MEMORIES



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Memories of Lawrence P. Belmont, A Battery — Part II

PEARL HARBOR (11 K) It was approximately 2:30 pm (Eastern Standard Time) on a seemingly quiet Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941, when radio listeners were shocked to attention at the announcement that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet anchorage on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The attack, which began at 7:55 am Hawaiian time (1:55 pm EST), was not announced until 2:30. NBC Red network was first on the air. Sammy Kaye's Sunday Serenade had just ended when the announcement came. (Click the preceding link to download a 90 K RealAudio file to your computer for playback; if you do not have a RealPlayer configured, you may download a 301 K WAV version of the announcement here, which can be played back through helper applications such as Netscape's LiveAudio plug-in and the Windows Media Player.) Interrupting the start of the "University of Chicago Roundtable," ironically discussing Canada's involvement in the European conflict. A second announcement came at approximately 2:39 that Manila was being attacked. Finally, at 2:52 came the announcement that Burma was also under attack. Though the U.S. had already begun arming itself for possible entry into war, until that day, many Americans outwardly expressed a desire for isolation from the European war that was raging between England and the axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan. Our relationship with Japan was rapidly deteriorating, however. Many felt it was only a matter of time before we would be pulled into the war. Despite all of this, the attack on Pearl Harbor was not expected and fueled a strong national rage.

How did you first hear about the attack on Pearl Harbor?

"That day, I had driven a neighbor, Mr. Conklin, who lived across the street, to visit his brother-in-law in Hobart, NY. Mr. Conklin worked for the Walton Reporter, the local paper. He was a World War I veteran, a tall man, but sickly. I think he had been gassed during the war. Anyway, Mr. Conklin had a green 1938 Plymouth four-door sedan, and I drove him to Hobart. The car had a little radio mounted on the steering wheel, and while he was inside the house visiting, I waited in the car and was listening to the radio when the announcement came that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. I didn't even know where Pearl Harbor was at the time."

On December 29, 1942, Lawrence received his draft notice, stamped "Greetings from the President" and signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, and reported to the U.S. Army testing center at the New York National Guard Armory in Utica, NY. Following the usual rounds of testingand physicals, he received orders to report to the Induction Center at Camp Upton, Long Island, NY. He would soon leave Walton bound for wherever orders would take him. PENN STATION After taking the New York Central to Grand Central Station, Lawrence took the subway to Pennsylvania Station (at left), where he would catch a Long Island Railroad train for the 80-mile trip to Camp Upton.

What do you remember about being drafted and reporting for duty?

"I don't recall exactly when I got the so-called 'greeting' from President Roosvelt that said I was being drafted, but I took the physical and was inducted on December 29, 1942 in Utica, NY. I remember that they did every thing in a big armory in Utica, and that's where I raised my right hand and was sworn in. There were six or seven other guys from Cadosia and Hancock that got inducted the same day; I don't remember any one being from Walton, but I later learned through the local paper, The Walton Reporter, that some did — all of them have since passed away. I reported for active duty at Camp Upton, Long Island, NY, on January 5, 1943. I left Walton that day at five o'clock in the morning from in front of either the Smalley Theatre or the Townsend School — I can't remember which. There were about 50 people there and it was very cold, with snow on the ground. Walton was a headquarters for the Draft Board and every one from Sidney, Hancock, and other nearby towns had to report there. Delhi was the other headquarters for Delaware County (responsible for inductees from the northern part of the county, Walton being in the south). I remember my Godmother, Mrs. Cosentino, was there too, along with a lot of other people. We took a bus to Oneonta and got on the D&H (Delaware and Hudson) Railroad and went to Albany. At Albany, we picked up more draftees, and then took the NYC (New York Central) Railroad all the way to Grand Central Station as the NYC ran on the east bank of the Hudson River. I remember stopping in Poughkeespie, Beacon, Peekskill, and other places along the way. I recall that drafees from Newburgh got on in Beacon. From Grand Central we went to Penn Station and got on the Long Island Railroad. We arrived at Camp Upton around four in the afternoon. I can picture the train going into the siding."

What was the big city like then?

"When I got to Penn Station, I saw the biggest damn American flag I'd ever seen hanging in the lobby. I mean this flag must have been as big as a house."

What do you recall about life at Upton?

"The biggest thing I remember about Upton was that it was just sand and pine trees. And it was cold that winter. The trip on the Long Island Railroad from New York City took about two hours. I was assigned to the 5th Receiving Company, and was living in a pyramid tent in what was called "Tent City." It was cold and all we had in the tent was a little coal stove. There were barracks, but because there so many men coming through, they had to put up tents. I was at Upton for about three weeks because they couldn't find a blouse to fit me. I was a size 42 and they'd run out of stock. I remember being marched around with other guys all the time and standing around in what they called "the bullpen." They woke us up at three in the morning to pull KP duty until eight o'clock at night. I pulled KP twice while I was there. I took the tests to see where I was going to be placed — the Army gave you all kind of tests and sent guys wherever they needed men. They sent dumb guys to certain outfits and smart ones to other outfits. Because of the delay in getting my uniform, I was there until about January 20. Maybe it was a good thing, since most of the guys that I'd arrived with went into the infantry. It just so happened that they were starting a new outfit (the 225th!) at Fort Sheridan and three-quarters of the guys came from Camp Upton. I finally got my shirts and was told I was leaving, but I didn't know where I was going. I remember that we left at night. I looked out the window during the trip and seeing the station at Altoona, Pennsylvania. During the day I remember going through Lima, Ohio. We didn't know where we we going until we got there. Looking back, we were very lucky to go to the 225th and not the infantry."


CAMP UPTON

Camp Upton had been an army camp since World War I and was located near Yaphank, NY, in the heart of Long Island's Pine Barrens. Although much of the camp had been torn down in the early 1920s, new barracks were constructed to accommodate the almost 16,000 inductees that were processing at any one time.


Where was basic training?

"Fort Sheridan, Illinois. North of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan, not too far from the Navy's Great Lakes Training Center. Maybe about five miles from there. A few days after we arrived – there were about 400 of us – we were quarantined because a couple of guys came down with meningitis."

FORT SHERIDAN TRAIN STATION Fort Sheridan was actually located in Highwood, Illinois, and the Chicago & North Western Railway train station (left) that served both the Army post and the town was rather small considering the number of people coming and going in those days. Compared with the hustle and bustle of downtown Chicago in 1943 (below), Fort Sheridan was, relatively speaking, "in the middle of nowhere," and, although things were changing quickly as the U. S. geared up for the buildup to the invasion of Europe, the post still had not changed much since the days when it was occupied by horse soldiers.

DOWNTOWN CHICAGO


Depicted in these three photographs are the so-called general quarters, or barracks buildings. In the aerial oblique (bottom image), the general quarters and water tower dominate the center of the photo. In the background is the western shore of Lake Michigan.

FORT SHERIDAN FORT SHERIDAN
FORT SHERIDAN


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