Infantry OCS 1943

Infantry OCS - Ft. Benning Georgia, 1943


On June 15, 1943, I reported for active duty at Infantry OCS (Officer Candidate School) at Fort Benning, Georgia. After four years of Infantry ROTC at Rutgers University, the Army reneged on its agreement to commission us 2nd Lieutenants upon graduation. As one of several alternatives, we were offered the “opportunity†to volunteer for induction in the ERC and attend OCS with the rank of corporal. If we successfully completed the course, we would be commissioned 2nd Lieutenants at that time. If not, we would be sent to an IRTC, (Infantry Replacement Training Center) as a corporal.


When we arrived at the Columbus station, there was a sergeant waiting for us with a 2 ½ ton truck and we were taken to Fort Benning where we were assigned to the 15th Company, 3rd Student Training Regiment of the Infantry School, OCS Class 298. There were two hundred Officer Candidates (our official rank and title) in the class, all but a few already in enlisted uniform through the ERC option. With very few exceptions, they were ROTC graduates from the University of Oklahoma, University of Washington, Rutgers University and Syracuse University. The remaining few had been selected for OCS from the Army’s enlisted ranks.


We were formed into four platoons of fifty men each, one platoon to each of four two-story barracks. Everything was done alphabetically. I was the twenty-fifth man on the first floor of the first barracks, with “Knobby†Chandler, a Rutgers classmate, in the bunk on my left and the front wall of the barracks on my right. We were each assigned a steel cot and mattress and a plywood foot locker at the foot of the cot. There were rifle racks running down the center aisle and there was a latrine with a substantial number of toilets, sinks and showers at the other end. The orderly room was in a separate building on one end of the row of barracks and the mess hall and supply room at the other.


At our first formation, we were told that half of us could expect to graduate at the end of the thirteen-week program. The rest would “wash out†and be sent to Infantry Replacement Training Centers with the rank of corporals. If we needed any motivation to do well in OCS, that was more than sufficient incentive to keep us alert and on the ball. Each platoon had a T.O. (Tactical Officer), an active duty 1st or 2nd Lieutenant who was responsible for the training of his platoon and the selection of those who would be commissioned. In other words, he was God for the duration of our stay! My T.O. was 1st Lieutenant Talbot. He wore sun tans and a pith style helmet with an Infantry School Insignia front and center which read “Follow Me,†the motto of the Infantry School.


All of our training was conducted by a cadre of Army personnel assigned to the Infantry School for that purpose. At that time, there was a two hundred man OCS class starting and finishing every day, so the cadre that was conducting each training drill just repeated it each day for the next class. On our second day, we were given a series of written tests, one of which was an I.Q. test. A score of at least 110 (100 is the population average) was required to remain in OCS. They didn’t tell us our scores, but I found out many years later that I had scored 142.


We were issued three sets of sun tans (shirt, trousers, belt, and cap - summer uniform), two pairs of ankle high Army boots, several pair of socks and sets of underwear, a pair of canvas leggings, a fiberglass helmet liner, a web belt, a canteen, a mess kit, a compass, a rifle and two army blankets. We rarely wore the sun tans because our normal duty uniform was a pair of dark green twill coveralls, worn over our underwear with the boots, leggings, web belt and helmet liner. We each had three sets of sun tans which we had to order and pay for. When we came in from the field, we were sweat soaked and jour coveralls went right into the laundry which the Army provided free of charge. For the first three days I had to wear my civilian clothes while I waited for the coveralls to arrive. We ate three meals a day, usually in the mess hall on steel trays, but sometimes in the field, especially at lunch time. The Army didn’t use the word lunch. The three meals were called breakfast, dinner and supper and the field rations were labeled accordingly. The meals were OK, nothing fancy, but better than that to which I was accustomed on my $5.50 cafeteria weekly meal ticket at college. I was introduced to grits, black eyed peas and bug juice, southern delicacies which I avoid to this day.


I don’t remember our hours, but our first formation was early in the morning and we went to bed early at night, usually in a state of exhaustion. We had no duties other than those related to our training. There was no KP, no latrine duty, no guard duty. These functions were performed by enlisted personnel assigned to the Infantry School for that purpose. Every available minute was utilized for training. We did have to keep the area around our bunk clean and orderly, mopping it every morning.


