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The road home

American Theater Ribbon

The war was over, but the men who had until recently belonged to the 801st Engineers still had a long road home. Their story became less that of a unit and more of individuals as time went on and they took their individual paths back to "the States."

The first step was the truck ride down to the docks at Naha, where they would be transported out to the ship that would carry them back across the Pacific. Dad almost messed that one up. As his truck full of happy homebound men was pulling out of camp it passed Major Clifford, and Dad took what he perceived as his last opportunity to tell the major what he thought of the Army in general and the Major in particular. But he miscalculated his prey, and his last horrified sight of the camp was of the major running for his jeep and it occurred to Dad that his stay on the island could be unpleasantly and indefinitely extended. Dad again put his Army training to good use, dropping off the truck before it reached the docks and staying under cover during the ensuing search, which fortunately was given up before departure time. His buddies helped smuggle him back into line and onto the boat, and soon he was out of sight and hopefully out of mind of the major.

His ride back across the Pacific, like that of many of the 801st, was considerably classier than his first crossing. Operation Magic Carpet was the return home of the hundreds of thousands of American military personnel after the end of the war. Any ship that could carry large numbers of passengers was pressed into service. The Navy found that aircraft carriers made great troop transports once you removed their aircraft. The huge, open hanger decks made ideal locations to crowd in bunks stacked to the sky for their army passengers. But they were not without their discomforts (see sidebar).

Upon arrival in the States, the men were housed in a camp were their paperwork was processed and they waited for train transportation to become available. Dad's camp was huge, with many engineer units. A network of loudspeakers would announce when particular trains were leaving. If you missed your announcement or your train, your chances of seeing home soon were greatly reduced.

While waiting, Dad and some of his buddies met up with some African-American engineers who were supposed to be on the same train home as Dad. The Army was rigidly segregated during World War II and it was well into the war before blacks were allowed to serve in just a few combat units, even though a black sailor was decorated for heroism for his actions in the opening moments of the Peal Harbor attack. There were quite a few engineering battalions that consisted of all black enlisted men (with all white officers) and these enlisted men usually got the worst billets, rations, and equipment. It turned out the part of the camp in which these black engineers were housed - segregated from the white troops - had no loudspeakers. They had to come some distance into the main part of camp just to listen for their orders home.

It was the middle of the night when the loudspeakers announced Dad's train would be leaving shortly. On his way down to the tracks he realized that it was doubtful the black engineers in their distant, segregated camp would have heard the announcement. He left his duffle bag with his buddies and ran out to let them know. They all made the train home.

On 19 January 1946 at Fort Sheridan Illinois, after three years and two days of service to his country, dad again became a civilian.

Next: Epilogue >

A Navy shower

Aircraft carrier

Traditionally, a Navy shower is one where you briefly run the water, lather up with the water turned off, and quickly run the water again to rinse. The idea is to save that rare commodity at sea, fresh water. But Dad discovered another variation on his cruise home aboard an aircraft carrier. more >