Finally we boarded a train, 60 men to a car for Newport News and the boat. Thank goodness it was a short ride as there we were packed like sardines with our packs and A-3 bags. I've never been much more sweaty in my life.
At the pier were Red Cross women with lemonade for us and did it ever taste good. On the dock as before we boarded the train was a band playing us a sendoff - just like in the movies only this time we were the actors. Ocean so close I still didn't realize that when I boarded that ship I left the land of the U.S.
We finally boarded the S.S. Santa Rosa Grace Liner, which we shared with a British West Indian regiment - all troops were colored. Also aboard were a few hundred American Infantry and about 30 French Air Corpsmen. Only American officers of Captain or above received nice accommodations aboard ship. Our particular room, a stateroom had nine bunks in it and a bathroom with tub and shower. Our quarters were very crowded as you can see. My bunk was the middle one in the tier of 3 in the row next to the portholes.
The boat had been a very beautiful one but now had a full coat of war paint with guns and ack-ack guns all around. The officers had as their special deck the sun deck which was quite nice - really the boat deck. The mess hall was the former dinning salon and had a sliding roof that opened up to the sky. Very beautiful in peace time I imagine.
That afternoon the boat moved out into the harbor for the night. The harbor is a wonderful big one with all its facilities. We sawall types of naval craft including a carrier.
Next day we began to pull out to sea and the convoy began to form. We were one of the largest ships. All in alii had expected convoy to be rather large. Ours was only about 30 ships with our escort. The first day or so out we had an air escort of a few planes at a time. On the horizon you could see destroyers darting around. The trip itself was quite uneventful. Every few days the ships would test fire their 5" guns or ack-ack guns which made quite a racket and were fun to watch.
Our day consisted of 2 very poor meals and the rest of the day in sleeping, reading or sunning yourself. There was a library aboard and I read quite a bit - along subjects which interested me.
In the evenings we would stand or sit on deck till 10 or 11.
It was really beautiful out there on deck at night and very warm. Many slept on deck at night and I did one night but it was rather damp out there. It's really a wonderful feeling to sit out there and feel the roll of the ship. Every other night there were movies in the mess hall, but it was too crowded and hot.
After sundown there was a strick blackout and not even smoking.
Both Sundays I took communion as we had an Anglican Chaplain with the British troops. He was a very well educated man and I really enjoyed it a great deal, especially since it was my church.
You could get drinking water most of the day, but as for fresh washing water, it came on only 3 times a day for ~ hour periods. The rest of the time all we had was saltwater and cold at that. I never really did get clean. As for the saltwater you always felt sticky after a shower.
All thru the trip we never knew where we were headed for. Finally we passed the Rock [of Gibraltar]. Some stayed up to see it but I was too sleepy. Anyway all they could see was a shadow. Our first morning in the Mediterranean was very foggy. You couldn't see the next ship in the convoy. In the afternoon we hit Oran and we all were prepared to turn in when they told us not to come but continue with the convoy. The North African coast looks quite fertile in that section.
The morning we passed Bizerte and Tunis saw more ships than I had ever seen in my life. Tunis and Bizerte looked much like such towns in the movies - as much as you could see at a distance. That morning as far as you could see were ships of all sizes and shapes. During the morning we passed over 50 ships. At one time I could see 76 ships altogether. We passed them as close as a couple hundred feet - terribly close. You just can't imagine so many ships. About noon we turned off toward Naples and by Sicily. All of Sicily we could see was a corner of Sicily.
The Mediterranean was very blue and you could see countless sharks ever so often. One morning we entered Naples harbor. It's quite large and surrounded by rocky cliffs. Inside are quite a few small islands - one of them the Isle of Capri. These islands are quite picturesque with their small villages and castles.
Naples harbor proper is rather pretty, a sort of half moon built up all the way around with Vesuvius to the right. Vesuvius is quite beautiful and usually has a large cumulus cloud above it. The water front at Naples is really a mess. Most of the big docks are ruined as are almost all the buildings. Here you see war as it looks in the newsreels. I don't believe there's a good building left along the waterfront. We left the boat and walked down the streets to the train station. People were living in partly bombed out buildings. Everywhere was filth and dirt. There are almost no well dressed people.
There were all kinds of troops marching up to the station.