On a typical day, we would arise, visit the latrine to wash up, then don our coveralls and fall in at our first formation. When dismissed, we would head for the mess hall for breakfast. We would then fall in again and either march or be trucked to the day’s training area, depending on its distance from our company area. No time was wasted on long marches. When we were trucked, two hundred men were loaded into the back of a large moving van which had four equally spaced narrow benches running the length of the truck bed. We straddled the benches facing to the rear and we invariably sang marching songs en route. ( “Working on the Railroad,†“Yellow Ribbon,†“I’ve Got Sixpence,†and others).


We did get plenty of exercise. We had frequent sessions of calisthenics followed by running a tough obstacle course against theclock. We fired all Infantry weapons on their respective ranges, the rifle, carbine, BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), light machine gun, heavy machine gun, 45 caliber pistol, mortar and 37mm antitank gun. We sat in bleachers in the broiling Georgia July sun to watch demonstrations of tank tactics, antiaircraft fire, and the use of artillery, barbed wire, and flame throwers. We had classroom work on map reading, military courtesy, mines, leadership, aircraft recognition and small unit tactics. We learned to assemble and disassemble our weapons rapidly. We ran the uphill bayonet course against straw dummies and the blazing Georgia sun. And we ran small unit tactical problems with each of us being given command and being judged on our actions by our T.O.


We had night problems finding our way through a wooded area in total darkness using only the compass. Other problems including assaulting an enemy position, crawling under barbed wire with live machine gun fire over our heads crossing a river under simulated enemy fire and others too numerous to remember. When we returned to the company area at the end of the day, our coveralls were soaked with sweat and we were exhausted. But our pride required that we march in in good order usually singing “I’ve Got Sixpence†or something similar in time with the march cadence. After dismissal, we would head for the showers. But I would try to squeeze in a quick trip to the nearby PX (Post Exchange) to grab a nickel bottle of ice cold Mission orange soda. Nothing ever tasted so good! After supper, we would usually have more classroom work or a study hall. In the brief intervals in between, we shined our boots, cleaned our rifles, sent out our laundry or wrote a letter.


Our performance was never graded and we never knew where we stood. Our T.O. took notes but never told us what they were. The motivation to succeed was unimaginable as was the shame of failure. To graduate, to be commissioned and to wear those gold bars were objectives which assumed great importance. There was no such thing as a reprimand or a punishment tour. If you screwed up, you were out! And the way in which the culling took place kept the pressure on at an inconceivable level. At each morning formation on the company street, the last announcement before leaving for the training area would be, “Candidates Brown and Smith report to the orderly room. Platoon dismissed.†When we returned to the company area at the end of the day, there was nothing but a bare space on the barracks floor where Brown’s and Smith’s cots and foot lockers had been that morning.


I remember several of the field problems which illustrate how such determinations were made. We were on a simulated patrol to attack a Japanese supply dump. The candidate selected as platoon leader for the exercise led us down a ravine about twenty feet deep so as to remain unobserved. Suddenly, two machine guns in dugouts in the side of the ravine began firing live ammunition just over our heads. The sound was terrifying as the tracer bullets cris-crossed above us and tore up the opposite banks. We all hit the dirt, but there was no place to go. The T.O. said to the designated platoon leader, “Your men are being slaughtered! What are you going to do!†There was nothing he could do and it was so real that the platoon leader sat and began to cry! I know that sounds incredible, but you had to be there and feel the constant pressure and extreme motivation in order to understand it. Needless to say, the designated platoon leader was called to the orderly room next morning and we never saw him again.


On another occasion, I was the platoon leader. As we advanced in a skirmish line across a grassy field, a machine gun began to fire over our heads from a copse of woods about 150 yards ahead. We all hit the ground in grass and weeds about three feet deep. I called out, “Squad leaders, assemble on me!†And then, “I will lead 1st squad into those woods on our left. Squads 2, 3 and 4 will maintain a base of fire on the machine gun. I will lead 1st squad to a point opposite the copse and we will flank the machine gun. Cease fire when you see us cross the open ground between the woods and the copse. Move out!†With the first squad, I crawled through the grass and weeds so as to remain unobserved until we had entered the woods on our left. When under cover, we stood up and moved rapidly forward through the woods. When opposite the copse, we formed a skirmish line and dashed across the open ground and into the copse. We then closed on the machine gun and killed it with simulated fire. The T.O.’s only comment to me was, “The machine gun is knocked out. You lost three men crossing the open ground.†I assumed I had done OK.


