Here, in his own words, are the remembrances of that time as given by Forrest J. Mitchell, III, of Richmond, Virginia.
I graduated in June '42 and was classified 1-A, was called in December and was inducted on January 12, 1943. We were sent to Fort Lee, Virginia, classified and I was assigned to the Army Air Corps and sent to Atlantic City, New Jersey for basic training. They found out I have a color perception problem and couldn't be a Radio Operator/Gunner on aircraft. After the basic training I was sent to the Signal Corps School at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. We copied Morse code from A.M. to Noon and then did drill and exercise the other half day. When the training was complete I was classified "Radio Operator Fixed Station" and sent to a Replacement Depot at Bear Field, Fort Wayne, Indiana.. They didn't seem to know what to do with me and I ended up with the 877th Airborne Engineers, a Glider Battalion at Grenada AAB, Grenada, Mississippi. The mission of this outfit was to land by glider and construct a "hasty" airfield to bring in supplies and carry out wounded from a battlefield. All the equipment was designed to fit into a glider. We had jeeps, Case tractors, graders, dump trailers, etc. The radio gear was mounted in a Jeep. We also had field telephone equipment.
The Batallion practiced this construction work in the back-woods and cotton fields of Mississippi. When the work was done a plane would always have to come from the base and land to prove it was usable.
In December 1943 we were alerted for overseas shipment. We went to Camp Shanks, New York, and sailed on the Mauritania on February 28,1944 and landed in Liverpool March 5th. Our tent camps in England were at Cokethorpe Park near Witney and at Bruern Abbey near Chipping Norton.
Next let me try to describe the enormousness of the Aviation Engineering tasks that had to be completed. Some Battalions had been in England since 1942 building runways and bases for the 8th Air Force to bomb Germany. They had to build heavy concrete runways to handle the weight of loaded B 17's.
They had to build complete installations. The British had their own work to do. We did a few small jobs but didn't contribute much to this.
We knew the invasion of Europe was coming soon and we expected to take part. For the invasion of Europe a new Air Force was formed, the IX Tactical Air Force. This was made up of fighter groups, fighter bombers, troop carriers, transport groups etc. The people who would support the ground forces, fly air cover, bring in supplies and fly out wounded.
To build runways or bases the IX Engineering command was formed. It consisted of 5 Regiments made up of 25 Heavy Equipment Battalions, 3 Airborne Battalions, plus Headquarters, Medical, Supply, Ordnance, Military Police etc.
The 834th Engineers landed in Normandy on D-Day, June 6,1944 and built E-1, the first emergency air strip. By July 16 nearly 151,000 wounded had been evacuated from this strip saving many lives.
We went over by ship and built a runway at Maupertus near Cherbourg France. This runway was over 5,000 feet of "pierced steel plank" and was laid in 48 hours.
From the invasion until the end of the War 250 airfields were constructed, re-conditioned or repaired. These were built right behind the front lines and as the front moved forward new ones were built and old ones abandoned. It was the American Fighter/bombers (P47's, P51's) that gave the German armor and transport such hell day after day flying from these close fields. Often re- arming and re-fueling and flying several sorties from these close fields and returning to home field at night.
After Normandy they salvaged all the usable glider parts, made whole ones, added some new ones and we did quite a bit of flying. We got 50% extra base pay for this which helped.
My Battalion, the 877th Airborne, was never used in an Airborne mission. We came close once. In September we were air-lifted back to England to go on "Narket Garden" the airborne invasion of Holland. We didn't go. The American part in this came out ok but the British had a fiasco at Arnhem. This all was covered in the book or movie, "A Bridge Too Far." We returned to France by air and at the end of the War the Battalion had done some work on 66 airfields across Europe. We ended up at Lippstadt in northern Germany.
The battalion was disbanded and a point system decided each man's fate. With 85 points you got immediate return home. With 50 or less you got sent to an outfit going against Japan. I had 61 points which got me in the Occupation Army of Germany. I went to the 850th Engineers and was the S/Sgt. [Staff Sergeant] in charge of the communications section. We were stationed at Furth near Nuremburg.
After about 6 months my turn came to come home and I was transferred to the 825th Engineers and we left from Munich by railroad box cars for Marseille in southern France. (this trip is a story in itself).
We landed in New York after a 13 day rough voyage on Christmas Day 1945. On December 30th I was discharged at Fort George Meade, Maryland.
Published and Copyrighted, March 1, 2000 © Betty Naff Mitchell.