George A Bane Autobiography, Part 3

I just have to point out that my Papaw probably wrote this in about 1990 (due to a note he writes at the end), and he passed away in 1994, having suffered for years from Alzheimer's Disease. The fact that he remembers so many details so vividly is just beautiful and also heartbreaking to me, because he quietly lost them all. Very bittersweet. This is also a side of him I never saw--he was always pretty quiet and stoic when I was a kid. He also had these giant hands that he would crush our little kid heads with. Ha! Papaw lived from January 29th, 1921 to October 12, 1994.

Update: The whole autobiography is now collected in one place in a variety of formats (as a web page, a PDF, and a printed book).

Read Part One Here
Read Part Two Here

I talked to our area signal officer about joining the Army. He told me to go to Barksdale Field, LA and report to the Post Signal Officer who was a good friend of his, and he would have me enlisted in the 5th Signal Service Bn. I got leave from the CCC Camp to enlist in the Army, and hitchhiked from Brookhaven to Barksdale Field, LA.

I reported to the Major and after a rather interesting conversation, he sent me to the recruiting office, and shortly thereafter I was PVT Bane beginning a three year hitch in the Army Signal Corps. After completing three weeks basic training, I was sent to the radio room for a try out. I thought I was a hot shot radio operator, but I was in for a rude awakening. They set me down to copy a message from WVR Corp Area Hdqrs in Atlanta. When he started sending to me, it sounded like rain on a tin roof. I broke him twice in the message heading, he came back at me with .._ _ .. ("who new opr?"). When I said yes, his reply was, quote, "get off." I was transferred to the Western Union and Postal telegraph office on the base.

This was one heck of a letdown for me, and I set out to do something about it. The first thing was to start taking typing lessons at night and hanging around the radio room when I got the chance. The transfer to the telegraph office was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me, because they printers in the telegraph office used standard keyboards, and my typing speed picked up rather rapid. My driving ambition was to get back in a radio room. I didn't particular care where or how.

I got wind they were in dire need of operators at Brookley Field at Mobile, Ala. The C.O. would not even consider letting me transfer to another Post. This didn't set too well with me, so! Knowing darn well I would get my rear end chewed out, I wrote a letter (out of channels, mind you) to the Signal Officer at Brookley Field telling him, quote, "Due to an excess number of radio operators at Barksdale Field, I am performing duties other than as a radio operator, and if possible, would like to transfer to your command." Believe me, in about three days the crud hit the fan. My letter didn't stop at Brookley--it went straight to the Corps Area signal officer in Atlanta. When my C.O. called me in his office he was so mad he didn't know where to start--my head and work down or my feet and work up. I stood at attention while he read the riot act to me, doing my best to look like a kid that has just swiped a plug out of his dad's Brown Mule Chewing Tobacco--both guilty and sick. Heck, I probably knew as much about having to go through channels as he did. After all, I had just put a year in at the CCC Camp and about the only difference was we dug ditches and set out kudzu instead of carrying a gun. The CCC camp was only a staging ground for future cannon fodder to fight the war with. Everyone knew we would be in it before long. Any ole how, in less than a week, one of the best operators at Barksdale and myself was on our way to Ft Jackson, SC. Fort Jackson was under construction when we got there. There was no barracks built at that time. After checking in, we were assigned a tent with two other guys. Soon after we got there, it turned cold as a well digger's butt in Montana. There was a small lake a little way from out tents with outside shower stalls on the lake bank. Water was pumped from the lake to furnish water for the shower. It was so cold that there were seldom used. We would go to the lake and get a bucket of water and heat it on the tent stove. We would pour some of this water in out steel helmets or canteen cups and shave, bathe and then go out and wait for the chow truck to take us to the chow hall. We stayed here for about two months.

We moved to another area. Here the tents were larger, and we had a heated bathhouse to take a shower in.The radio room was located in a small makeshift office building. Two of three operators there were on detached duty from another post.

During the morning and early evening, traffic from from WVR in Atlanta (Fourth Corps Area headquarters) was rather light, and the operators would send slow enough that I could copy, but would have to ask for lots of repeats. Several weeks later, we had a flu epidemic, and I was the only one left except the Chief, and he only worked the day shift. That left me to handle the night shift.

All the traffic was from Washington and the other Army Post in the Fourth Corp Area, as well as some from other areas in the States and some from overseas. All traffic from overseas, most from Army posts outside our command, was relayed thru WAR in Washington to WVR Atlanta and then the individual Army posts in the Fourth Corps Area. We also had to handle some veterans Admm messages. As we had a Veteran hospital near, when WVR called me and said "here stack", I sent K ("go ahead"). He started sending twice as fast as I could put out a solid copy. I broke him and asked him to slow down. His answer was, quote, "You don't want to be a Lid (lousy operator) the rest of your life, do you?" He continued sending out at the same speed. I copied about 100 messages with misspelled words and some with just enough letters for me to know what the word was. After he cleared all traffic with me, I had to retype most of it. The operator sending to me was LC (his personal sign). I will mention him later.

I did the same thing every night, but after the third or fourth night I was turning out some solid copies that didn't have to be retyped. My sending and receiving ability continued to improve, and I had no problem handling anything that was thrown at me.

Our two detached service operators were sent back to their home station. That left us with only the Chief, TW (the operator that was transferred from Barksdale with me), and myself. The Chief only worked the day shift, so TW and I had to take the heavy load at night. TW was one of the best radio operators I ever worked with, but he had a problem--Old Man Barley Corn. On payday, he would dress up in a blue serge suit and go to town. He would stay drunk until he ran out of money. I would cover for him and work his as well as my shift. When he came back, I would loan him a buck or two so he could buy cigs and a couple or so bottles of beer to sober up on. After he had shaved and cleaned up, he would come in and take over my shift until he paid me back the time I worked for him. He was picked up by the MPs numbers of times, and the C.O. would get him off. He finally threw one too many, and the Post Commander pressed charges against him, and he got thirty days in the brig. I would take cigarettes and pass them to him through the stockade fence. His thirty days were up just a few weeks before Pearl Harbor. About then, I came down with a bad case of the flu and the doc put me in the hospital. When I was almost well and ready to return to duty, I got orders to ship out to Iceland. My C.O. came over to talk to me about TW taking my place on the Iceland orders. He had asked the Major to let him take my place if possible. I wanted to go overseas, but I wasn't crazy about going to Iceland. I told the C.O. it would be ok with me. We bid TW farewell and went back to our rat killing. This put me permanently assigned to the night shift. One night WVR called me and said "here stack." He started sending his traffic to me, and it was over a hundred messages. I didn't break or ask for a repeat on the entire amount. After I acknowledged for the messages he asked me if I was the same GB that asked him to slow down a month or so ago. When I told him yes, he asked if I remembered him telling me that I didn't want to be a Lid the rest of my life. That made me feel good, because LC was one of the best and didn't hand out compliments unless he meant it. By this time I had moved my bunk and clothes into a small room adjoining the radio room. I liked this arrangement fine, except I had to go back to the barracks to take my daily shower.
(to be continued)

Read Part Four Here
Read Part Five Here
Read Part Six Here
Read Part Seven Here