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"You're In The Army Now"

Midi playing is ~ "You're In The Army Now"

"Why in the hell did we have to be picked to cadre this new outfit?" muttered the men as they climbed out of the 6 x 6's and looked at a group of ancient looking barracks at the southeast corner of Camp Shelby, Mississippi. "Why, this place looks a lot worse than Claiborne ever thought of being."

So on the 22nd of February, 1943, the 202nd Engineer Combat Battalion was born when four officers and sixty enlisted men arrived from the 338th Engineer General Service Regiment. Slightly later Major William H. Unger arrived from the 328th Engineer Combat Battalion of the 103rd Infantry Division to assume command of the battalion. The cadre men busied themselves with the job of setting up camp for the recruits that were soon to arrive.

Meanwhile in induction stations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Maryland men from all walks of life were trading their civilian clothing for O.D.'s. All were slightly bewildered and all had heard wild stories from the P.F.C.'s who seemed to run the camp and had as their main plan in life the terrorizing of the new soldier-civilians. "The worst outfits in the army are the Engineers and the Infantry," they heard the P.F.C. say with a knowing nod of his head. "In the Engineers all you can look forward to is digging, and in the Infantry all you do is walk and walk and walk."

So when the first group arrived at Camp Shelby and were greeted by a mass of men wearing the "funny looking house" That said they were Engineers they all felt, to say the least, a little disappointed and disheartened. The cadre men soon changed their minds by telling them what the mission of the Engineers was. Their first letters announced proudly to the folks at home, "I'm in the Combat Engineers ~ it's not just the Engineers, it's the Combat Engineers!"

The rookies started off with a bang, they had to build their own training areas before they started basic. That meant days of back-breaking work carrying logs to construct demolition pits. They stood in slop up to their knees (sometimes their waist) in swamp land and worked. Finally the job was done. Now thirteen weeks of rigid training lay ahead.

They drilled until every platoon looked like a group of mechanical men. The drill master would press the buttons with words, and all moved as one. Extended order drill was a little different and many limped around with sore knees until they learned the proper way to hit the ground when running at full speed. The mystery of army bridges was taught to the men and words like stringer, footer, and abutment became regular members of their vocabulary.

Every problem that came before them was taken in stride and with a smile. The battalion, whose men averaged twenty years, was being molded into one of the army's best units.

Tragedy hit the unit early in its life. While a pontoon bridge was under construction on the Leaf River who men died in the stream's swift current. The men knew the road ahead would often have heartbreaking experiences in store for them. They faced not only the experienced armies of Germany and Japan but also another great enemy; nature itself. There were going to be many times that were ahead when jobs had to be done that were impossible but they would need to be done in spite of that.

Lt. William N. Gross then was in command of "A" Company, Lt. Jeremiah J. Wigley commanded "B" Company, and Lt. Peter F. Wolfe was company commander of Company "C". Lt. Lyle D. Hartzel was in charge of H&S Company. In battalion headquarters Mr. Johnson was S-1 or Personnel Officer, Intelligence Officer or S-2 was Lt. Eustace Thombras, Captain Frederick J. Baker was the battalion S-3 or officer in charge of Plans and Training, S-4 or Supply Officer was Lt. William Speicher. Major Unger was assisted in his work by Captain John M. Arnett, who was Executive Officer and by Lt. Richard D. True who was the Adjutant.

During the last week in May the battalion went to the Rifle range to do their first firing for record with the M-1 Rifle. Ninety-two and one-half percent of the personnel qualified as Marksmen, Sharpshooters, or Experts during the first attempt.

Paul B. Jones Lake, near Camp Shelby, was the scene for most of the training during June. One thousand feet of roadway, forty feet wide, with one large culvert was constructed and two bridges, one thirty-foot timber bridge, and a two-way timber trestle bridge one thousand feet long with two-story trestle bents, were also built.

Then Third Army tests were taken. Every phase of the Engineers' work was taken up and the unit passed them with flying colors. That finished the unit's basic training and so now they started on their advanced training.

Outstanding in the unit's advanced training was the "Battle of Biloxi." The battled started out late one Sunday evening with a blacked out motor march of some forty miles from Camp Shelby to the training area on the Gulf of Mexico. The plan was that the unit was to spend four days training of the seven days near Biloxi. If, during that time everything was done perfectly, the entire outfit was to have pass privileges to the town of Biloxi, one of the best summer resorts in the southern section of the United States.

The other battalions who were comrades to the 202nd in the 1101t Engineer Combat Group had gone to fight the battle but had come out on the short end. If we were to win the fight every one must "keep on the ball" ~ if one man slipped all were doomed to spend seven days of rough training and none would see Biloxi. The men all worked together and when inspecting officers arrived from higher headquarters they found the areas occupied by our battalion spotless. So, after four days of training on bridging operations from before dawn until after dark the verdict came down. The 202nd had won the battle. The unit was to visit Biloxi for the remaining days.

"Why did I hit him? That --- started complaining about the half hour of close order drill he experiences every other day ~ that's why M.P.!" This was the second phase of the battle fought in Biloxi itself. The city was the regular pass town for the Air Corps men of Gulfport and Kessler Fields and there was, of course, the natural friction that always exists between men of the ground and air forces. Besides this Biloxi was the only town in Mississippi that was definitely not for teetotalers. This phase of the battle was also won by the 202nd although several times the M.P.'s had to be called in.

With Biloxi completed the unit now had just about finished advanced training. They ran, or rather crawled through the infiltration course which was a hundred yards spent crawling over ground covered with three inches of dust, with ball and tracer ammunition spitting over top of you, and land mines going off all around you. The course was completed by all of the personnel in the battalion and no one was injured although John J. Johnson, of "C" Company, had a close call when his messkit, which was placed in his haversack, was shot through.

The unit was alerted for overseas movement on September 4, 1943. This meant that strength of the battalion must be reduced to exact T/O requirements. Packing had to be done at once; trucks, tools, and other equipment turned in; and a hundred other minor details taken care of. On the 25th of the same month the 202nd departed from Camp Shelby by rail arriving in the staging area. Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts, on the 27th.

Passes to Hattiesburg, Columbia, and Jackson were now things of the past and all of us knew we had only a short period before we would bid farewell to America. With those thoughts in mind we went on our last pass to Taunton, Massachusetts.

October 7th found us climbing up on the gangplank of the U.S.S. Santa Elena at the Boston Port of Embarkation. We spent the night in the harbor and on the next day the boat's anchor was hoisted and we pulled away from the shore. The coast faded into the distance and instead of looking back at the shores of our homeland we looked ahead into the distance. We didn't know what lay ahead, our destination was unknown.

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