Art and I have been corresponding on a frequent basis, since we first met almost five years ago. He has painstakingly copied and sent dozens of documents, personal recollections and photographs, and I owe him a tremendous amount of thanks for presenting me with a very accurate history of your unit. Your personal accounts are precious and priceless, and gave me a wonderful insight regarding this regiment.

Art you are one of a kind, and definitely the definition of an officer and a gentleman. May God continue to bless and keep you. I would be lost without your friendship and assistance. We've shared a lot of laughs and many smiles and email hugs!

Art is also featured in my documentary, No Bridge Too Far.

12-20-2010

It seems as of late, I am reporting the passing of my beloved "boys", at an alarming rate. And with heavy heart, I am here once again. Art passed away in late October, so I apologize for my tardiness. I simply couldn't bring myself to post the sad news until now.

The following is from a letter I sent to Carl Furtado, who served with Art. I think it says it all...

..."Art's death gave me a real blow last night. I put off the tears until waking this morning. Art and I were very close and we emailed each other often, just like you and I. He was a real mentor and inspiration to me. We talked about all kinds of things including the war, and he also sent encouraging words to keep me going.

I have met many vets along the way, and some are mere acquaintances, some have become very good friends, and on a scale of 1-10, Art was a ten in my book, along with you, Stef, John and a few others. When a "ten" passes away, it is very hard to say goodbye. I shall miss his emails and calls. He always addressed each letter to me with, "Dear M...", and in turn I always signed my letters to him with, "Dear A..."

Dot and Art Cook - 36th 2006 Reunion

The 36th Engineers - Rugged
By Art Cook - former CO of Company E, 36th Combat Engineer Regiment

Prelude

Considering the fact that during WWII until the invasion at Normandy, censorship was very severely enforced and troops were forbidden to keep diaries, notes, or photographs, it will be apparent the accuracy of this document is slightly in question because of the author’s fading memory (60 years is a long time…).

The year was 1941 and the war in Europe was still raging. Our leaders had come to the conclusion that our armed forces needed expanding, and advanced training. The draft was in effect and training facilities were being expanded and/or improved.

Among the various wants, the army needed engineers, so it was decided to establish an engineering unit at Plattsburg, New York, where an Army post (formerly used by a World War I type infantry unit), already existed.

It was a very nice post on the shores of Lake Champlain, on the outskirts of the city of Plattsburg. There were brick buildings for troop barracks and mess halls, brick buildings for officers’ quarters, and a brick building for the hospital. In fact all the buildings were brick, permanent construction and in excellent condition.

The surrounding grounds were well manicured and there was a great grassy parade ground with a reviewing stand. This was wonderfully suited for the new tenants because marching and parading were high on the agenda for teaching recruits close-order drill, holding full field inspections, and of course the weekly parade. The Plattsburg facility was ideal, for it was far enough removed from other military centers to provide certain isolation from top brass visits, and at Plattsburg the army unit was actually top dog for the community. Yet old habits are hard to break and the city folks had over the years developed a bad attitude towards soldiers.

The 36th Engineer Combat Regiment was similar to other combat engineer regiments with companies A, B, C, D, E, F, plus a headquarters company, H&S. The new troops began to arrive about mid June 1941. Each company had its own separate troop billets and mess hall.

The equipment arrived piecemeal and many items remained “short” during the first few months especially the much-needed motor pool items. The transportation originally was a fleet of Chevrolet one-and-a-half ton trucks, which were not a satisfactory choice for a unit such as the 36th, and were later replaced with two-and-a-half ton six by six trucks, which served very well.

Ultimately each company had three trucks per platoon, plus two trucks for company administration and Mess and supply. There were four, quarter-ton jeeps, three Harley Davidson motorcycles, and a truck-mounted compressor. The combat equipment consisted of a half-track vehicle, and one 37mm cannon per platoon.

Included in the TO&E equipment was blacksmithing equipment, which included a heavy anvil and portable forge. In 1941 the engineers were still responsible for shoeing horses (this was a holdover from World War I). The 36th carried this equipment all through World War II, and it was a chore to load and unload every time the unit moved.

