TRUE AS STEEL
517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team, 2nd Platoon, F Company
Note: MEMORIES OF A PARATROOPER as handwritten by Raymond Bunce for his daughters, Christine, Linda and Susan in 1994. Ray entered the service of his country as Private First Class and left as a Staff Sergeant. His discharge papers list the following battles and campaigns: Rome-Arne, Southern France, Rhineland, Ardennes, and Central Europe. He was wounded twice, once June 29, 1944 in Grosseto Italy and again Oct. 28 1944 Sospel France. He was awarded a Bronze Star, Purple Heart w/1OLC, Good Conduct Medal, European African Middle East Service medal with 5 Bronze Stars and 1 Bronze Arrowhead (copied from his discharge papers.) He was honorably discharged on Oct. 15, 1945 into the Reserves. Ray married his sweetheart Lois and they had three daughters and three grandsons. After a brief period of living in Boalsburg PA, Ray and Lois moved to Levittown PA where they raised their children. Ray worked for the Pennsylvania RR now Amtrak and retired after many years of working. He died in 1997. He did not talk about his war experiences until encouraged by his family to record his memories for his grandchildren.
While it is not included in his writings below, we remember him telling us that after he was wounded the first time, that he was to be reassigned to a different unit but somehow he managed to make it back to his original unit. As I remember, it was important to him that he returned to his buddies. There are some “???” in the writing below because as we transcribed his writing it was hard to determine the actual word or letters. If anyone can clarify or add anything to this story, we would be happy to include it!
These memories are not fiction but true happenings of my life in the Service of our Great Country.
Some individuals probably carried diaries; however, as I try to detail my experiences you may see and understand it was almost impossible to keep records of daily routines
In the beginning, December 7, 1941, disrupted all of our lives and the draft was put into high gear. I was too young at the time. As I became of age, I volunteered for the Marines and Navy but, was rejected by both branches because I was not a citizen. Since I was born in England, I was considered a friendly alien. I went to the draft board and they allowed me to register and I was given the privilege to volunteer for the Paratroops. I had read brochures on Paratroop Service and the information was something to this glamorous version. Excellent training, 3 day missions, Jump Pay, all true except for (3 DAY MISSIONS)
Having been notified that I was accepted and saying goodbye to my one and only Sweetheart thru out my life, and also my mother and sister, I boarded a train for Philadelphia.
Arriving in Philadelphia, my orders were given to an Army Sgt., who took charge of 15 inductees. We departed and arrived at an induction center. Processing began at a supply depot where you follow each other in single file, you are instructed to hold your arms straight out and follow the man ahead of you, as you proceed the first thing you get is a duffel bag which is put into your right hand, after that everything is almost thrown at you including boots, that's the only item they ask you for your size. You get the whole wardrobe, green fatigues, underwear, Dress khakis, Army packs, wool socks, overcoat – the WORKS At the end of the depot was a Sergeant who marched us to our barracks. At this time, we were designated bunks.
Our bunks were naturally not your run of the mill bed you were used to at home, however, they were serviceable.
The Sgt. of our barracks came in and announced himself very cordially. I found out later that his job could have been very enviable and realized that all he was required to do was separate us as we came in to our various assignments. He was performing a separation phase of this first step.
All the occupants of my barracks were not given a chance to get acquainted for an hour ? Second day ? our group began to dissipate. At that point in time I had never heard of the old cliché, DO NOT VOLUNTEER FOR ANYTHING IN THE ARMY.
My thoughts wandered back to the brochure. I had heard about the paratroops. It said excellent training, extra pay for jump status and 3 day missions and back to the base. In other words Jump do your Job and return, plus $50.00 a month. SOUNDS GOOD?? WRONG''
By the 5th day, I was the only one left in the barracks except for the Sgt. My assignment was to keep the barracks clean. The Sgt. told me that as soon as there were enough volunteers at least 12, we would be on our way.
