Columbia, South Carolina
August 25, 1942 saw the birth of another infant in Uncle Sam's prolific Air Force family. No announcements were sent to Goering but the chances are that if he did learn of it, his ponderous paunch merely rippled a bit - this puling infant not even meriting a good healthy belly-laugh of disdain.
As a matter of fact, no particular attention was [aid to the event at Columbia, S.C., the birthplace. The birth certificate - CAAB G.O. No. 19 - was filed, Col. Mills, appointed guardian and the 340th was on its way.
At Columbia, the original cadre was quickly brought to practically T/O strength. Officers with Shiny bars and popping chests nonchalantly showed the ropes to new arrivals - "newer" - by a few hours. Enlisted men popped in form all over but squadron first sergeants were not to busy to drop their sewing (they got a new stripe every other day) and help the new boys pick out the best tents an d make sure they were supplied with all the home comforts. Things hummed from early morning to late at night - well, the Officers' Club was open until midnight.
Squadron S-2's were busy planning mock missions in the best Harrisburg style and detail and squadron operations were racing each other up and down the hilly graphs of the efficiency charts. September merged with October, October with November and before we realized it, our original unit Thanksgiving was behind us.
Then came November 30th with orders to move to Walterboro for third phase training. The first day of December dawned at 0400 for the 340th - cold and overcast. The barracks were all scrubbed, men and baggage loaded on trucks for an early start - and six hours later the convoy snaked its way down the white sand road between scrub pines, headed for another part of South Carolina where late that afternoon we stretched our legs in Walterboro.
The ships and Flight Echelon did not arrive on schedule since the night we left, Columbia was visited by a violent hail storm which di more damage in ten minutes than our flying cowboys would have accomplished in as many weeks. The group lost in all, fourteen planes.
It was the first of three occasion son which the 340th has been practically stripped of ships through no fault of our own. In the later disasters, we had the coordinated help of the smooth-functioning units of the 12th Air Force to make quick replacements, but this time we were on our own. That "our own" was not too bad is evidenced by the fact that while first estimates of damage repair were up to a couple months, actually the group was operating in a relatively few days, thanks to the unstinting labor of the loyal ground crews. Maybe we did - and still do - wage keen rivalry between individual squadrons (with everybody taking a sock at Group) but let anything or anybody tackle the Group - watch out!
With the shortage of planes, Group thought advisable to intensify the school schedule and institute a bit of infantry drill to occupy our minds and muscles. The classes were held and usually the instructor at least was there. WE hiked and marched sometimes almost as much as six miles in a day and all of five minutes with gas masks on. group also formed the habit of calling imaginary air raids, alerts and missions at most ungodly hours. the latter were the delight of our jeep jockeys - total blackout, the windshields opaque with frost but a good excuse for doing quite a bit better than the official "15 miles per hour on the post".
They loaded us down with equipment at Supply, pumped us full of bugs at Group Dispensary and the smart boys filled us up with rumors - positive information that we were going to China, India, England, Burma and Skowhegan - "that's confidential. Sure I got it form one who knows!!" But the wise ones just nodded and waited until they got into town and got the real McCoy from their wives and girl friends.
Then one afternoon the Flight crews took off "into the bright blue yonder" - via truck. It was to be two full months - months full of strange sights, strange people, and strange smells - before the flight and ground echelons would again join up after circling the globe between them.
On January 30th, the Ground Echelon climbed into waiting trains headed for a very secret destination which everybody knew was Pittsburg , California.
Camp Stoneman was a beautifully laid out, equipped and operated post with everything from commissary stores to movie houses. Some days of stiff tests of physical fitness and endurance what with calisthenics in the cold, dark dawns, nurses, debarkation nets, an obstacle course and never-to-be-forgotten twelve-mile hike.
The enlisted men were warned to put everything they would need for several weeks into their "A" bags. Each man sorted out half his acre or so of belongings and found to his surprise that he Army hadn't made "A" bags anywhere near large enough but "B" bags were far too large for just a gas mask and helmet.
On St. Valentine's Day, every GI and his "A" bag and officer and his hand luggage marched aboard the GI ferry boat, sailed down the bay to Frisco there to board the U.S.S West Point former luxury liner "America". Late in the evening, the last man staggered on board under a load of bags and blankets, rifle, overcoat, mask and helmet and finally the good ship West Point quieted down as tired men dropped off to sleep in various compartments and all stages of undress.