(Enough of the information on organization and equipment -- training needs some discussion.)

At Plattsburg, the training area was “Macomb Reservation”-- a large plot of land located west of the post twelve miles distant. This is where all field training was done (a bit awkward but it was workable).

On schedule, troops would hike out to the reservation on a Monday morning, train during the daytime, bivouac over night, then train all morning the following day, and finally hike back to the post during the afternoon of the second day.

This process was repeated Thursday and Friday, and on Wednesday, we hiked out, ran a short training schedule, and hiked back to the post. This meant the troops hiked sixty miles a week as part of the training, and these men were soon in top physical shape.

While at the reservation, the training consisted of bridge building, minefield (laying and removal), gun emplacement, highway repair techniques, and the use of associated tools. Additionally, we were trained in the use of explosives, and infantry tactics and maneuvers.

It was a great area for training; no outside disturbances, and no one to complain about the noise from the resulting training.

During early August 1941, a military maneuver was held at Ft Devens, Massachusetts, in which the 36th participated. It was not the best or most effective maneuver, but it gave the troops ideas regarding their training shortcomings, and places where emphasis was needed. The unit returned to Plattsburg following the maneuvers.

In mid September 1941, a large maneuver was held (mostly in North Carolina), in which the 36th participated extensively. It was based at a peach orchard in Norman, North Carolina. To my recollection, this maneuver was a Second Army affair, and lasted until early December. It was a most important factor in the development of the field readiness of the 36th.

The citizens of North Carolina, were exceedingly kind to the troops, and helpful in many ways throughout the maneuver period.

The Pearl Harbor incident occurred as the 36th was en route to their home base at Plattsburg, and upon their return, the training turned to amphibious techniques and invasion doctrine, and the role of engineer troops therein.

To facilitate the training, the entire regiment along with all of its vehicles, made a permanent change of station and moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where the 9th Infantry Division was stationed.

Shortly after arriving at Fort Bragg, a meeting was arranged with the 9th Infantry Division to explain the mission of the combined infantry and engineer forces. The plan was to develop teamwork, which would enable the troop combination to successfully land on hostile shores, and gain foothold.

To facilitate the training, the would-be “invaders” landed at various sites in the Chesapeake Bay near the Solomon Islands using ships, which the navy had equipped with LCV and LCVP diesel powered personnel landing craft, plus a few LCM’s (equipment landing craft).

The plan provided for army troops to load simulated invasion support supplies, and head for the Chesapeake Bay to conduct practice landings of troops and supplies, in order to establish a practice beachhead. Each exercise usually lasted about two weeks, and successive parties of engineer soldiers were sent to the Chesapeake Bay. The ships were rotated between sessions to accommodate all of the combat teams. This activity was conducted throughout the spring and summer of 1942.

Each combat team consisted of a regiment of infantry and a company of combat engineers, plus support troops such as artillery, signal, and medical attachments. Based on this, three battalions of engineers were needed to function with a division of infantry. Since the 36th Engineers had but two battalions, it could only accommodate two regiments of the infantry; not quite a perfect fit for three-regiment divisions.

(As you will see later, this situation was resolved in late 1942, by assigning a third battalion of engineers to the 36th, making it the only army engineer regiment with three battalions.)

The 36th Engineer Regiment and the 9th Infantry Division spent the entire summer of 1942, training and developing their combat teams.

Art recently sent me an interview with Brigadier General George W Gardes and Lt Colonel James Chubbuck, conducted by Dr Shotwell in 1950. You can read Art's letter to me, regarding this 3-part interview, the interview itself and finally the obituary of General Gardes, who passed away in 1991.

The letter

Interview Part One

Interview Part Two

Interview Part Three

Obituary of General George W Gardes

Personal Reminiscences...

Soccer at Anzio?

Dear M,
 
As the Allied forces made the invasion at Anzio, we acquired a heavy road roller left behind by the retreating German forces.
 
