Private First Class George Weir, serial number 1105 2315 A Lucky Veteran of World War II
My story may help the reader understand what it was like to serve in the U. S. Army during World War II as a soldier with the lowest army rank.
I dropped out of high school and was working as a truck driver when the war started. I learned a lot in the army, but the lessons were much different than the ones I learned in school. In the army, I learned:
* When given an order, you don't ask why!
* If you don't like a superior, you can't just quit!
From day one, Army training had but one goal: To teach me to obey orders from superiors without asking, "Why?". From my first day in service, the army required complete control of my mind. Every day on post, when the 5:00 p.m. bugle sounded, I had to stop, stand at attention, and salute until the bugle stopped. I learned to accept all orders, automatically, a basic requirement in combat. Don't think, just
SALUTE and EXECUTE!
I was in the Army for three years and eight months. Of those, twenty-seven months were spent overseas in the ETO (European Theater of Operations). I was in combat for six months.
I am one of the lucky ones - I returned - in decent health with an English wife who graced us with a wonderful family. Yeah, sometimes I wake up after reliving the horrors of combat in a dream. It keeps me awake for a while. Fortunately, that doesn't happen as often now as it used to, but I can never really forget!
Knighted By The French
On June 6, 2014, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the French Consulate in Boston, Massachusetts, knighted ten veterans of the Normandy invasion. I was one of the ten. I am now a Chevalier in the French Legion of Honor, the highest military award in France!
Lest We Forget
World War II was a deadly war. Over 60 million people, about 3% of the 1940 world population, were killed. More than 400,000 U.S. military personnel died in the conflict. Some lie buried in foreign cemeteries, some died at sea, and some were never found. None of them returned to their families with the spark of life and love.
And, let's not forget the many Vet's still living in Veterans Affairs hospitals. I made a vow that I would keep the memory of all who served in that brutal war as best I could. I wear my baseball cap with the 3rd Armored patch whenever I am out, as a reminder of those times.
Perhaps the story of my time as a GI will give the reader a little insight into the life of a U.S. Army Private during World War II.
I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, USA on July 26, 1923 and spent the first 12 years of my life in Cambridge, Mass. My parents lost their Cambridge home during the Great Depression, as did many other families. We moved to North Weymouth, Mass when I was 12 years old. I consider Weymouth my home town.
Many of my relatives and guys from Weymouth served in the military in all parts of the world. Among them were my cousins Art Weir, Bill Weir and George Weir, Paul Mugford, Harold Proctor, Charlie Wakefield, Bob Woodworth, Ron McLellan, Bob Panora, Harper White, Dudley Hilliard who's uncle founded Hilliard's Candy on Bridge Street, Howard Vaille, Larry "Smitty" Smith, and John Hull.
At the Weymouth town hall, where the old high school stood before it burned down some years ago, there is a large board of over 100 names of townspeople who either enlisted or were drafted during the war. My name, and the names of two of my cousins who lived in Weymouth, are on that board, as are the names of many of my close friends and high school buddies.
Weymouth And The Community
In 1622, 100 hardy souls left England and sailed across the Atlantic. They settled Weymouth as the second township of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They landed in a large cove (just down the street from my home) they called King's Cove. They named the town, Weymouth, after the town at the mouth of the Wey River, in England, Wey-mouth.
Weymouth, England, was a major port from which American troops and equipment crossed the 30-mile wide English Channel on D-DAY, June 6, 1944.
Both Weymouths were significant in my life. One was my home and the other is where I staged, waiting to load my vehicle onto an LST (Landing Ship, Tank/Truck), for my trip across the Channel to Omaha Beach and the hedgerows of Normandy.
Weymouth, Mass. is the second oldest township in the USA. It had 1,400 residents when the American Revolution began. In 2016, the population was 55,972. During World War II, Weymouth was central to the U. S. war effort. It is located about 20 miles south of Boston and is situated between two large navigable rivers, the Fore and Back Rivers. Our house was located on the Fore River and we could see Quincy, Mass. on the other side.
