380th Bomb Group Association
NEWSLETTER #27 -- June 2006
DREAM TIME - A WAR STORY
by Robert W. Caputo
This is a story of one person's experience in World War II and the title grows out of the time served on the Continent of Australia (The term "Dream Time" is borrowed from the Australian Aborigine use of the term to describe the distant past of mankind.). The writing was done because of the urgings of one family member and was completed in 1995. No claim is made that the story is one of a kind or especially unique, no more than each of us is some different from the other. Reproduced here by permission of the author.
Because of the length of the manuscript, we will Roger's story in various installments, in succeeding issues of THE FLYING CIRCUS Quarterly, as page space permits.
Roger Caputo was an NCO who was assigned to Group Headquarters, Administrative Section, in Intelligence.
"Daddy, what did ‘ya do in the War?" The answer, "Not very much!"
The question and answer have been repeated over and over again, generation after generation, because it seems all humankind can do or knows how to do is wage war. While the question never seems to change, the answer does because some contributed a lot in their respective wars including giving their all, their life! For me old soldiers are a special breed by virtue of their experiences. Most, if not all, are just ordinary people thrown into special circumstances not of their own making and as a result became history.
My war was World War II, the biggest and bloodiest to date and was literally waged around the world, which made it unique, but not any more acceptable.
World War I was the first really big war fought overseas by Americans and for those who traveled to Europe and survived to return, their eyes were opened concerning other lands and other cultures. This was really the first large-scale comparative experience that Americans had obtained since we were a people isolated from the rest of the world by two big oceans. The social concern of that time was expressed as, "How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they've see Paree?" Our WWII experience generated no similar question largely because most of the world we had seen didn't rank with the culture of Paris: the deserts of North Africa; the jungles of Southeast Asia; India; China; the Arctic; and the Islands of the Pacific, most of which didn't come close to the idyllic Bali as portrayed in the musical, South Pacific!
What we did do is travel and lots of it, involving numbers of people and distances as never before in history. Most of us had not been out of our own home State and some not even out of their home towns and all because of the depression of the 1930s kept us home. There was no money except for subsistence! In addition, it was not easy to travel; no interstate highway system; the airlines were just getting started and were not particularly fast (compared to modern jets); there was one transcontinental highway, route 66 of musical fame; but there were railroads, the thread that connected America together and made it possible to move people and things around to support the War effort.
My 9 months and 17 days of Continental service plus 2 years, 3 months, and 18 days of Foreign service involved traveling a total of 48,230 miles, by various methods: car, rail, ship, truck, bomber, and by air. My travels took me from Bethalto, Illinois, to Scott Field, Illinois (for assignment), Mineral Wells, Texas (for basic), Salt Lake City for school, to E.l Paso for assignment, Denver for unit training, and from there to San Francisco to ship out to Sydney, Australia, to the war zone. From Sydney I traveled to Fenton by way of Darwin; while serving with the 380th, I traveled to Nadzab, New Guinea, Brisbane, and Adelaide. Towards the end of the war, we changed bases from Fenton to Mindoro in the Philippines. I returned home by air from Leyte to San Francisco, and then took the train from San Francisco by way of Chicago. The total miles traveled is almost equal to around the world twice! My actual exposure to combat could be measured in minutes in to bombing raids by the Japanese. The greater hazard was being killed by friendly transportation people moving me around the world twice!
I was one of many small town boys jerked up by his roots and taken to foreign lands by sea and air and experienced sensations, dimensions, and cultures never dreamed possible. It was a maturing experience coupled with over 36 months of sheer boredom, anxiety, and time for reflection. When those who were fortunate enough, did return, we were no longer kids, but fully adult and could not and would not be put off. Don't ever underestimate a veteran's confidence or determination; it could be surprising! We knew what we wanted and most of us got it, thanks to favorable domestic circumstances which may never exist again.
Many of us took advantage of the GI Bill and returned to school. The college professors were accustomed to working with kids and then my generation, well matured, was different to work with. A professor would make a statement ... we'd say how so; show us; prove it; they never worked harder or produced so much good. No effort was wasted and we demanded full summer programs and got them. More than once I've seen a professor shake his head in wonderment at the new breed of students. We all had a large sense of accomplishment!
In the school year of 1941/42, I was back to my studies at a nearby private liberal arts college, paying my way through by working the midnight shift. It was almost an impossible battle. There was never enough time and energy and I was getting very weary having had my nose to the grindstone for over a year. That summer I turned 21 and we were at war and all the young men 21 or better were registered for the draft. As a matter of fact, the spring PE class had been conducted by a regular Army Sergeant and we learned to do close order drill using broomsticks for rifles. We wore coveralls for uniforms. The handwriting was on the wall and it appeared likely the draft would catch up with me either before the fall semester started, or I would be jerked out of school during the fall term. These possibilities coupled with the problem of my gruelling work-school schedule prompted me to decide in favor of volunteering on the chance that I might get an assignment of choice, like the Army Airforce. I had never lost my love of flying although I knew the military would never let me fly because of my corrected vision ... there would be plenty of ground assignments and I would be around airplanes.