I am not sure you will recognize this. It is a piece of heavy equipment used by highway departments to compress patches in the blacktop road - it is motorized and heavy (maybe 12-15 tons), a heavy, slow moving bugger that probably was too heavy, or too slow to justify take with.
 
Anyhow, they couldn’t leave a nice piece of equipment like this -- it might be of use to the lousy Americans.
 
So -- before departing, they used an explosive charge to disable the engine.
 
So we acquired a piece of heavy equipment, crippled - but not for long.

My super Motor Sergeant, Paul Blackburn (the keeper of all our vehicles and equipment), conceived a great scheme.  He scrounged up a wrecked 6-by-6 truck with a usable engine and grafted this engine into the roller, so it became "motorized" again.
 
Now, you have to know that most Europeans are crazy over soccer. So that includes the British troops.  We had a strong group of British soldiers with us, and they provided support for our forces by manning the anti-air defenses.
 
They quickly realized that they could use the roller to flatten a patch of soil and create a place to practice soccer.
 
So, naturally, we agreed to assist their plan.  But this roller is a slow moving beast  (5-7 miles per), and there was a need to move the roller about on the beachhead, to various sites chosen by the soccer players.
 
The moving problem was solved by towing the roller with one of our "half-track" vehicles (up to15 mph).
 
Our British-American relations flourished.
 
Oh yes, we did use the roller repairing damaged road surfaces on the beachhead  (mostly during the month of April because that was the only time our regiment was free to work on roads)  -- the rest of the time our main effort was front line fighting to protect our small piece of real estate called "ANZIO”.
 
We abandoned the roller as we broke out of the beachhead and started north to push the enemy toward Rome.
 
Just keep in mind how versatile our men were, and that characterized the Yanks in operation.
 
Well, so long until the next thrilling installment.
 
Yours   A

Engineer tunes supplied by "A". Thanks, these are GREAT!

Thoughts on North Africa...

Dear M,

I remember you had said you were working on Africa (he refers to my documentary) and I wanted to make a comment.

Many sources portray the USA performance in Africa (and that of others) as not too positive. I'd like to influence you to have a positive overview, because I come away from the experience in Africa a being a fortunate opportunity for our troops.

While war is war and very grizzly, there are some situations where the warfare is more of a learning experience and a test of ones adaptability to the strange scenario, and an opportunity to test ones' knowledge, equipment, and strategies. So for us it was just that, and we learned a lot about ourselves that facilitated the conversion from parade ground soldiers into seasoned war ready veterans, and it happened with relatively mild casualties. And that for us was a big plus factor.

Later in the war as a new divisions hit the area, the units suffered noticeably as the troops passed thru this "new" stage into seasoned fighters. Hard to duplicate the Africa experience.

Just a thought because it was my feeling that our engineers benefited from starting out with the Africa experience under our belts.

Did you find time to copy the "Fort Brag" book? If available, I'd love to have a copy.

Looking forward to seeing more of your production(s).

Yours A

More thoughts on North Africa...

It was in Africa the 2nd Battalion made its first venture in combat well ahead of the regiment at large.

And it was Algiers where we landed and worked our way up to Tunisia. We made our first landing AS PART OF THE 39TH INF REG (9TH INF DIV), and our casualty list for 2nd Bn 36th, starts at Algiers. WE had ventured closer to the German Army than any engineer unit to date.

That is why I raised the question about your map that I saw, where Algiers was not on your map.

It is my aim to make it apparent that WE (the 2nd Bn) were in the lead and first in battle. The Bn deserves credit for being the first engineer unit to enter the theater against the dreaded German Army.

Now, there were multiple flaws in the organization and tactical process there in North Africa, and it is well that we had time to work most of the problems before the pursuing of future assignments.

General Freidendorf was in charge and not doing a good job, so the US Army replaced him with Gen George C Patton. Patton took charge and gave the units organization discipline and leadership.