Shipbuilding was major part of Weymouth, Massachusetts's growth. It was surrounded by three shipyards. The first was built during the 1600s, near the mouth of Smelt Brook, at Weymouth Landing. Weymouth Iron Works was opened near Whitman's Pond on March 4, 1637 to supply tools, anchors, chains and nails for the shipyard.
The second shipyard was built by Bethlehem Steel in Quincy, across the Fore River from Weymouth. At the time, it was called "The Yard". If memory serves, there were 3,000 employees, working three shifts. That's where the battleship Massachusetts, an aircraft carrier, and many smaller war craft were built. I saw these ships many times as they sailed past my house for ocean test runs. The opening to the ocean was the "Hull Gut" at Hull, Mass. The area is now a large parking lot for the ferry service between Quincy and Boston.
The third shipyard was built during World War II, also by Bethlehem Steel, on the Back River in Hingham. Now, it's a shopping plaza and port for a ferry service to Boston.
The Fore River was very busy. There was often a mud barge sitting in the channel waiting for mud dredged to keep channel clear for ocean-going ships.
There was a shipyard in the Wessagusset section of North Weymouth, near Great Hill. There was also a rolling mill in Weymouth. It burned to the ground on June 16, 1869. All that remains today is the stone office building. At one time, The Eastern Mass. Street Railway used one of the buildings as a barn for electric trolleys, but that was before my time. I was unaware that streetcars ever traveled through East Weymouth.
A short distance up the river from my house was the Edison Power Plant. It was coal fired and supplied electricity for Weymouth and nearby towns and cities. Coal barges delivered coal to the plant. There were jawed scoop shovels that dropped into the hold on chains and grabbed the soft coal, lifted it over and dropped it on an endless belt that ran up to the top of the plant where it fell into the plant. It took hours to unload the ship and that scoop was noisy. A guy across the river in the Germantown section of Quincy put a big sign on his front lawn that counted the number of times the scoop was raised.
About 10 miles further up the river was Braintree, Mass. Braintree had fuel tanks for storing home heating oil, delivered by oil tankers. It is still operating. To reach Braintree, the ship to wait for the Fore River drawbridge to open. When I was still in Weymouth High School, one of the fuel tanks blew up. We felt the vibration in our school.
The Navy built some very large hangers in South Weymouth. The hangars covered many acres of land and housed nonrigid airships called blimps. The slow moving blimps searched for German submarines that were constantly plying up and down the East Coast. I was told if they spotted a sub, they would radio to planes located both at Weymouth and the Navy Base on Cape Cod to take care of the sub.
Before the War
Reflecting on my life during the late 1920s and 30s reminds me of the enormous differences in our lives then and now. We lived in a large apartment home owned by my parents. The apartments were one room and a kitchenette.
The apartments had no telephone. My parents had a coin phone on a wall. Local calls cost a nickel. If you wanted to make a call, you dropped a nickel into the slot and gave an operator the number you wanted. She connected you to your party.
We didn't have the machinery or tools we have today. There was no such thing as a refrigerator. Instead we had an ice box. It was similar to a refrigerator, except that it had an ice chest at the top where ice kept the food cool and a pan underneath caught the water from the melting ice.
Every day, the ice man, with his horse and wooden-wheeled wagon, came around the neighborhood loaded with ice blocks and yelling "Eye sss", "Eye sss", over and over. Some residents called to the ice man when they needed ice, others had cards in their window with the ice sizes they needed. The ice man used an ice pick to cut off the desired size block, such as a $.25 piece. He used ice tongs to lift the ice over his shoulder onto his back where he had a heavy rubber apron to protect his back and keep him dry. He carried the ice into the house, and sometimes up three flights of stairs to put it in the ice chest on top of the ice box.
