MY PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON THE EARLY YEARS OF THE 76th CAVALRY
RECON. TROOP FROM JUNE 1942 ONWARD
By: Robert J. Geberth, 1996
Upon attending the last five reunions of the Troop, I thought that perhaps the Troopers that went into combat would like to know a bit of our earlier history. The Troop was activated with the Division in June 1942 and I joined the Troop on June 27, 1942. So I will set down my thoughts of that following period of the Troop’s history. Memory dims as time goes on, and I will probably ramble on, but bear with me as you all know its fifty years down the line. When I joined the Troop I had enlisted in the Air Force with the thought of being in communications. I landed in Fort Meade in the morning and we were herded onto the Parade Grounds where our names were called and you were picked up by an officer of your assigned Unit. The group was finally whittled down to two of us and when my name was called I was picked by Lt. Gordon English, who was dressed in boots and britches. What a surprise, it sure did not look like Air Force to me. When I reported in at the Orderly Room, First Sgt. Krisher ushered me into the CO, Capt. Cole. When I asked him why I was in a Cavalry Unit instead of the Air Force he responded "Well son you made a mistake when you told the enlisting officer that you had a commercial radio operators license. We are mechanizing the Troop and we need a radio technician and you are it Sergeant." Can you imagine my surprise at being called Sergeant. To make a long story short, he told me that he was going to send me to Signal Corp Radio School to teach me the Army way of communications. After my first week there Lt. Marks suspected that I knew Morse Code after all. I figured they were going to teach me the Army way and I wasn’t volunteering any more information after being burned already. He gave me a speed test and made me an instructor on detached duty from the Troop.
At that time the Troop was composed of Capt. Cole, Lt. Mansfield, Lt. English, Lt. Rainey, Lt. Jett and Lt. Clauson. Sgt. Krisher was First Sergeant and Sgts. Alford, Wynn and Thornton were Platoon Sergeants. Sgt. Webb was Motor Sgt., Sgt. Blanchard was Mess Sergeant and referred to as "Foggy" for his booming deep voice. I believe Sgt. Parkers was Supply Sergeant.
From then on the Troop was in a constant state of movement. Capt. Cole was reassigned and Lt. Mansfield became the CO. Sgt. Krisher shipped out and Sgt. Walker became First Sergeant. When he shipped out Sgt. Murlatt took over. Sgt. Blanchard was followed by Sgt. Archie Lye as Mess Sergeant. We had a lot of Second Lieutenants come and go. Some of them I remember; Lt. Powell, Lt. Hodson, Lt. Easterday and others that are nameless in my memory. 1942, 1943 and 1944 were training years and we were constantly shipping and receiving new troopers.
One of my vivid memories was being in the Third Platoon for a short period with Sgt. Thornton and a Corporal named Alpert. His command of the English language was something to behold. He was explaining the 5 "s’s" of a trooper, shit, shave, shower, shine and saddle. He also had some classic wake up calls which are better left unsaid.
Shortly I was transferred to the HDQS. Platoon and I remember Bill Perlberg, Al Manti, Rudy Geisler and Zimmerman as roommates. I believe Zimmerman was a lawyer and was transferred to the Judge Advocates Office. Rudy Geisler played with the Toronto Maple Leafs and had so many injuries to his legs that he was transferred out, I believe eventually discharged. Al Manti went to the Armored OC’s and became a Lieutenant. We met later in Europe while he was on patrol in our sector. Bill Perlberg shipped out and we lost contact with each other. Bill Wilkening came from Staten Island and later went into the Air Force. He was a ham radio operator and we had many a good session on the air waves much to the concern of the Signal Corp.
We held communications with the Platoon while they were on a War Bond Tour through NY and PA. We would take a Scout Car up on top of "dead man’s hill" just out of our area to gain some height for our BC193 transmitter and the BC312 receiver. On one occasion we transmitted the news of Lt. Rainey’s promotion to First Lieutenant. I think that both the BC193 and the BC312 were the best the Army had and if tuned up correctly you could really get a lot of distance from them.
I remember taking armed marches of 25 miles in one day with full field equipment. The Troop was rated on how many finished and how many pieces of equipment were brought in. As a trooper fell out others would pick up his rifle and pack and bring it in. Those Springfield 03’s became very heavy after awhile. I can still see them cutting the boots off of Lt. English’s feet after one of those marches.