But in so doing he instituted a series of fines or punishment against the troops for various infractions of military courtesy and/or military performance. Serious, but it worked for that situation

The bad part was that all other commanders quickly saw the morfacis (sp) and adopted similar policies; $10 fine for failing to wear ones helmet, $50 fine for failing to keep ones rifle beside him at all times, $10 for having rolled up sleeves (each sleeve). This approach used on all parts of the uniform, weapons and equipment.

Some lads resented this policy, but it did work.

There is a load of info in most libraries about this. Even Ernie Pile (the great reporter who lived with the troops) had a lot to say about things and stuff...

Crystal radios

Hi M,

Say, have you ever heard about a crystal radio--lots of kids messed with them in the 30's and 40's and even as early as the twenties.

I ask because a few of the soldiers on the beachhead were able to improvise a radio similar to a crystal set radio. it is a very small package.

You see, the Germans had a radio program aimed at the allied troops and broadcasting music and propaganda during the daytime, and the music was just great.

I made such a radio and it worked just fine -- it worked with earphones and not powerful enough for speakers.

I can send you a circuit diagram telling how to fabricate such a radio.

A short article telling about this (somewhere along in the lengthy writing of your subject), might be a "pace setter" or a "short relief" from the tonnage of the main story.

Just an idea let me know if you'd like some words and a diagram.

Yours A

LT COL WILLIAM THOMAS

Dear M,

While reflecting on your project I had a thought to share with you.

LT COL WILLIAM THOMAS, CE, was the responsible party nominated by VI Corps to activate the 36th. You might want to say a few words early in your work on the history.

He was the perfect choice to activate any activity you could conceive. (I'm not sure if he served in WWI that can be researched, but he knew "ARMY" and "Organized Effort" and training troops.

I was a second Lt under him and he rode the "2nd Johns" without mercy. He was a perfectionist and demanded nothing less from us youngsters. He incessantly reminded any lieutenant of his obligation to develop outstanding performance from the troops, for which he was responsible.

We often cursed, but never revolted. He was right and we soon fell in line with his philosophy. He made better officers out of us while we were making great soldiers out of the men.

Of special significance was the Cols instilling into the lieutenants the need to be aware of the condition of the men. That was "key" from early-on to the outstanding morale of the unit. Responsible to see that they were well fed, properly dressed, practiced "Military Courtesy" *(saluting etc), that they were in great health (no outfit is any stronger than the weakest one). So health of the men was a paramount item.

By now you have concluded that ART learned to love and respect the old boy -- and you are absolutely correct.

Col Thomas deserves some comments reflecting credit for the part of his soul that he put into the training of the best dammed engineer outfit the Army ever saw.

God bless him and God bless your tremendous effort on behalf of our 36th.

With gratitude A


PS - You probably can obtain historical info on Col Thomas by requesting same from VI CORPS Headquarters-- They used to be in Providence Rhode Island.

PPS - Col Thomas became Corps Engineer for VI Corps about the time we invaded Africa.

Huggggggg

Galoshes and Italy...

Dear M,

Somehow the quartermaster (he sets the clothing and replacement outfits for the Army, in addition to a multitude of other stuff) didn't do his homework on Italian climate.

1943 after the invasion of Italy, it was December and we were engaged in a series of scuffles with the German troops a bit way from the coast and we ran into SNOW.

Our supply source had overshoes available for the troops working in snow. But the need for overshoes had been set by the quartermaster (in his planning) with availability - one pair per 10 men. So for some time we operated without overshoes, except for the one pair being worn by some lucky son of a gun.

In event the lucky one got to be a casualty, before he got first aid, someone grabbed the overshoes. No, not really, but we did salvage the overshoes before he left the area so that one of the not-so-lucky guys could continue to keep these precious footwear in service.

Lucky, we didn't spend the whole winter in snow country.

And I always remember - when looking at the troops in battle in snow in northern France. Probably our discomfort in 1943 led to being an adequate supply of galoshes for the Battle of the Bulge.

LIVE and LEARN!!

Bathing in North Africa...

Hi M:

Just occurred to me while our battalion was in North Africa, we ran into an area that had natural hot (warm) springs and thought you'd be interested. Important for at least one reason, it afforded a real bath for the troops.

