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A soldier’s account of the call to duty

POSTED: May 22, 2014 6:33 p.m.
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An early photo of the late Maj. (ret.) G. Horace Berry.

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The following is a first-hand account written by the late Maj. (ret.) Horace Berry in 2000, 50 years after he was called up with the National Guard in Springfield.

The National Guard and Reserve units are made up of what is termed citizen soldiers, which is the same as 50 years ago. Fifty years ago, we had some prior knowledge that we would be called to active duty. Our monthly drills were increased to twice a month.

We had a mid-winter field exercise in Macon in December 1939.  This was shortly after the German Army invaded Poland and later the Low Countries. In August 1940 we went on a 30-day maneuver in Mississippi and Louisiana. A normal encampment was two weeks. You can see here the steady move toward a call of the National Guard into federal service. The U.S. Regular Army was very small, therefore the National Guard would be called in an emergency or before, which was the situation.

I recall when the maneuvers in Louisiana were over; our bivouac area was near the Red River. We were preparing to return home.  The assistant provost marshal of the 30th Division came by to say goodbye to Captain Ben Eleazer, our company commander. He stated, “Ben, I’ll see you at Fort Jackson in a few weeks.” That was a real giveaway of the things to come, which did happen in 16 days.

Upon returning home in late August 1940, President Roosevelt ordered about 18 divisions into federal service, one of which was the 30th Division.

We were ordered to report to our National Guard Armory in Springfield on Monday morning, Sept. 16, 1940.  What was it like at that Armory on that Monday morning 50 years ago? There was no real confusion, rather a lot of anxiety. A muster was held to account for every member of the 30th MP (Military Police) Company. Our strength was 50 men in a peacetime situation.

Dr. Collum, a local physician, was there to examine each one of us. A kitchen was set up where Babe Elkins and Sol Ginn, along with those on KP duty, prepared our meals. Don Beckwith was our mess steward at that time. Clothing was issued to those who passed the physicals. We pitched pup tents to sleep in because we were in the army now.

We lived at the Armory for the next four days. Before departing to Fort Jackson, S.C., personnel were given the opportunity to get out of the unit. Volunteers were accepted for a one-year hitch, which turned out to be the duration of the war. Those who failed the physicals were discharged.  Those accepted were sworn into federal service. We ate very well and the local merchants contributed the best steaks I have ever eaten for us to enjoy before we departed for Fort Jackson.

We did not get many volunteers. If I recall correctly, we departed for Fort Jackson on a Friday morning with some 30 men. Everyone in Springfield and many from other areas lined the main street to see us off on that 20th of September 1940.

What was Fort Jackson like in 1940? First, there was a building boom in progress. We were moved into wooden barracks vacated by members of the 6th Infantry Division, which had left for Missouri. We had outside latrines and all adjusted well because we knew there was a long haul in front of us.

Early in 1941, we were moved into our new area known as tent city. Our tents were over a wooden frame and flooring. Our heater was a potbellied stove which burned coal. Tent fires were frequent from sparks. Six men lived in a tent.

Our bathing facilities were separate from our tents. Our food was very good and I am sure everyone gained weight. Draftees were trained at what was a mass operation in the desert bowl.

I was transferred to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind., in February 1942. I had never been in snow until that time and it was cold out there. My most difficult thing was being away from home for the first time, but I overcame that real soon as we were busy all the time.

War was declared in December 1941; however, we received a full complement of men due to the draft.  We had to participate in two very large maneuvers in Tennessee and South Carolina. I will share a funny little story. We were to receive men from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and other northern states. Company Capt. Eleazer counseled us and told us he did not want us to start the Civil War again. There was peace and harmony in all we did.

*  *   *

Maj. Berry’s comments in 2000 stated that any present-day call-up of the National Guard and Reserves units include fully-trained, equipped and physically-able soldiers. Fifty years ago, we were poorly equipped and half-trained. If given a date to report to a fort within the U.S.,  there will not be any process like we went through. No weeding out or letting out. So far usually special units are called to duty now like water purification, special intelligence, communications, medical, engineers, etc. Our regular army is made up totally of volunteers. Our army and other branches of the service are the best in the world and are the most-equipped. We do not at present have a draft and we did not need one to fill the ranks.

Highlights of Maj. Berry’s military career included attending Provost Marshal General School, Officer Candidate School at Fort Custer, Mich., graduating in March 1943, where he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Corps of Military Police.

His assignments during World War II were many, including Philadelphia, England and France, where he was with the Army Prison System. He returned to the U.S. after the war and entered civilian life, then returned to active duty in 1946 and served in the Army Penal Systems. He served two tours in Korea and about a half tour in Japan. After returning to the States, he was assigned to Fort Knox, Ky., as the post confinement officer.

He attended the associate advanced course, the University of Maryland, the Military Police School of Fort Gordon, and was assigned as provost marshal in Hanover, Germany. Later he served as plans, operation and executive officer of the 709th M.P. Battalion in Frankfort, Germany. He returned to the U.S. in 1957 and was assigned as provost marshal in Schenectady Army Depot, N.Y.

Maj. Berry retired from military service in April 1961. He also worked as a Civil Service employee with the Defense Investigative Service for 24 years, retiring in 1984.  He relocated back to Effingham County in 1988 and lived in a home he built on family land, enjoying life until his death in June 2012.

Note: Last week the captions for the soldiers’ photographs were reversed. I apologize for the error.

This was compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact her at 754-6681 or hesheraldexley@aol.com.

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