Chapter 00: Background
Coming soon, a full book by George Weir, a WW2 veteran.
They say, "You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink!" - the army will make you drink!
From day one, Army training has but one goal: To teach you to obey orders from superiors without asking, "Why?". From your first day in service, the army requires complete control of your mind. Every day on post, when the 5:00 p.m. bugle sounded, we had to stop, stand at attention, and salute until the bugle stopped. We had to learn to accept all orders, automatically, a basic requirement in combat. Don't think, just
SALUTE and EXECUTE!
This, the story of my time as a GI, serial number 1105 2315, tells a little of my experiences in World War II.
My name is George Weir. 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, as did many other families, lost their Cambridge home during the Great Depression. We moved to North Weymouth, Mass when I was 12 years old. I consider Weymouth my home town.
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.
In 1622, 100 hardy souls left England and sailed across the Atlantic. They settled Weymouth, Massachusetts 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.
Weymouth And The Community
Shipbuilding was major part of Weymouth, Massachusetts 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 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 traveled 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. I have many stories to tell.
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, Congress enacted a draft in 1941 to increase the size of its Armed Forces. The law was signed by President Roosevelt many months prior to Pearl Harbor Day. Draftees were selected by lottery. Men 21 years of age and older were assigned a draft number. When a man's number was drawn from a big tumbler, he was required to report to his local draft board. If he passed a physical, he was given a date to report for duty. There were exemptions, but not many.
Those inducted before Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), were required to serve for one year. After Pearl Harbor, their status was changed and 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 now called 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 and 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.