USS WESTPOINT- 1942 - 1945

by Jim Rider

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Sir: We were a complement of US Army medical technicians, 44 enlisted men and 5 MD's,1 dental surgeon. Late Oct. '42 we boarded the old Matson Liner, "SS Montery", not knowing at the time that the 8000 combat troops on board were to be reenforcements if the invasion of French Morocco went badly (how hard would the French resist?). Invasion went well, we were taken off the ship and for 9 months we did many jobs (malaria control, guarding hospi-tals, running med supply warehouses, loading freight cars, etc.). In late June '43 we boarded 40 and 8's in Bizerte, Tunsia and headed for Casablanca where in the harbor waiting to take us, and many others, back to the States, was the West Point! The others were: Germany's best,the Afrika Korps; French air cadets to train in the US; and badly wounded Italian POW's. In these pre-air-conditioning days, all portholes were sealed to keep messages dropped by the German or Italian POW's from happening. The interior passage ways smelled to high heaven, primarily from rotting casts on the Italian POW's. Almost all the Germans were in good shape. Our first sergeant was an Italian/American, he begged permission to be allowed to get the Italians on to a well guarded open deck. Just about all the guys in the platoon offered to do this. The Italians, as shot up as they were crawled, dragged one another to the open deck. Where do we place our values...you never saw such a beat up bunch go bananas over fresh sea air. Meanwhile, peering down from a deck above into the open well we had the Italians in were French air cadets. The Ital-ians had a poor rep as ferocious soldiers but when they looked up and saw the French cadets, they spat and cursed expressions of contempt at the French--even the lowly had someone to kick. The Germans kept bugging us, "Where are we taking them?" Who knew except the navy officers running the ship? A safe guess on our part would be a port on the eastern seaboard of the US. The German's replied, "Nix, the German army controls all of Canada, and is as far west as Chicago in the States!" When we woke up one morning, felt the ship's engines slowing down, we knew we were arriving back in the states. Entering a harbor we read such signs as "Read The Boston Herald"; "Boston Fish Market"; "Buy Bonds at the Bank of Boston";etc. Some of the Germans understood English, a few said it was untrue, just American propaganda. But many accepted the truth, badly hurt that their people would lie to them, so as early as June 1943, the war was over for them beyond being temporary POW's...of all the surprises observed on this trip, the one I'll never forget was many of Germany's finest, the Afrika Korps were crying. If I only had a camera then! Sgt Jim Rider,AUS, 6th Platoon (Sep) Ships Hospital, 3/9/42---12/14/45

 

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