Henry L. Darville, draftee
Inducted April 9, 1941, at Presidio of Monterey
I started to work for Bank of America in Sacramento on January 2, 1941. I found my work enjoyable but, along the middle of March, a letter arrived from the Draft Board. This was my draft notice to appear for induction into the military on April 9, 1941. That date was also my 23rd birthday. It sure changed my life around for the next four years and ten months.
This story is an attempt to recall the years in the military service. I am now 86 and my memory is on the decline. The first day started in Suisun, California, where my parents lived. The draft board served breakfast to six or eight inductees. After breakfast, we were driven to the railroad station and boarded the train headed for San Francisco. After crossing the bay on a ferry boat, we were picked up and taken to a large draft processing center, our first introduction to military life. Many recruits were going through verbal introduction and physical examinations. We were taken to lunch at a nearby restaurant, then back to the induction process. It was our introduction to waiting in the army. About three o’clock we were loaded on army trucks to be taken to the railway station. A troop train was waiting. After loading we were on our way south and learned that we were going to the Presidio of Monterey. Lunch boxes were provided. We arrived in Monterey after dark. All were loaded into army trucks like cattle and taken to the Presidio. All were assigned to tents. Next, we were issued army clothing and blankets for cots. NCOs showed us how to make our beds. That concluded my first day in the service.
The next two days were more introductions to army life and tests to determine our IQ. We were instructed in recognizing officers and ranks, how to stand at attention and salute the officers.
The third day, groups were being shipped out to various military bases for training. I, along with about two dozen other draftees, was sent to Moffet Field, California. We were assigned to barracks with more recruits. We made up a group of about 40 assigned to the 858th Signal Corps, attached to the Army Air Corp.
Our learning how to march began the next day with all of the new recruits. NCOs taught us the various commands needed to march in large groups. We would rest after one-hour periods. I then learned about Policing the Area, which was picking up cigarette butts and matches. To me, this was very revolting, as I did not smoke. After our first week of marching and lectures, Jimmy Stewart (the movie actor) was put in charge of training. He was a Corporal at that time. He really worked us for a week. We finished the two weeks of marching and were assigned to various jobs.
My assignment was to the telephone switchboard. It didn’t take much training to learn how to operate a two-position switchboard. We worked various shifts and I never had to work the night shift. They had someone who enjoyed that shift. It only required one on duty for Sundays, as the calls were few. We did get a lot of calls from Hollywood wanting to contact Jimmy Stewart, but he had left work to refuse all calls. I remember coming off duty on Christmas Day and Jimmy Stewart was sitting on my cot playing a guitar and singing to a small gathering around him. He had just finished when I arrived, so I did not get in on his entertainment.
We all learned about “hurry up and wait,” as it happened several times a day, especially chow time.
I was fortunate in being stationed about two hours from Moffet Field. I usually got a 3-day pass once a month and hitchhiked home. I was able to have my car on the base after being there six months. I came off the switchboard at eleven a.m. on December 7th and learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor while on my way home. All military personnel were being called back to base. My brother drove me to Moffet Field the next morning. Upon returning to work, I couldn’t believe how the switchboard activity had increased. Several times in the afternoons, all lines would be in use. I believe we each had twelve lines and many times eleven lines were in use and we kept one set to use to tell the next incoming call that the lines were all busy. The person working next to me received an incoming call and answered, “that line is busy.” The officer calling called right back and wanted to know why his line was busy as he hadn’t given him the number.
I was relieved from the switchboard duty in January 1942 and assigned to the Signal Corp office. My desk job duties were to do telephone accounts, billing the officers at the end of each month for their personal calls. (This was allowed.) I was kept busy with other record-keeping, This was a noisy place to work, as it was on the second floor of the hanger on the east side. This is near the runway where we caught much noise as planes were taking off.
The Navy took over Moffet Field in April of 1942. They needed the large hangers for lighter than air balloons etc, for patrolling the nearby coast lines looking for Japanese submarines. One-half of our unit was assigned to Santa Ana and the other half was sent to a new air base at Chico, California. Since I had my Ford roadster with me, I was paid mileage to the new base. I was able to stay overnight with my parents and visit my girl friend before continuing on to Chico.
Chico Army Air Field
This base, located about six miles north of Chico, was just completed in April of 1942. Our unit moved there at that time. It so happened April was a rainy month and the ground was quite muddy off the sidewalks. There were a few times when a number of off-duty base personnel were called out in late afternoons to pick up rocks from the Parade Ground. This gave us exercise which we were in need.
My work was a continuation from that at Moffet Field. I usually had to go into the telephone office at Chico once a month to adjust or to determine who made certain personal calls when processing monthly telephone bills. I had to keep records of equipment and prepared telephone directories. Changes occurred so often that new telephone directories had to be issued twice a year. Many offices or departments had as many as three names and had to be cross-indexed. I also kept the Unit Funds records. I had to work closely with the Finance Department. I also operated the switchboard on Sundays for a short time to help with relief of the civilian operators.
I had my first encounter of being hospitalized during my years of service. I had the flu and was hospitalized for four days. I was very sick for a few hours one Thanksgiving Day. Almost a hundred men became sick with food poisoning from turkey.
We had a swimming pool on the base. My work was such that I had to go by myself. Consequently, I seldom had anyone to go with me. My co-workers were working. We had a good BBQ at the five-mile dam at Chico one time. I remember a Lieutenant assigned to our group was real experienced in the cutting up and preparing of chicken. He got the cooks to roast the chickens and send along salads. We had a real great time. I guess all, but me, enjoyed several bottles of beer.
