Alfred E. Berger

Deployment

On the 24th of December, we boarded a train for Hamilton Field, close to San Francisco, California" which was considered a staging area. The next day, being Christmas, we had a great turkey dinner with all the trimmings, which was pretty fancy compared to regular army meals. The next day we boarded a troop train and headed east over the northern route, past the Great Salt Lake in Utah. This trip would take five days. Since we were not a scheduled train we would stop on sidings to let trains through. Besides the food that was prepared in the mess car" we stopped in some towns, picked up box lunches that were prepared ahead and arrived at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia on the 31st of December. We were there two days and there were many infantry troops and other branches of the service there all getting ready to ship overseas.

On the 3rd of January 1945 we boarded an ocean liner, the USS West Point at Newport News, Virginia, that before the war was the oceanliner America, the second largest liner in the United States fleet. Instead of the normal black and white color it was now painted battleship gray. Our air force contingent of replacement aircrews was only a small part of the personnel aboard the ship. We shared the ship with the 10th mountain division who were headed to the Alps Mountains in northern Italy, with a large numbers of mules for packing in the mountains,

At that time most troop transport ships were not as large and fast as the USS West Point and had to travel in convoys with the protection of US Navy cruisers or destroyers. The West Point could travel about twenty-five miles per hour so we traveled alone. In order to evade German submarines we changed directions every seven to ten minutes; therefore we zigzagged across the Atlantic. The reasoning behind this was it took that amount of time for a sub to get on target, and with the change in direction the sub would have to start all over again.

On the ship our enlisted men were bunkered in hold C5 down in the bowels of the ship. There were bunk beds that were supported on pipes from floor to ceiling stacked three high on both sides of the supports and made mighty close quarters. We ate meals in the mess hall with no chairs off a board table standing up. There were showers but with salt water. Now our officers fared a little better. They shared a stateroom on the upper deck, and gracefully allowed us to use their shower that had fresh water. This was home for about ten days. We really didn't know our true destination until we were on our way at sea. Didn't spend much time down in the hold except to sleep or read, the rest of the time we spent on deck or roaming the halls. Finally the first land we saw was Gibraltar, the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, our destination was Naples, Italy.