Genre: Biography / Military history
Author: Ronald Ooms
First of all, I want you guys to understand that this is my recollection of the story. The events which I have seen through my eyes, from my actual position and from right within my squad. Someone else can sit a hundred yards away from where I am standing and he might probably tell you a whole different story. If one of them said he'd shot down an enemy plane with his side-arm for instance... well, he probably could have. I'm not the one who is going to deny it as I actually don't know about it. I wasn't where he was and he wasn't where I was. He could have. Why not? I can only tell you what happened in my squad. There are different sides of stories and this is the one I recall.
Going to the army was a whole new experience for me. I did not know the training was going to be that brutal. But they did that for a reason and one reason only, it was to get rid of those who couldn't take it you see. Once I found out about that I would rather die than drop out! And most of the guys thought the same way as I did! It was a weeding-out process, you know. It was some very hard training. I said it before and say it again, I was a farm boy. I was built as hard as a rock. And I could run for hours and hours. So the hard training didn't bother me so much really. But what really bothered me was doing those twenty-mile hikes with a full field pack and stuff like that on our shoulders. But it was for a good cause because it all paid off in the end. We did exercises like that every day and when we went overseas and into combat we did such things with ease. So that was pretty neat. They really got us ready to go, you know.Back in July 1940 the army activated its first parachute unit at Fort Benning, Georgia. They called it the Parachute Test Platoon back then. It was formed with volunteers from the 29th Infantry Regiment. About fifty out of two hundred volunteers where finally selected for this platoon. They jumped a thousand times or whatever, doing different things, packing the chutes and fun stuff like that. I already signed for the paratroopers when I got into Indiantown Gap and there's where they told me that I had to do basic training first and if I'm qualified, they would take me to Fort Benning as well.
Of course after basic training I had to go through a whole other set of physical inspections and everything else. You had to be A1 to do it then. But after the war everyone could get into the paratroopers as long as you knew how to jump out of a plane! It was very hard to get into the thing but I got in there and the rest is history as they say.
So somewhere in November of 1942 they sent us to Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania. That was the first place we stopped. The first thing we got when we were there was all the shots, all that crap and stuff. And let me tell you, I hated needles! And that is where we also got our clothes and did all those physicals. During those first months besides getting all our gear and receiving all our physicals, they orientated us to the military and all stuff like that. That was all right by me and I enjoyed it very much. When we went off to basic training, that was a different story - they really trained us very hard until we almost dropped! But I understand why they did that, of course. You would like to complain when they wanted you to march five hours but you did it anyway, you see.
They assigned me to the infantry at that time and then they sent me down to start in Camp Blanding which was situated in Florida. There we had anti-tank-weapons training, machine-guns and all that heavy weapons stuff. As soon as I graduated out of Camp Blanding I went directly to Fort Benning, Georgia for paratrooper training at the airborne school. I got along fine in there because as a farm boy I was built as hard as a rock. And I could run for miles and miles. I could do anything, you know. It didn't bother me too much. Except when I looked down from a plane it started bothering me! The only bad thing I can remember during training was that thing we called the nutcracker. That was the harness we used to wear which was attached to those big jump-towers they had, right? Well, the object of that thing was to make sure you tighten up your harness correctly. If you didn't, you were going to have a little problem down below, if you know what I mean. At first we didn't know that so ... oh my gosh, that was no fun at all! I can still feel it hurting when I think back to it.
And then in July 1943 I went to communications school where we learned to use those BW8 radios which we carried around with us. This was then followed by demolition school a month later. All these schools were only a month apiece.
To get your jump-wings you had to jump five times in total. We had to pack our gear ourselves but after the last jump we didn't have to pack our chutes ourselves any longer.