Another time, we were firing the 60mm mortar on the range. The target was a four foot by eight foot wooden 2x4 frame covered with orange canvas on a ridge line between a quarter and half mile away. The mortar is not a very accurate weapon. Its value comes in its large bursting radius and the ability to adjust the range and direction after each round based on where the last one landed. I estimated the range at 450 yards and the first round was on its way. We sweated out the fifteen-second wait while the round was in flight watching intently for the location of the impact burst. There was none! I thought the round might have been a dud and waited a little longer. From the valley beyond the target, a thin trail of smoke finally arose at an angle, because of the breeze. A terrible estimate of the range! But without missing a beat, I ordered, “Down 150, left 50, fire when ready.†With a loud thump, the second round was on its way. At precisely fifteen seconds, the target disappeared in smoke, fire and debris. When the smoke cleared, there was no trace of the target. Direct hit! A very lucky one in a hundred shot!


We were divided up into groups of four men for a night problem. We were dropped off at the edge of some woods, given a compass bearing and told to find our way to a parallel road some three miles away. We were told there were enemy patrols in the woods and to proceed accordingly. There were numbered stakes along the parallel road and our performance was judged on how close we came to the proper stake and how long it took us to get there. It was pitch black in the woods and we kept falling into ravines which threaded their way through the pitch black woods, but we finally reached the parallel road and reported the number of the stake nearest the point from which we exited.. Was it the right stake? We were never told!


One of the Candidates in our barracks was Sergeant Adams. He was one of the very few non-college men in the class. He was a farmer who had worked his way up to sergeant in the Regular Army and then applied for Officer Candidate School. He was a first class soldier and would probably make a good Infantry Officer, but a scholar he was not! We liked him and were determined to help him get his commission. Every night we would tutor him on the homework assignments to be sure he passed the classroom tests. He needed no help on field problems. I am happy to say that he got his commission. I wonder whether he survived the War.


Our only free time was Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday. Some of the guys would put on their sun tans and go into the town of Columbus. We were required to wear an OCS patch sewed to the pocket of our shirt. I reasoned that that would be sufficient provocation for a drunken soldier to pick a fight and I might be tossed out of OCS. I never went into Columbus. There was no time to get lonesome during the week, but weekends were very lonely. I did a lot of letter writing on weekends. There was a Post Theater where we could see a movie on Saturday or Sunday night. The best show I ever saw was put on by Bob Waterfield, the professional football quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, and actress Jane Russell. They weren’t on the screen. They were seated directly in front of me! They had just been married and Waterfield was in Infantry OCS. When I left for overseas, I heard that Waterfield had been discharged because of an old football injury and was back playing football for the Rams.


There was never any hazing or what the GIS called “chickenshit.†We were much too busy for that and what we were doing was a very serious business. The one thing we hated though, was what we called the “Fxxx Your Buddy Sheet.†Twice during the thirteen-week program, we were required to rank in order of officer suitability, the twenty-five or so men in our section, (floor of the barracks) with a sentence after each of the first five and the last five explaining our rationale. There could be no hedging, because someone had to be first and someone had to be last. And showing favoritism didn’t pay because we were each rated by the T.O. on our ability to effectively evaluate the others.


As we came down to the last week or two, our morale soared. We were going to make it! Finally the big day came, September 20, 1943, and 140 of the original 200 men swore the oath and pinned on their gold bars. Twenty-one of the thirty-one starters from Rutgers were commissioned 2nd Lieutenants, Infantry. Eleven of the twenty-one would soon be killed in action. Although I have no statistics on the others, it is reasonable to assume that more than seventy of the 140 graduates of OCS class 298 gave their lives for their country. A 50% KIA rate seemed to be the norm for Infantry OCS. And with an overall average of 3 ½ wounded for every one killed, very, very few escaped unscathed. Had we known these statistics, our youthful enthusiasm would have been under considerable pressure.


One hundred and forty fine, intelligent, educated young men with dreams of glory were about to learn the cruel reality of War. And another OCS class would be graduating tomorrow and another the day after tomorrow and another the day after that.


Russ Cloer - 3_7_I_Recon


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