It was the 10th day and finally the Sgt. told me to get my gear together and report to another barracks. When I arrived at the barracks and reported to the Sgt., he lined us up and called the oldest volunteer, and informed us that he was in charge of us as an acting non-commissioned officer.
The next morning we loaded on an army truck that transported us to the train station. After boarding the train our acting Non Commissioned officer opened the orders, we were going to a place called Camp Toccoa Georgia. Finally the first peg of our unknown future. Would we survive?? WHY NOT!
THE ARRIVAL: When I use the term arrival it is used very loosely. Getting off the bus we immediately learned the subtle terms of military jargon. Three examples are, IMMEDIATELY, DOUBLE TIME AND GIMMEE 25 PUSH UPS- on the double was meant for all occasions even if you were not ordered to do it you did it automatically.
We were about to enter the "Twilight Zone" or weeding out process. As we hit the ground from the bus, a couple of Sergeants met us, told us to drop our Duffle bags, got us in formation and immediately double-timed us to an area where a tower loomed ahead and in single file we climbed this tower. One by one, we entered the tower and two Non Commissioned officers, strapped a harness on us and pushed us out the door. It was quite an experience but, really more surprising than dangerous, the harness was attached to a guide wire and you just slid down to the ground. Again, there were two non-commissioned officers there to unhook us and told us to double-time back to the tower. The repetition continued. I went up six times and that was a maximum amount to pass the first hurdle, however, we lost five of our group in that foray.
Having decimated our rank in this initial venture, another Sgt. took us by the hand and immediately double-timed us to the dispensary and we underwent an anatomical procedure that missed absolutely nothing. X rays, Blood test, nerve ending tests, Cardiograms, "Do you like Girls" questions, nothing was overlooked and I Mean Nothing.
We lost three more of our group. The Sgt., double-timed us to the barracks and we entered a barracks and sat down. As we looked straight, there was a table with four men seated there, three Second Lieutenants, and one First Lieutenant.
These officers were going to question us one by one. The questions were of all varieties and situations, these were all answered and I was the last one to be questioned. None of us knew what was asked and answered by each one. I was the last one, I was questioned by the First Lieutenant, and he finally asked me if I could obey any order , and I proudly answered "Yes Sir". He responded to me “I know you will”. I looked straight into his eyes and
I have never seen blue eyes that twinkled as brightly as his. At this time a Second Lieutenant said I'll take this man.
I forgot to mention the one odd question which probably was a deciding factor in my being chosen by my 2nd Lieutenant., was his order to go over to the wall and hit it with all the force I had. At the time, I didn't know anything about studs or building factors so I answered "Yes Sir" and went over to do it, I pulled my arm back made a fist and began, and I heard a voice say that's fine soldier. I felt good about myself, however, the worst was yet to come.
SECOND BATTALION NUCLEUS
This term is being used because the 3 of us who had made it to this barracks were the beginning of Co. F of the Second Battalion. Of the 3, we are deployed now 1 to the 1st platoon, 1 to the 2nd platoon and 1 to the 3rd platoon. The first day after we had settled everything away, we had foot lockers and a small rack to hang our clothes, duffle bags were stored away in the Company Supply.
We fell out in formation, a curious sight – a total of 7 men, 1 Private, 1 Corporal and one 2nd Lt. for each platoon and a 1st Lt. for each platoon and a 1st Lt. as Company Commander. Our initial physical ordeal of the day was merely orientation by our officers. An easy day at the barracks.
The 2nd day and forever more it began. 4:30 AM fall out and go for a run around the company area. Back for breakfast. Clean the barracks, Barracks inspection. Fall out for Calisthenics. Movies - UD Movies, (terrible). The first time I see weapons that we eventually get very familiar with. Supper lights-out -- 9:PM>
I use the term reality to indicate that as our nucleus increases so does our life. Everyday each Company gets one or two new volunteers but, each day our training is being increased tenfold. Our day begins with a 4:30 AM run around the area and with every day the distance and challenge increases, so at night I find I have muscles screaming in pain that I never knew I had, however, I was fortunate because, I started at the beginning, the poor guys who came in after us had to dig right in, if they could not keep up they were transferred out.