Now one of these "baths" exited into a drain system, sort of a "U" shaped elongated trough. So now the troops can bathe at the same time in the world's longest "bathtub". Can you picture 50-60 guys all in the "tub" end-to-end? It has to be the "longest bath" (even if it is a little unsanitary).

PS - every bather survived. haha!

Yours A

Food...

Dear M,

The 36th was on the Anzio beachhead and had spent nearly all of the first 2 months plus in front line action.

My Company was in bivouac about a mile from the front. We had been relieved and were trying to get back to normal and we were cleaning our gear and replacing worn out or lost items. Just to bring us up to snuff.

On this day when our food items arrived from the Quartermaster guess what? Now we hadn't even seen a real egg for over two years. To date all our food came frozen, dehydrated, or canned and obviously no fresh eggs.

You guessed it. Our rations this day included a full case of real honest to goodness eggs. And I among many others was visualizing breakfast tomorrow with two "sunny side up" staring at me.

Now don't get ahead of my story... (you guessed it)

In the morning the cooks overslept and couldn't afford the time to make (200 x 2 )"sunny sides up". It would take until noon to serve every guy in the outfit. Alas, these unnamable servers of food did the unforgivable - they scrambled the eggs. End of Story!

Me and my unfulfilled dream, mmmmmm!

More food...

Dear M:

OOPS! In my most recent note, I mentioned that army food in the field consists of "dehydrated, frozen and canned." Now I goofed because the troops in the field never had frozen stuff - couldn't handle it anyhow. All our stuff was canned and/or dehydrated. And so very tasty, too.

Now we, the 36th, spent a lot of time with the Navy and or Coast Guard and they do have frozen stuff - their ships include much refrigerator or freezer storage space.

Large ships like aircraft carriers, carry enough stuff to feed the whole crew for a month or so, and they eat well. I remember seeing soft shelled crab on the menu while being a guest passenger on a big ship.

If you like to eat, Choose "NAVY"!

Hope you are recovered from all your running about.

Yours, A

Food and more....

Hi M.

As long as I was on the subject of eggs and food -- Here's a couple of words...

1. The US Army (or the Armed Forces) feed their members more healthy and better variety of food than any other similar organization in the world. And no "leftovers".

2. The US Forces practice good sanitation in the field - better than any others. That goes for our Navy vS any other navy on the oceans of the world.

3. The opportunity for advancement in our armed forces is better for members than any other countries. A lot of the foreign outfits practice a sort of "cast" system that denies choosing the best for the job.

Now can I sign you up for a tour?

Have a great day,

A

Venereal Disease...

Did you know that there are some things that are secret in the service? While this story does not deal with secret stuff, it does deal with sort of confidential.

The US Army is always concerned with "health of the troops", and venereal disease surely impacts on "health".

To combat venereal disease, the Army dictated that condoms would be made available (in the theater of operations) to all members of the forces in the field. The condoms were to be supplied by the Quartermaster at no cost (almost "no Cost") to the troops.

You see there was a small paragraph in this order that said "to be purchased from Company Funds".

Some of the Companies having been state side before the war started and these companies built and maintained "Company Funds", the proceeds to be used for the benefit of the enlisted men. And as troops were deployed overseas they took their "funds" with them.

As it turned out, my Company had a pretty nice fund, about $1500, and it was used up within a year after the great ruling by the Army.

Now don't get misled because it didn't all go for its original purpose.

You see, condoms have a secondary purpose to protect equipment from weather and moisture, so they were used on the end of a rifle during a rainy day, or to waterproof ones' wallet when fording a stream, or wading ashore during an invasion.

Anyhow, our Company fund was used for all suitable occasions. After being exhausted, then we received condoms at no charge.

However one can honestly say, "we f---ed away the Company fund."

12-15-08

Paul Blackburn Motor Pool Operator, Thomas Farrell - son of General Farrell - KIA May 44 and Art Cook
all of Co E - circa March 1943

Art in full regalia

Art and Dot Cook