Little kids follow you and ask for cigarettes and candy. After you get away from the waterfront the city didn't have too many scars, but was still very dirty.
The train station reminded me very much of Union Station in L.A. of course ours is much more beautiful. But in peace time I imagine it was quite pretty with fine shops all around it. The train system seems all disrupted. The train or railway officials have very tacky looking uniforms.
We boarded a train for Bagnoli, a suburb on the bay. The train was miserable. We rode in what appeared to be mail cars -15 to a very small compartment with 3 seats. We went thru a maze of subway tunnels and finally ended up at Bagnoli. Here we were quartered in what had been a beautiful school donated by the Bank of Naples in 1940. It would have been a credit to any university back home. The buildings were very modernistic and much the style of Hollywood High. We were quartered in an upstairs hall on a marble floor with only 1 blanket under us. Believe me sleeping in marble halls isn't what it's cracked up to be. Here again the mess lines were terrible and the food poor. I lived off C rations quite a bit. The latrine was filthy, but some of the buildings had clean ones. The only washing facilities were a few bowls outside. You just couldn't get clean there so the Red Cross showers in Naples were very popular.
While there, there was nothing to be done except await shipping orders. So after the early afternoon formation, we always headed for Naples. You could get transportation quite easily on army vehicles of all kinds and descriptions. In Naples we always visited the Red Cross for a shower. We visited many beautiful churches quite a few of which had been badly bombed. We also saw the beautiful Post Office where the Germans planted a time bomb. It would compare very favorably with most municipal buildings at home. We also visited the opera twice in the beautiful San Carlo Opera House - Barber of Seville Pagliachi and another short on a double bill. At night we went to one of the numerous clubs nearly all of which had a nice dance floor and an orchestra. One up on a hill overlooking the bay was particularly beautiful.
At night there is a blackout of buildings - not too strickbut none of the vehicles or harbor facilities.
There is very little business carried on in Naples as no one seems to have anything to sell. The streets are full of Italian soldiers many officers too. It rather antagonizes you to see them. Almost everyone looks dirty.
The trucks must kill as many civilians as the bombs did as they all drive like high school kids after a football game. Some of those rides back to camp were about as dangerous as flying.
All in all Naples gives the appearance of having been quite a beautiful city at one time. There are some lovely looking apartment houses around the waterfront district near the park. This park is along quite a stretch of avenue that runs along the shore. It must have been quite beautiful. Now it serves as a camping ground and there's sort of motor pool around it.
All this time the 2 Majors had been making a general mess of the situation. But finally one morning we did board the train to leave Naples.
For a long time the tracks went along the beaches. The smaller boys all swim naked. The beaches are filthy looking. The sand around Naples being black volcanic substance.
As we got out into the country became cleaner looking and more like our own farm lands. But everywhere the little kids wait for the train and beg for candy or C rations. You should see them scramble for candy and ration cans - the grown up's too for that matter. But it is rather pitiful to see human beings reduced to such poverty even stooping to gather cigarette butts. The old people are especially pitiful.
Going thru the hills Castuardo was very beautiful with their little valleys and fields and rivers. It is quite similar to much of our own California cities. There are quite a few ancient looking cities thru the district all built on a rocky hill. I can see no advantage except maybe for protection in old days. But they are quite picturesque. Thru this country are quite a few tunnels for the train.
Finally we began to leave the (plain) hills and hit a rather flat sandy plain.
This is a rather poor looking section.
Finally we pulled into Gioia. Just before we passed thru a very large Polish camp with men and women both.
Gioia is a sort of replacement depot and has a field where crews coming in from overseas land. While there I saw Crosby a friend of Joe Cross's and mine from cadet days. He had just landed coming from the states.
This place was a tent camp and extremely dusty and dirty.
For the whole camp of 400 or 500 men there were 4 showers with ice cold water - but anything felt good. However it was so crowded you couldn't really get clean so I finally filled my helmet and washed my hair and shaved from it. We spent the night in tents - everything very dusty and dirty. Food was no exception. Next morning was to be the big day. At last we were assigned to a squadron. From Gioia we went by truck to Wing headquarters. The trip was all thru this rocky country. All the cities are very old and dirty looking. At Wing headquarters we had a chance to choose our group. Grady and I chose the same one and continued on by truck. Here we were assigned different squadrons located at opposite ends of the field.