Every day it was something else. 4:30 AM daily run, back to the barracks, breakfast, then clean the barracks for daily inspection, fallout for Calisthenics where the non-Comms took turns and if you could not double time all the time – 25 pushups.
Then we were issued M-1 rifles and immediately learned to strip them down eventually doing it blindfolded. As the days went on and our training got harder, the realization of the psychology sinks in that it's the Army way and not yours. I'm left handed I let them teach me to shoot right handed.
NEARLY A FULL COMPLEMENT
It seems as though we are shaping up. Most of the guys have quit smoking because when the physical punishment hits your lung's you have to be able to breathe.
Our Company has almost reached capacity and we are really being pushed to the limit. If someone had told me that I was going to accomplish some of the things that we had done by this time, I would not have believed them. As I said in a previous chapter, we started as a Nucleus of a new battalion and, the guys who came in later had it tougher physically and mentally. Each and every day was a full day, from 4:30AM till 8:00PM at night and you still had all your equipment to clean.
There were always those surprise problems and you never knew who had to go so, you had to be on the ball. We had no passes to go anywhere for 10 weeks of training. We marched to the PX and back every 2 weeks otherwise (Ho Hum) the barracks was it. On Friday at the end of our day, we had to get everything nice for Barracks Inspection and Pa. Raid?
It has taken 11 weeks, but we are now at complete Battalion Strength. All of us are weapons qualified, M Rifles, Carbines, Bar 30 Caliber light machine guns, 45 Caliber handguns, bazookas, mortars, Topography, Nitro, Explosives and fuses, Hand Grenades, German weapon Rifles, Schmeizer(?) Subpistols. All these weapons we were trained to field strip and use.
Now that we are a complete unit, we are going to Camp McCall, North Carolina for our advanced training and jumps training. This I am sure will be another weeding out process but I hope not for we have really trained hard and I am sure we will give it quite a go.
I will say that Army food is not bad at all , but now it's eat what they give you or do not eat. Unless you get a package from home and usually they are pretty well crushed by the time you get them.
CAMP McCALL NORTH CAROLINA
A new environment has unfolded here in North Carolina. It is plushy green. I did not want to complain about Georgia but they do have a lot of rain and red clay.
Upon arrival at our new home (temporary) Instructions were issued as to our new training grounds. There were mock up towers and other things to start adapting us to jump training but, there was no let up on our physical and tactical training that would get much rougher.
The camp area circumference was 5 miles around. At 4:30 AM we fell with full field pack and weapons and proceeded at double time for our appetizer. When we got back it was time for breakfast (double time or 25 Push-ups). After breakfast was Barracks inspection, then 1 hour of Calisthenics, full field Equipment, close combat drill, Bayonet drill, field strip weapons. In the afternoon, firing range, Grenade Range and then back for supper. Clean weapons and equipment, the Barracks at night was checked by the Platoon Leader and then lights out.
Well, I guess things are not going to get easier. Every day it is the same routine but, might they throw us a bone? 2 hours jumping out of the mock tower but, now they are working on speed. Climb up the tower, double time with harness on, jump out, hit the ground, then double time it, with harness on, then jump out, and hit the ground, double time back to the tower and up the tower again, jump out, etc., etc. After about 12 jumps, we go over to a mock plane, double time into the plane on one side and jump out the other side and practice your shoulder roll so that when you hit the ground on a real jump it helps the landing shock. To me this was a very easy 2 hours more or less a Rest. However, after this it was back to the backpack and weapons and more double-timing here and there. I'm really convinced Army training or the military breeds into you a confidence that your body can be pushed to a limit that you really cannot comprehend. (In over mind over matter). I will never forget a lieutenant taught us and drilled it into us day after day--(Do not drop out until the man next to you does).
