United States, England, Holland
327th Glider Infantry, 101st Airborne Division
PRE-WAR YEARS 1935, 1936,
My first recollections of war were as an eighth grader in
a small Illinois town 100 miles west of Chicago. By this time -
about the year 1936 – I could count on a dime each week to
go to the local movie house. Before the main feature, the newsreels
were full of a Civil War in Spain, Japan invading China and, in
Central Europe, a ridiculous little man with a Charlie Chaplin mustache
ranting in German and endlessly reviewing his goose-steeping troops.
After Adolf, the good stuff. There was usually
a movie serial followed by the main attraction – perhaps Jimmy
Cagney in a gangster flick or a musical with Rogers and Astaire
or Dick Powell or Alice Faye. Lots more fun than Hitler. And I recall
Armistice Day (later Veterans’ Day) when I was in 6th, 7th
and 8th grades at in my little grade school. That was a special
time to which to look forward. A patriotic program at school was
a usual feature – it was then not a school holiday. The speaker
who appeared was always Mr. L.W. Miller, Lee County Superintendent
of Schools. Mr. Miller, a dignified old gentleman with a white mustache
and white hair, could have been a stand-in for Frank Morgan playing
the Wizard of Oz.
He would give a speech of remembrance on the sacrifices
of the soldiers who served in the trenches in France in World War
I just 16 or 17 years before. The address, all about the war to
end wars, elegantly delivered, made us glad our country would never
again face such an ordeal.
I was asleep on the daybed on the front porch when my dad woke me
this Sunday morning to tell me France and England had declared war
on Germany. In my 15 year old wisdom, I knew this wold soon take
care of the Nazis and that funny looking little man we had to watch
at the moves in every newsreel before the main feature came on.
By this time, I had graduated from high school and was barely into
my first year as a college freshman at Illinois Wesleyan University.
On the afternoon of December 7th, I was performing in a fraternity
chorus at Wesleyan’s Presser Hall. When the concert was over,
we learned that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, a place none
of us had heard of. It was an unforgettable night of unease at the
fraternity house where I was a pledge.
Boy Meets World: I left college before completion of my sophomore
year for Scott Field, Illinois, for induction into the US Army.
Dick Hewitt, the name by which I had always gone, was left behind.
I became Private George R. Hewitt with a serial number I remember
to this day. Not only did I have to get used to the US Army, I also
had to adjust to the fact that I was now George!
Stationed at Camp Roberts, California, for basic training.
Assigned to the 327th Glider Infantry, 101st Airborne Division,
Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Division had been formed just a
year earlier in 1942 at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana.
Sailed from New York City aboard a British ship for an unknown
destination. As we hauled our barracks bags on our backs up the
gangplank, we could see the burned out and capsized former French
liner Normandy ling on its side nest to us a Pier 88.
One day after my twentieth birthday, I landed in Liverpool,
England, for overseas duty with the 101st. Shipped to Camp Rhaniket,
Tilehurst-Reading, for invasion training. Remained in England
September 1943-June 1944.
Thus began the big adventure of my life – first time
to set foot in another land an this one the one from which my Hewitt
grandparents had come, the first time to develop a camaraderie with
a truly divers group of guys my own age, the first time to march
down an English lane and see hedgerows and flint walls and tiny
churches and English pubs, the first time to be inside an English
home and know English people. Great experience and I was just wise
enough to know it.
It was in one of those English homes not long
after our arrival that a particular encounter occurred which still
rattles my memory with amusement. Any American soldier interested
was invited through the Army chaplains and the local clergy to a
get-acquainted meal in the homes of any of their English parishioners
will to risk such a venture for the war effort. I went with several
other Yanks (as the English called us) to one such home. One of
my buddies was Nick, a soldier I now remember only because of that
one Sunday afternoon episode. The hostess served us, among other
things, leeks. None of us were familiar with this vegetable but
Nick soon mastered the situation. He made sure this delicacy was
passed around 2 or 3 times and each time he would encourage his
countrymen to have more.
“Take another leek, Hewitt,” or “Ingils,
you look like you need to take a leek.” Before a decent interval
had passed, Nick was at it again. All the Americans were churning
inside but managed to keep a proper face. No Yank dared look at
a fellow soldier. Obviously this expression – fortunately
– was unfamiliar to the English so their decorum was not ruffled.
Nick’s nonsense meant nothing to them. However, it is a sure
bet that any of the four Americans there that afternoon still remembers
the episode – and the panache with which Nick carried it off.
The 101st Airborne shoulder patch
This picture was taken August 20, 1944 in Tilehurst-Reading,
England, just a few weeks before the 101st participated in the Holland
campaign in mid-September. I well recall the day this was taken
for just seconds before, a German buzz bomb could be heard exploding
over England not too far from where we had gathered.
All four of the young men, then
in our early twenties, were lucky to survive the war without major
physical damage and were able to return to America in late 1945.