Secrets and my Recollections of World War II - Goodbye Skiing and Family

Secrets and my Recollections of World War II

Gardner L. Friedlander 1990, 2000


France fell to the Nazi blitzkrieg in June 1940, the same week I graduated from Dartmouth. For two college summer vacations I had worked in Chicago as a management trainee and after graduating I was working there full time. A very low draft number led to my enlisting in the army "one step ahead of the sheriff" and let me join my brother and friends in the 32nd Division (National Guard). The 32nd had been called to active service and was training at Camp Livingston, Louisiana.

GOODBYE skiing and family!

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It wasn't easy to quit the job to start an unknown life, but after all, it was to be for only one year(!). I joined about 100 other young men at the Whitefish Bay armory for a final physical (which everyone prayed he'd fail). We bussed to Camp Grant near Rockford, Illinois. This was my home for a few weeks. I was sort of on permanent KP. I never knew there were so many potatoes to peel, or so many dirty pots, pans, and garbage pails to clean. Eventually, a contingent of enlistees and draftees was sent to join the 32nd Division, and I was on my way to "tent city in the Louisiana swamp" as it was not too affectionately known.

Final Physical.
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I took basic training with the 127th Infantry. I was then transferred to the 121st Field Artillery, where I served as a radio operator in an antitank company, and was with brother Ted during the summer maneuvers in Louisiana and Texas.

My part of the war games ended when I was taken to the Camp Livingston hospital with a severe case of poison ivy caught by sleeping in a poison ivy patch. This was complicated by my being placed in the measles ward where I caught that disease as well as getting an infection in my left leg, which the ward doctor said was to be amputated. Exciting! Brother Ted got in touch with Dad, who pulled enough strings to have the major medical powers at Camp Livingston visit me at bedside. That ended talk of amputation, and it wasn't long before I was 100% and back on duty.

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Maneuvers were over, and after a month or so I got two weeks of leave: Milwaukee!. On my return to camp in late October 1941 I found that I had been "battle field" promoted to 2nd lieutenant, Signal Corps, 0-430118. I was posted to Fort Monmouth, N.J., for a quick introduction to the then new and very secret RADAR. It would be the center of my life until 1945.

32nd Div. News
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Radar and its tactical use had been developed in England by  Sir Watson Watt, and was credited with being the decisive factor in saving England during the blitzes. Its usefulness was such a secret that we were forbidden to mention it away from wherever we were using it; forbidden to keep a diary or to carry a camera; and when leaving school, were given chemistry or astronomy books to carry to cloak what we were studying.

Fifty of us with physics or electrical engineering degrees were assembled at Ft. Monmouth to be sent to England for intensive radar training. We were supposed to embark December 1st, 1941, but actually didn't sail (from Halifax, Nova Scotia) until December 10th (three days after Pearl Harbor and the United States entry into the war). We joined a British troop ship convoy with some 25,000 United Kingdom soldiers and other personnel, most of whom were RAF fliers, gunners, and mechanics who had been trained in Canada and the USA. We had tremendous naval protection. Our troop ship, perhaps one of a dozen, was HMS "Potsdam."

Headed for England
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Life on board ship was not like pleasure cruising. We were eight officers to a cabin which in peace time would have been for two passengers, with bunks four high. We were at that in much more comfort than the enlisted personnel sleeping four or six high in hammocks. Food was O.K., served to all of us the same, in mess kits. We would squat down someplace to eat...on deck in good weather.

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Saturday, 08-Sep-2018 05:44:14 MDT

Gardner L. Friedlander 1990, 2000
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