secretary was Catholic and could play the piano so he quickly recruited her to play the portable foot-powered organ for the Catholic services. So when I came in to serve Mass that Sunday I was startled to see this lovely young brown-eyed girl on the altar also. Religion suddenly had a whole new side to it! Uncharacteristically tongue-tied at first, I managed to make her acquaintance later when FATHER KONIECZNY 'conned' me into forming a youth group for GI's and the young Germans & Displaced Persons who worked for the American Forces. It seems they weren't warmly welcomed in their own parishes after adopting 'decadent American habits' like wearing makeup, lipstick, etc. I was quickly elected/drafted to be the president of this group and wowed (or was it 'wooed') that lovely brown-eyed organist whose name was Ilse Maria GRYSZKA. About a year later we became engaged. We then had to go through a lengthy process to get permission from the Army to get married. Ilse was still an "enemy alien" as WW II did not officially end until December 1947. The process took about six months and we were allowed to get married on November 22nd, 1947, just 30 days before my scheduled departure in December. As "BUZZ" had already rotated back to the States, I asked CAL to be the best man. We borrowed M/SGT Charlie WALKER'S car and drove to Garmisch for a quick honeymoon...I say "quick" because I had to be back at the office to prepare the Account Current for the month!

I left the States for Germany on Friday the 13th of September and sailed from   Pier 13 Staten Island. I (we) departed Germany on December the 13th and returned to Pier 13 Staten Island. So much for superstition.