Upon arriving at Camp McCall and having a full Regiment which included our own Engineers and our own 75 howitzer battalions, we really started getting serious, God Bless the guys who made it in on the last couple of weeks at Toccoa, Georgia. I was never in such good physical shape as I was at that time. Every day at 4:30 AM, we would fall out in jump boots and shorts and go for our daily 5 to 7 mile Constitutional, it depended on which officer was in charge, I neglected to mention a mountain in Georgia named Currahee and we ran that every day without fail, a giant step for mankind, that is a stolen line but, I could not resist.
As we got further into the serous training which just got tougher, we finally got a break on Friday's. Our training schedule was changed a little, they cut out close order drill in the afternoon. As usual, no lunch for packs or weapons. The order of dress was jump boots, shorts and sweatshirts. Friday afternoon became a game afternoon. King of the Hill, Tug of War, a couple of innings of baseball and finally 2 quarters of tackle football with no pads or anything. The kicker of this was it was the enlisted men against non-comms and officers. (GET EVEN DAY)
Everything in the book was out of this book. Every Friday afternoon was get even day, the harder you played the more respect you were shown but, only from the hours of 1:00PM to 6:00PM. Then everything went back to being GI'S. The good thing about it was everyone took part, there were no excuses and no complaint's, it was the beginning of T.G.I.F.
PRE JUMP TRAINING
Our training continued to get rougher and rougher. More forced Marches in the summer heat. We did have a new wrinkle, after our constitutional at 4:30 AM which was a minimum now of 8 to 10 miles and, then having our daily gourmet breakfast Grits, Powdered Eggs, and Creamed chipped beef on toast (SOS). Since I never used profanity all the while I was in the Service you will have to figure that time out?
By now, I have a tremendous appetite and am no longer a fussy eater. God Bless our Army cooks. Anyway, it was eat or not to eat, that was the question. "My Pecs,” “Abs,” and legs were really improving with all the exercise. I think I really obtained "Buns of Steel' also I was a mere 153 lbs when I enlisted in the Service and I had been hitting the scale at this time at a respectable 190 lbs, all meat, and no potatoes at all.
Enough of our Culinary diet as it was about to change very suddenly as we began our primary jump training.
AT FORT BRAGG
Since Fort Bragg had an airfield and C-47's, these were the planes we would be jumping out of, each battalion took turns going there to see the operation. Upon receiving this information we figured we would go in trucks as our transportation as usual - WRONG.
On a Sunday we were notified full field equipment which = 60 pound packs including tent, rations, extra ammo, shovel, blanket, full combat gear I carried the G / port of a 30 Caliber Machine gun, plus a folding stock Carbine.
We fell out and were informed that we were to have full canteens of water but, the catch there was what they call 'Water Discipline'. When we got to Fort Bragg our Canteens had to be FULL. We could chew gum but nothing else. Our rations consisted of a small pack of hard candies, crackers, a small can of pork and egg yolk three or four small hard tack candies. We had breakfast before we shoved off, and we had TWO K- Ration packs for our meals. At 7:00AM, we shoved off for Fort Bragg. I forgot to tell you our little jaunt was a 28 mile hike, it would be a forced march which is close to a double time. We marched 50 minutes with a 10 minute break. It took us about 6 hours to make the trip, if anybody fell out they were picked up by a truck and taken back to the dispensary, examined and if nothing was wrong they were disciplined until we returned.
The trip was very grueling but 95% of us made it. We stayed at Fort Bragg and watched the qualified jumpers go up and jump and come back and jump several times more. After the exhibition, we had an inspection, all canteens were checked and all were full. We were allowed to retire to our pup tents and do our things. After all 4:30 AM would come early.
