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The Ultimate Results Of A Trip Through The Maze
Of Army Training And Personnel Decisions
Jack Cunningham
1st. Lt. Jack Cunningham

C Bty, 29th FA Bn, WW2

My experiences in the Army war games maneuvers included more than those in Tennessee which I have written about. I was in maneuvers in Louisana, the Arizona desert and the Borrego desert in California. These assignments were the result of choices made by me and the choices of my commanding officers and the Army. Lady Luck and Murphy's Law are also operating at times.

Early in my service I was in a heavy artillery battalion equipped with World War I 155mm howitzers. Everything else we had was also from WWI. I had a Lee-Enfield rifle whose ejector broke after firing three rounds. The old howitzer ammunition frequently exploded soon after leaving the gun in terrifying "muzzle bursts". Our steel helmets were the kind you see in WWI movies. The fatigue uniform was blue denim with calf-high, lace-up leggings. I have a photo of myself standing in the desert in such a uniform.

The California desert was hot, but Arizona was hotter. The daytime reading was usually about 125 degrees. I suffered, but I felt I was better off than the guys in the tanks. This was with the 77th Infantry Division which I joined after graduation from Officer Candidate School.

The offer to go to OCS came while I was in Tennesse. Another fellow, our Detail Sergeant, had been in the Army for seventeen years and knew much more than many of the new officers. He also had been offered OCS. There was a screening process for prospective candidates which included a verbal test. I was waiting for my interview and the Sergeant, who had proceeded me, came out cussing and in a great rage. He had refused the opportunity to go to OCS because one of the questions they had asked him was, "Who went down the rabbit hole and discovered a new world?". While we were in the desert the 77th Division asked for volunteers for the paratroops and liaison pilot training. I decided I didn't want to trust my undependable luck to the routine of jumping out of airplanes frequently, so I volunteered for pilot training and passed the physical at Luke Field in Phoenix, Arizona.

At the time, I was Battalion Motor Officer and knew that a vehicle had brakes and an accelerator. One day, the Battalion Commander told me that they needed a candidate for Motor School at Fort Sill and promised that if I passed the course, I would be promoted to 1st. Lt. I told him I was not interested, since my application for liason pilot training was being processed. He told me that an application for me to Motor School had already been approved by Division and forwarded to Corps. He said that they had to have a name on an application and that, anyway, the pilot training would not come for at least two months and I would be back by then.

Being greedy and trying to have it both ways and keep the CO happy, I said OK. Two weeks later, I was on my way to Fort Sill and Motor School. After two or three months of training, I then knew that a motor vehicle had spark plugs, brake linings, valves, radiator, carburator, and a lot of other pieces. I rejoined the 77th Division at Camp Pickett, Virginia where they were taking amphibious training. My battalion had a new CO, who didn't know me from any other yard bird, sooo, no 1st. Lt.'s bars for me - - and no wings either. Greed! It was not rewarded. I had been assigned to the same room in officer's quarters as the battalion's Warrant Officer, who told me that orders assigning me to Denton, Texas for pilot training had arrived two days after I had left for Fort Sill!

Though my greed was not rewarded, I regard the ultimate results of my actions and the Army's actions, as good. I was assigned to the replacement center at Fort Meade, Maryland. They started me through the pipeline for replacement officers, to Wales and on to England. From there, I was sent to the 4th Infantry Division's 29th FA Battalion, which had landed on Utah Beach on D-Day. I crossed the Channel with other replacements going to the 4th Division on D+1. We had to find the Division Headquarters without a guide and got there on D+2. Though the service with the 29th FA as a Forward Observer was tough and dangerous, I feel that I was, perhaps, better than I would have seen with the 77th Division. I read that they got into trouble in combat on Guam and had to be saved by the Marines. In any case, my service with the 4th Division passed the ultimate test - - I survived in good health.

Also, I feel that serving with the 4th Infantry - - which could have been described as an "elite" division, if four years of training before D-Day in France could qualify them for that evaluation - - had its advantages.

Bill Cole has written: "The officers and men of the 29th FA knew each other and their jobs very well and such maturity made it possible for them to be easy-going in their acceptance of replacements as part of the outfit."

John Ausland, in his memoir, Letters Home, writes: "The reunion the 29th Field Artillery Battalion held in Augusta, Georgia in October, 1980 was a memorable occasion. I have reestablished contacts with people I have not seen for nearly half a century. The excerpts the Fourth Division Association's Ivy Leaves has published have led to touching and informative correspondence. It is difficult for people to understand the bonds that develop between those who wage war. Since leaving the Army, I have belonged to various groups, but none have fostered the feelings I have toward the men I knew in the 4th Division."

I feel that John Ausland speaks for all of us in this regard.

I have an 8X10 color group photo of almost all of the attendants at the 1980 29th FA reunion in Augusta. The Regimental Webmaster will receive a copy, for inclusion on this web site.

I think it is understandable that in the years prior to 1980 there were not many members of our group who, due to the demands life placed on them in those middle-years, had time to participate in activities of the Association. My wife June, and I were able to devote time and telephone expense to keeping in touch and to search for those whose location was unknown. (Today's Internet, with instant access to so much information, was not available.). June had been fully accepted by the group of wives who were active in the Association and who looked forward to the yearly reunions. This group included a few wives who had been through one or more of the extremely difficult emotional experiences of seeing the division get orders to make all preparations for shipment to Africa or Europe twice before the real thing in early 1944. This acceptance made it possible for June to develop close ties, which exist today between the ones still active.

Locating those who had been out of touch for those many years became easier about 1990, when many of our veterans had retired and had the time to get old letters and war memorabilia out of their attics and renew old memories. As the 50th anniversary of D-Day in Europe approached, everyone's attention was drawn to WWII by a very large dose of news-media and entertainment-industry use of the drama the war story offered. This period saw a lot of interchange between our veterans. Today, five-plus years after that 50th anniversary we communicate less, as the relentless toll which the passage of time takes, is felt. We don't forget the very important things we did as a group, beginning with our 29th FA comrades, but extending to an enormous group involved in the effort. It is a good memory.

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