I was not participating with many of our group in activities after the evening meals, as I took on a job of cashier at one of two movie theaters on the base. I probably worked five or six nights a week from 6:30 until the movie was over, usually about ten o’clock. The base was segregated at that time. We had a colored section and it was in this area that the theater was located. Seems like I remember the admission price was twenty cents. Before pay days, some of the men would pay the admission in pennies. I gave up the theater job in early June 1943, as I got married June 20th. I was permitted to live off base, as a few others were doing. My wife, Helen, came up to Chico and got a job in the Personnel Office. She had been working at the Benicia Arsenal. Our hours were such that we were able to ride together to and from work most of the time.
In September 1944, many of the “old timers” were being sent overseas. I was called in for a typing test and typed 65 words per minute. They said I only had to have 35 words a minute. I was on my way overseas shortly. My wife moved back to Fairfield and her old job at the Arsenal and I was given a week off, then I reported to McCelland Field, north of Sacramento for about three weeks. I, along with others, was getting shots and lectures. We were given some work assignments to give us something to do. Just before we left for a base near Salt Lake City, Utah (I can’t recall the name of the base) we were issued winter clothing. We were taken to the railroad station in Sacramento in the evening to board a troop train. There must have been more security in traveling after dark. It took a night, a day and one more night to reach our Salt Lake City destination. Our stay at the base was less than a week. We were told that it was the shortest stay of any group. They had to get us to Seattle to ship out soon. We were issued summer clothing and left the winter clothing behind. At least we knew we weren’t going to Alaska. Again, we boarded a troop train late in the day and got under way about the time it was getting dark. It was another two nights and one day trip to Seattle. We also had only about a day and one-half before boarding the ship, Matsonia.
Somewhere along the line I was transferred from the 858th Signal Corp to the AACS (Army Airways Communication System.) We were assigned three-tier bunks on the main deck. The sides were enclosed with canvas. I awoke the next morning and went down to the mess hall for breakfast. Just after I got my breakfast on my tray, I could feel myself getting sick. I left my tray with food and hurried to my bunk. Soon after, I started vomiting. The ship was rolling from side to side in rough water. I really had a bad first day. This was the 1st of December and guess they usually have rough seas at that time of the year. I was surprised that I became seasick. Several times in previous years, I rode the ferry boats in and around the San Francisco Bay and enjoyed the rocking of the ferry boat. I was sick for two days during our five-day trip. We were unescorted, so for most of the time the ship zigzagged. Once in awhile we could catch a large wave broadside and the ship really leaned to right or left.
We were entertained by a USO troupe aboard on some warm afternoons. They were headed for the South Pacific to entertain the troops. The last day aboard was very pleasant, as we were now nearing the Hawaiian Islands. I was over my seasickness. We arrived off the coast of Oahu after breakfast. Guess we waited offshore for more than an hour before moving in to dock. Our AACS group was picked up in army trucks and taken to the north end of Oahu Island. I don’t remember the name of the airbase. We were housed in tents and for the first time, our cots were enclosed with mosquito netting. We didn’t have much to do while waiting further assignment. It was enjoyable to swim in the nearby ocean, only a short walking distance from our camp. We played a lot of volleyball. I believe I worked KP (kitchen police) a couple of times and was glad to do so, as I was getting bored.
About forty of us were sent to Hickam Field for a short holdover awaiting shipping out. I was held back and left by a four-engine flying boat (it may have been a Coronado.) I always traveled alone and had to go without the persons I had become acquainted with. My orders were for Tutuila, American Samoa. The morning I left, the sergeant asked me to go to the motor pool and bring back a jeep, which I did. We ran out of gas on the way to where I was to leave. There must have been fifteen jeeps in the lot and I had to pick out one with an empty gas tank. I would have thought that they all should be filled for emergency. Fortunately, we were nearby where gasoline could be obtained. We were soon on our way and I was the last one aboard the plane. I think they held it up for me. We were headed out for takeoff within a few minutes. The plane was crowded and I had to sit on some barracks bags until some disembarked at our first island stop. Mail was an important item to be dropped off. We all look forward to mail call. On our way again, the plane had a cook aboard and he prepared a good lunch. We landed for the night at another island about midway to my destination. I didn’t see a tree on this atoll. We left early next day (Thursday) and landed at Funafutti (probably misspelled.) Only mail and some supplies were left off. We left soon thereafter and flew the rest of the day. This was a slow plane, as it cruised around 160 mph. We came into Esperito Santos (not sure of that spelling either.) We had crossed the date line so that it was Friday when we landed. The pilot said he was supposed to have left me off at the last stop and he arranged to have me leave the next morning (Saturday.) It was a very interesting place to stop. The harbor must have stretched out for two miles and many ships were docked there. Much activity was going on ashore. I left with a full load of soldiers, most of whom were going home on leave. I know some had been down there for more than three years. When I was dropped off at their first stop, it was Friday again. This was a new experience to me but it happened to all the traveling public going in that direction., One of the crew members had asked, the afternoon before, if I wanted to send a letter to my wife letting her know where I was. I am sure he should not have been doing it, but he would be landing in Oakland area in another two and one-half days. He would mail my letter in the states. All mail coming into the states had to be censored. I wrote to wife giving my location and asked that this remain a secret. I found out later that she and her father were the only ones knowing of my location.
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