RETURN FROM FORT BRAGG
Rise, shine, and the sun was not even out. 4:30AM fall out for a hot breakfast. Our Commanding Officer was satisfied with our effort so he arranged for a mobile kitchen from the base to set up a breakfast table.
We took our mess gear and lined up for the grits, powdered eggs and SAUSAGE rolls, powdered milk and cold cereal plus HOT COFFEE. After our gourmet meal, we washed our mess gear. Back to the area and get all our packs in order. The last thing was to go to lister??? bag and fill our canteen.
When we were together and had all of our hardware on, our non-Com checked our canteens for the trip back. One catch, we had a hot breakfast and this time no rations, we were going all the way and try to beat our time. I kept remembering the lieutenant who had tried to brainwash us. DON'T FALL OUT UNTIL THE MAN NEXT TO YOU FALLS OUT. I have remembered that all my life. It amounts to the fact that if you keep trying you will get it done.
We started our trip back and low and behold we beat our time by 15 minutes. I credit it all to the fiber and nutrition we had for our breakfast. When we got back to Camp, we were dismissed and immediately made a beeline for the barracks to clean up all our gear and ourselves.
4:30 AM would be coming very shortly.
GAS MASK DRILL
We were back to our 4:30 AM Constitutional, we were almost making a Circumference of the entire camp, about 10 - 12 miles. Today we are going to the rifle hanger and machine gun facilities. We get a break here, they truck us out to the range because, they are carrying our ammo, but, after we have gotten rid of all our ammo, which is a sufficient amt., we hike it back to camp. We feel good because it is only 15 miles and all we have are our weapons. We get back to the barracks and thinking we would get a break to clean our weapons - WRONG:
Our Platoon Sgt. came in and announced full field equipment plus the new gas masks on our bunks. When we fell out, we found out our platoon leaders were going to take us out for a short drill. When we were all together, we started with close order drill with the gas masks on. We had been given a tear gas incident, they had put us in a barracks and threw tear gas grenades in and locked the door, after what seemed an eternity but, was probably only minutes they unlocked the doors and Oh, what a relief it was. Aside from having sore swollen eyes and gasping for a breath of hot air we had a very good lesson in this phase of warfare.
Now our platoon leader was giving us close order drill. This went on for about 20 minutes and then he announced that every afternoon at 3:00PM we would fall out with full field Equipment and double time for 2 hours. At certain times he would double-time us in place to put our gas masks on and resume the double time. Any complaints and 25 pushups while everyone else double-timed in place. This was to be a 4 day exercise.
NEARER MY GOD TO THEE"
I use this expression in the most holy way. It will soon be our final training with our saddles on, for in about 10 days we go to Fort Benning, Ga. for our jump training. I am convinced we are all in good shape and in our final days of problems with full field equipment, we should be physically and mentally ready.
Since we will be taking only bare necessities like fatigues, underwear, and our shaving gear we will be getting everything ready. All our weapons will be clean until they are glistening, footlockers will have only our issued belongings except pictures and some personal items. The barracks will be spring cleaned and I mean shining, I really, do not feel like scrubbing he barracks with a toothbrush so, I think we will all pitch in with a vengeance. From what we understand, we will not see any of our non Comms or officers for they all have their wings. We will be training under the Fort Benning Camp instructors for a month.
The time is getting close to board the truck to catch a train for Georgia. We're having a big inspection Saturday and word has come down from our Commanding officer that we will jump with our Steel helmets, his philosophy is that we will be jumping into combat with our steel pots on, not a plastic football helmet. He is determined to make us the best. Thank God for that.
PRE JUMP INTO HELL
I am using this phrase as a scene from a week beginning our jump training. I do not think the first week here at Fort Benning, Ga. was as hard on us as it was on volunteers who joined us that were not recipients of infantry training. This first week was strictly a weeding out of the unfortunate that would not survive the hell week which was nothing more than super physical and mental fortitude. We were under the supervision of Fort Benning non-Coms who were unfamiliar with all of the trainees that they would be supervising. Our Regiment had an advantage because we were in excellent physical condition for the unexpected.
