My father, Eual D. Hendon, was a member of the 381st during
the war and like many others, I am interested in learning more about my
relative's military service. Being a student of history and an amateur genealogist, I've always been interested in
America's wars and my family's roles in them. Dad didn't share much
about his WW II days and he died in 1971. Only his discharge papers and
a few old photos reveal his time in the army.
Dad was From Knox County, Texas. He was inducted into
the Army on 25 April 1944 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Being a mechanic, he
was assigned to the Engineers Corps. and, along with other
inductees, boarded a troop train in early May 1944 for basic and advanced
Army Engineer training at Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi. The camp, located
in Amite county on the Gulf coast, was named for Confederate General
Earl Van Dorn. For information about Camp Van Dorn, Please see:
Several years ago,
I sent for information about the 381st from the national archives
and received about 150 pages. It was mostly routine reports (mainly early
1945), but a few photos were included. According to NARA, 80% of all US
army service records from 1912-1960 were lost in a 1973 fire.
So, we must piece together what information is available. Though complete
rosters of the 381st were not included in the national archives
papers, about 500 officers and enlisted men were named.
"cadre" - a key group of officers and enlisted personnel necessary to
establish and train a new military unit - from the 252nd Combat
Engineers Battalion had been sent to Camp Van Dorn and the 381st Combat
Engineers Battalion was activated on 22 Mar 1944 and attached to the
Fourth Army. Major Albert H. Trumbull was the commanding officer. The
381st consisted of four companies: HQ, A, B, and C (my dad's company).
Total strength of the battalion was about 675 officers and enlisted men.
381st departed Camp Van Dorn via troop train on 14 Oct 1944 and arrived
at Camp Shanks, New York three days later. On 29 Oct 1944, the
381st boarded the USAT (United States Army Transport) Excelsior for
her voyage to England. The Excelsior was a C3 type freighter
built in 1942 by the Bethlehem Steel Company. She was 492 feet long,
69.5 feet wide, with a 28.5 foot draft and weighed 7800 gross tons. A
total of 465 of these type of ships were
built between 1940 and 1947. The Excelsior was powered by an
8500 hp turbine engine and could do 16.5 knots (about 20 mph). The
crossing took eleven days, arriving at Southampton, England on 10 Nov
1944. Note: The following photo is not the Excelsior; it is the
Sea Sturgeon, another C3 type troop carrier almost identical to
The battalion immediately boarded a train for Camp Nettlebed
South in Oxfordshire, a county south of London. The village of
Henley-on-Thamas was located near the camp and a POW camp was also
nearby. During Nov and Dec 1944, three of the companies (A, B, C)
traveled to Camp Pangburne in Berkshire to attend bridge building
schools. Between Christmas and 30 Dec 1944, the battalion also traveled
by convoy to Camp Howley Park for advanced training.
The 381st apparently remained at Camp Howley Park until 27
Jan 1945, when it returned to Camp Nettlebed South. On 23 Feb, the
battalion departed Camp Nettlebed South for Southampton where it
boarded the USS George Dewey for transport to France on 24 Feb 1945.
In spring/summer 1945, the 381st took "R & R" (Rest & Recreation) at "Camp Twenty Grand" near Le Havre, France. Camp Twenty Grand was one of the nine "cigarette camps" in the Le Havre
area. Each was named for an American cigarette brand. For more info on these camps, please see THE