In Dec. 1977, Company E, 106th Combat Engineers held their 37 year reunion in Apalachicola. The majority of the men in the unit were from Franklin County. The following article was published in the Nov. 24 issue of the Times. Here is the story of some of Franklin County’s patriots who fought in World War II and the women who loved them.
Following Company E to war
By Mary Carol Creekmore
Late one November afternoon in 1940 the young men of Company E met at the National Guard Armory, now Fort Coombs. They were in uniform, equipment ready and sidearms strapped to the waists of officers. They were quiet as they took their places in formation and answered the roll call with a loud, clear ‘Ho!’ (here). The company was not up to “war strength” (166 men) until they arrived at Camp Blanding.
It was a short march to the railroad station where a troop train had backed in during the night.
The color guard went first, the band at the rear and in between the magnificent men of “Company E!” I need not tell you that the whole town was there to see them off. They had volunteered! And it was a year before Pearl Harbor! They answered Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s call for volunteers for just a year. Our men of Company E served five years.
As the train pulled slowly out of the station with our husbands, sons and sweethearts aboard, I cried my heart out but Dorothy Richards was standing beside me and said, “What are you crying about? They’ll be back in a year.” When I turned to look at her there were more tears running down her face than mine.
Camp Blanding was the first stop but it was very definitely not the last. It was just the beginning. Actually, a mission beyond darkness!
They underwent rigid training at Blanding and that first taste of military life served them well in the years ahead of them and believe you me they were long years. But we were all so young; danger and heartache were not in our vocabulary.
Dorothy Brown Richards and I were “Camp Followers.” We both followed our men, Fred and Newt, until that final overseas order came through but much happened between Blanding and Fort Dix, NJ.
From Blanding, the famous 31st Dixie Division was ordered to Camp Bowie, Texas at Brownswood. Three of the wives and I were there to meet them.
Newt stood me at attention and gave me these orders because I was driving: “Mary Carol, don’t you dare get in the middle of that convoy, 12,000 men are involved and don’t you dare stop when you see a convoy stopped on the right side of the highway. The men are going to the bathroom.”
The first night out of Blanding, they bivouacked in Tallahassee and I was there. The next night they were cooking and eating just this side of Pensacola. I was there too. Again I got my orders. The next day, before I knew it, I was in the middle of that convoy! I prayed that we wouldn’t come to a right hand curve. But we did! So, rather than pass Newt’s command car and wave sheepishly, I turned to the left on a dirt road, drove 40 miles out of the way and still beat the convoy to Texas.
By the time they arrived, six wives had set up housekeeping in an abandoned hospital. No matter how many onions we cooked, it just kept on smelling like ether!
Dorothy Richards had her baby, Martha, with her and we wives thought she was our baby also.
I remember that Easter Sunday (that’s my wedding day). We Army people were there for Sunrise Service at Brownswood Lake. Just as the sun rose out of nowhere over the lake, 200 white pigeons were released. It was the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen! Who among us would deny that a person greater than we are gave us eyes to behold such beauty!
From Bowie we were moved to Camp Barkley at Abilene, Texas. Barkley was the sort of place that said, “Boy, you better live it up, your number is about to come up!”
It was flat country, muddy, cold but we were young, in love with life so it was still fun. I remember the roses and Shasta daisies around our little house and the ham, tomatoes and corn-on-the-cob dinners in our backyard served on a ping pong table. We ate tons of corn and thoughtlessly tossed the cobs over the hedge into another backyard. The neighbors did not complain because we were serving our country. I admit the Texans must have delighted when the unit was ordered to Fort Dix, NJ.
That order had a way of quieting us all down because Dix was the staging area for the European Theatre of war and we knew it.
So, we wives got our train tickets from the Quartermaster and we entrained for Camden, NJ. This move was a long chance for us because our fellows could not tell us when or where or if we’d be together again.
We arrived in Camden, NJ on one of the hottest nights in history, had connecting rooms and bath (air conditioning had not been invented). We waited four days in that hotel, two at a time went to eat, and the others listened for the telephone to ring. It was so unbearably hot that one afternoon we all decided to shampoo our hair and just let it drip dry!
Just at first dark we were sitting on the floor playing bridge when the telephone ring broke the silence. I happened to be the one closest to it. The man at the desk said, “There are four soldiers here saying that you are their wives!” I could tell he didn’t believe it but I screamed bloody murder.
We went tearing down the hall to the elevator, wet hair flying, afraid to hope, but they were there, our loves, handsome and big as life. I think we all grabbed the wrong husband, so after a second we swapped.
The next morning, we wives took a bus to the little village of Pemberton, NJ to find a place to stay close to Fort Dix. We did not have too much trouble because the men were constantly moving out. I lived with Irene Moorhead and Dorothy and her baby, Martha, lived just down the same street. So, again we settled down to a slap-happy way of living. As Captain Joe Taranto used to say, “Itsa Wartime!”
Martha Richards decided to have measles but we weathered that. There was no restaurant in the town, so each night we all walked a mile out in the country to a beautiful old rambling farmhouse, naturally called “The Farm.”
We were fed family style heaping platters of fried chicken, corn on the cob, mustard greens, cornbread, country butter, buttermilk, hot apple cider, homemade pickles and everything else you can think of in your wildest dreams. At 9 p.m. a dilapidated old taxi (formerly a hearse) would come out and pick us up. As you must know, there were not too many seats! So we just crawled in. I was lucky; I got to ride in the front seat with the driver because I was the only pregnant one in the crowd!
Dorothy and I shared the same laundress. She was a past master at doing uniforms and her husband was a switchman in the railroad yards of Fort Dix.
The troop trains moved only at night and under strictest orders of destination si8lence. Of course the switchman had to know who was going where and when. He swore his wife to secrecy, but we knew almost before our fellows did where they were going and what time! Oh, Boy! That’s what I call “insecurity!”
And so, the dreaded order came. We were not allowed to communicate with our men; we were just told to stand by! All of their engineering equipment went to Europe but at the last minute orders were changed and our men were sent to Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. Somewhere along the line the Division was streamlined and we became the 177th. Some went east, some went west and one jumped over the cuckoo’s nest! That was me.
We wives started our long trek home to have our babies, wait and pray.
I am so fortunate that Newt is home safe and free. He had a year-old son waiting for him when he was sent back for a refresher course at Fort Belvoir. That helped to dull his memories of sleeping in a boxcar and eating frozen moose meat!
We salute you Company E. You offered your country everything you owned, even your life! We are thankful for the ones the Lord sent back to us.