Hood Milk company's wagon was the first to have pneumatic tires. The wagon had sliding doors on both sides. The delivery man stood inside the wagon, behind his horse and jumped out at each customer's house, put the bottled milk at the door, and picked up the empty bottle being returned by the customer. Sometimes, if there were special instructions, like a customer going on vacation or needing extra milk the following day, the empty bottle would have a note in the bottle's neck. The milk man and his horse travelled the same route so many times that the horse stopped at each customer's house, waited while the milk man delivered the milk and got back into the wagon, and then moved on to the next customer, without a command.
On Friday's, the fish monger came around, with a wagonload of fish laying on a bed of chopped ice. The housewives in the neighborhood gathered around the wagon, gossiping and picking out the fish for their Friday dinner.
Not as regular was the rag collector, coming around with his horse and wagon yelling "Raaaaags, Raaags", and the Hurdy Gurdy man, who cranked the handle of his one-legged gurdy, playing music. He had a little monkey that ran around as he played and collected pennies thrown by the people enjoying the music that sounded almost like the music heard on a Merry Go Round. The monkey would pick up the pennies and bring them back to the Hurdy Gurdy man. That's they way they made their living.
How It All Began
This book is an attempt to help others see World War II from the point of view of an Army Private. As I write this, I'm in my 94th year. I am a veteran of World War II, having served in the U. S. Army from May of 1942 until December 1945. I spent 6 months in combat in Europe, from shortly after D-Day in June, 1944 until November, 1944, when I was flown from the front in Germany to the 192nd General Hospital in England for a few weeks and then to a Recovery Hospital near Oxford.
For the United States, the war began on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese bombed our Navy's ships at Pearl Harbor. Most of Europe plus the British Isles (except the Irish Free State) had been at war since Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 and began bombing England soon after.
Anticipating the possibility of war, on September 16, 1940, Congress enacted the Selective Service Act to increase the size of its Armed Forces. The law required all men between the ages of 21 and 45 to register for the draft. When they registered with their local Draft Board, they were assigned a Selective Service Number. Draftees were selected by putting all the numbers in a huge barrel, spinning the barrel and having a member of the Draft Board reach in and pull out a number. Those selected were required to report to the local draft board. If they passed a physical, they were given a date to report for duty and were required to serve for a year. There were exemptions, but not many. Farm workers and those working in industries critical to the war effort were exempted.
The draft produced a huge flow of recruits to be trained, but who was to train them. It seemed to me many of the guys who drilled me in military formations were uneducated. One of the stories I heard was about a drill sergeant who was an American Indian. He was drilling a group of recruits and yelling directions for them. One command brought the troops to a building wall. Instead of calling, "To the rear ... March, 2 3 4", he yelled, "From Wall Come!"
Is it true? I don't know, but it gives you a hint of the way our training seemed to go.
After Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), inductees terms of service were extended. They were obligated to serve until war's end (which wound up being V-J Day, August 14, 1945), plus 6 months. Many left families behind and many were overseas for several years. Their only contact with their family was by mail; the kind we now call snail-mail. There was no e-mail in those days.
I think there were less than a million people in the Armed Forces when the draft was signed and more than 10 million servicemen around the world when the war ended. I am totally amazed by this incredible increase and more amazed that the government was able to enlist that many people in such a short period of time and keep track of them, regardless of where they were or the branch of service in which they served.
In addition to those drafted, there were many who enlisted. If you enlisted, you had your choice of service. I was one who did. I was 18 wanted to go in the Army, but needed my parents consent.
At the time, I was truck-driver. After returning from a trip to Chicago, I decided to ask them. I sat at the table with my mother and father, and told them I wanted to enlist. After a few minutes, my father said, "I will sign but if they find you dead in the mud don't blame me". My mother didn't say anything, perhaps thinking of the teenage brother she lost in France in the First World War. They had no way of knowing I would become "The Lucky Veteran". They gave their consent and I enlisted in May of 1942.