The recruiting Sergeant assured me that, if I volunteered, the Military would do everything in its power to assign me as I requested. I accepted his assurances and signed on and was given the serial number 16073115. All who volunteered carried a serial number which began with the number one and thus the number "one" always labeled me as a patriot having volunteered. Whether the volunteer status ever worked in my favor, I never knew, but I was proud of it and from time to time some officer, reviewing my file, would remark, "I see, Sergeant, that you volunteered." I always stood taller with that recognition.
Within a week or so of signing on, I was sent a notice of a train departure to Peoria where I was to stand a physical examination and be sworn in. The Center was jammed with young men undergoing processing. In hindsight, it is difficult to imagine a young man having anxieties about passing the physical exam. I was never a strong robust specimen of male-hood; thinned boned; bad vision; skinny; low upper body strength; but I had good strong legs having been a 1/4 and 1/2 miler in high school track. I was basically healthy. The thought of failing the physical and having to go home, and all during the war years explain I was 4-F, was more than I could bear. So when I passed the physical exam, I was very much relieved!
The last thing we did was take the oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and to defend it against all enemies. The oath was taken in a large group with an upraised right hand and repeating the words after the Officer conducting the ceremony. I was now a solider and belonged to Uncle Sam!
We boarded another train as a group that took us to Scott Army Airforce Base where we would get our famous first GI haircut (translated scalping), an issue of clothing, and an assignment to some point for basic training. The date was August 5, 1942, and it was hot, so the uniform issued was the lightweight tan khaki.
Wonder of wonders the Scott Army Airforce Base was the same one I had visited as a young Boy Scout and about 30 miles from home. I cannot remember how I got home for the weekend pass nor how I got back to the Base, but I did and there are a couple of photos taken with my mother and father; the new soldier in his new uniform. It would be the last visit home until February 1943, or about 6 months later, and then I had to travel 1700 miles round trip by rail for a couple of days from Denver.
When the assignment was posted on the bulletin board for Roger W. Caputo to go to Camp Wolters, Texas (very near Mineral Wells, a wide spot in the road about 20 miles west of Fort Worth), my heart sank ... it was an Army Infantry Basic training post. I had been lied to; I wasn't going to the Army Airforce!
Nothing to do, but make the best of it and hope later for another chance. I lucked out, the experience at Camp Wolters was a good one It was a well-established permanent base; good barracks; good PX and movie house; and best of all staffed by regular Army training Sergeants all 10 to 20 years older than the recruits. They projected a fatherly and caring image, but no coddling. You had to measure up, but there was never the feeling that the Sergeants had to prove how tough they were. All the emphasis was on how tough they were going to make us and they did. I never got to town once in the six weeks I was there. Why go, it was overrun with soldiers and just like the base, only with more loose rules. We could buy all the beer on base that one could drink; besides, by evening and on the weekends we were dead tired from training in the hot Texas sun. The terrain in and around the base was dusty, hard, and full of stones; no grass. There were no cigarette butts lying around and most of us smoked. A soldier learned to snuff out the butt; tear it apart dumping the ash and unburned tobacco on the ground; grind it into the ground with the sole of his boot; and wadding the remaining white paper into a little bitsy wad and stuff in his pocket. Look closely, and if you observe some old guy in his 70s or 80s performing the ritual of disposal, you'll instantly know where he got his training!
The interior of the barracks was just like those portrayed in the movie, "No Time for Sergeants," starring Andy Griffith. It's hilarious and a must see for the younger generation as it will provide insights to the military life as nothing else can!
Infantry Basic Training lasted only 6 weeks. We were hardly the same people when finished as compared to that when we began. We were tanned; in prime physical condition; we were confident; and ready for most anything, we thought. We were lonesome for home and longed for the love that could only be found there! We knew we were destined to travel by ship as we had practiced climbing down a rope net from a high platform into a small boat. The platform simulated the deck of a troop transport and the rope net dangling along the side of the ship's steel hull. Somebody was trying to get us ready for something!
With the training completed we lingered a few more days awaiting the posting of our next assignment. There were about 1,000 men in the training battalion and we would check the bulletin board almost hourly to see if our name was posted. It was a chore to find one name among one thousand and there was always a crowd, pushing and shoving to get close enough to see. When my name was finally posted, I found that I was to be sent to Salt Lake City to the Army Airforce training school, but for what I didn't know. The Army Airforce needed men to build up its strength and the procedure was to place an order with the Army Training Command for the number of bodies. Never mind any details of qualification or any other criteria, just send them the number requested. When the recruits were inducted into the military, each one was required to take a written intelligence test and the score attained was put into the recruit's permanent record. I scored something like 135 with the genius level beginning somewhere around 150. I can only suppose that the combination of the IQ scores and the long-standing request for the Airforce resulted in my being assigned as requested. The down side could have been some training sergeant's assessment that I'd never make it as an infantryman because of my 20/400 vision and a spindly body, "so let's give him to the Airforce." Whatever the logic behind the assignment, I won!
More to come in future issues! Stay tuned!
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Last updated: 22 May 2014