On field training exercises sitting on a Scout Car in the pouring rain transmitting on the BC193 became a real problem. The way the antenna mast was situated in the Scout Car put the base of it right on your right shoulder. Many a "RF" burn was had from it and they did not heal too quickly. In 1942 we had Scout Cars, half trucks, Jeeps and Indian motorcycles for the point scout. At one time we had an old World War I tank at Fort Meade and Sgt. Webb was demonstrating how to winch it across quite a deep ravine, when it dropped into the ravine. Needless to say the day was a disaster. At that time everyone had to know how to operate all of the vehicles and riding the motorcycle was a real gas for most of us.
We spent some time at the AP Hill for field training. That was tent city and one big mud hole. Don’t remember much about that phase except Joe Towers playing taps every night on his horn. Someone asked me if we had a Troop Bugler. I recall "Smitty" was his name, but that’s about all. One added line that I just recalled was the chiggers that buried themselves under your skin, and the only way to get them out was to put the hot tip of a cigarette on the spot and they would back out. It was also a very hot area, with high humidity which made it very uncomfortable.
Army life in the Troop was hectic during this period. It seemed as if we took Basic Training over and over as the new troopers came and went. Before combat boots were issued we had high top shoes and canvas leggings that were laced onto your leg above the shoe. We soon got wise that the only way to get them clean for inspection was to put them in the foot bath that was in the shower room. Whatever was in that foot bath sure bleached them out to almost pure white and made them soft. It may have cured athlete’s foot, but it also sure did a job on those leggings.
One of the courses we had to take at Meade was the Infiltration Course. One started the course by crawling on your back with barbed wire just inches above you, while a machine gun that was locked in place fired live ammo at you which was to simulate shells landing. When you got to the end of the course you rolled off a ditch and crawled out of the field of fire. Bill Perlberg, Sgt. Murlatt and I were under the wire together when Bill got hung up. His beer belly got in the way and we had a hell of a time getting him free of the wire. We made it and kept on going to the end.
Another interesting course was the Village House to House and Street to Street Fighting Course. You went through this with live ammo. They had a mock village set up and you went from building to building shooting at figures that popped up at you from hidden areas. You could always count on someone taking a pot shot at the bell that was in the church steeple.
And then there was the gas training building, where you learned to put on your gas mask real quick. There was the day they were demonstrating what mustard gas would do to you if you got it on your skin. They had a salve that they said would null the effects of the gas. The demonstration was that three spots of gas were put on your arm. You were supposed to wipe each one off in varying degrees to observe the effects. Most rubbed each spot real hard because it burned like hell. A few wound up in the hospital with infected arms and they were not pretty sights. It took three weeks for some of the troopers to heal. I still have three spots on my arm, even though I rubbed the salve on them real hard.
We had quite a unique Troop Area. There was a Post Exchange, Rec Hall, Guard House and Officers Mess and Quarters in our area. See map of Troop Area. See also the map of Fort Meade as it is today with the location of our Troop Area as it was in 1942. Pat and I visited it in 1994 and did not recognize anything but the Parade Grounds and the Post HDQS. Another piece of troop memories is the four page copy which I am enclosing. This was handed out to each new trooper by Capt. Mansfield after he became CO.
At that time we were equipped with 30 caliber water cooled machine guns, which was a good weapon if you had an adequate supply of water. Another great weapon was the Thompson Machine Gun. The Springfield 03 Rifle was accurate once you had it zeroed in and the right Kentucky windage.
I remember Baltimore as being quite a wild town and Fayette Street was the favorite place for our troopers. There was the Two O’clock Club, the Oasis, the Silver Dollar Bar with all those silver dollars molded into the bar top. The Gayety Burlesque Bar and the Show House and Kathleen’s with the draped back room, also Kitty’s and many, many more that have long since slipped into forgotten memories. There was also a small area just outside of the Fort called Boontown with its gift shops and bars. Also, the small town of Odenton where you could catch the Pennsylvania Rail Road for a weekend pass to New York.
Well I guess I have rambled on quite a bit, but I did want to get down some of our history as I recall it. Perhaps with time more shall be recalled but for now I will sign off.
Return to Front Page