We started at 5:00 AM on Monday morning in formation and double-timing which we were used to. The kicker was there were squads of non-Coms who relieved each other. From 5 AM to 7AM we were non-stop running. At 7:l5 AM we had a fast breakfast. 8:00 AM we fell out for Calisthenics with the same routine non-Comms who started us and then fresh non-Comms to relieve them. When we did pushups there would be non-Comms stepping on your hind end to get you in correct position. This would go on for two hrs, and then the running for 2 hours. This continued all day until 6:00 PM. Finally, back to the barracks. We all made it in our Regiment, but there were quite a few that dropped along the way. This would continue until Saturday. Six full days of gut busting, leg grinding and mind control.
We all thanked God on Saturday.
We all slept all day on Sunday.
PACKING THE CHUTES
Now we would start a learning adventure that was not unexpected as we heard rumors that we would jump with Parachutes that we would pack ourselves. This left us with a queasy feeling in our stomachs.
We would have 2 weeks of training, running, Calisthenics, mock tower jumping and a nice part of the whole procedure called a buddy seat ride. This was getting the feeling, the sensation of floating down in an inflated chute. You and a buddy were hoisted up to about 150 ft. and released and you gently floated down. It was a very realistic sensation and we would have many of these jumps. Each afternoon, we were instructed at the Jiggers(?) station on the preliminaries of how to take each step in the proper way, stow lines, stretching the chute, making sure you took the lead that weights out as you proceeded. This one procedure could be devastating as it would cause your riser(?) lines to foul and may prevent your chute from opening. Then we were instructed to lace the back pack and stow(?) the static line. You can be very sure that I made certain that I paid attention to every word, motion and instruction for those 2 weeks. The last week of the month would prove our metal for that would be the week we would earn our coveted wings.
The chutes that we would use would be packed by ourselves. Be assured that each and every one of us would go to bed at night and say to ourselves "Did I take all the stow lace out?" or " "Did I stow my lines too long?" Etc. We will find out, won't we?
We finally arrived at our destination. It could have been called an invasion but, in reality most of the country had been secured. We found it would be a staging area for our first Combat jump into France for the "Big one'. We suited up and got all primed for a big jump and found out that we were not going to jump but would travel by L-C- I "Landing Craft Infantry.”
I don't get Sea Sick but this was about the first time that I almost "Whooped my Cookies" in short, lost my breakfast. These were small boats built to hold about 125 Combat troops, but they managed to cram every nook and cranny with about 160 men each carrying 70 lbs in each boat. This would be a cruise that we would never forget, 200 miles up the coast of Italy. I cannot recall the time it took but, by the time we reached our destination, there were an unusual number of troops who were very sea sick. Fortunately I have a very strong stomach and still do. We were all very happy to make that landing onto beautiful dry land.
It was in Italy that I got my taste of hospital life as a result of being hit in the knee from a snipers bullet. It felt like a bee sting and then my leg went out from under me. I was taken to an aid station and ended up with a cast on my leg. I was feeling very sorry for myself at this time. Although I thanked the Good Lord that he had spared my life, the hospital I was in was formerly an amphitheater of Mussolini and was very nice. The food was good, the nurses and doctors were very capable. However, because I was feeling sorry for myself, I forgot all the other fellows in my ward as though I were the only one that was hurting. The next day my eyes and ears were awakened to the facts that made me very humble. One of the patients had lost both legs at the knee, another had a bad stomach wound. Another boy had extensive damage to his private parts. Due to this revelation, I could not do enough for them even though I was on crutches.
Dad's War Memoirs
Michael Kelly – this name was at the end of the writing. We do not know it’s significance.
received February 2012
from Christine Bunce
Raymond Bunce is on the far right