Chapter 5 AFTER WWI—FORT DIX

highest honor from U.S. as well as England and Belgium

After the Armistice a U.S. Army order went out that casualties would not return to their units, but would return to the U.S.A. directly from the hospitals when ship transportation was available. My outfit, the 30th Infantry Division, stayed in Europe and even got into Germany as a part of the Allied Occupation Forces. Sorry I missed this military experience with them.

Each officer was entitled to have one army locker trunk in addition to the pack carried on his back. The trunks were kept in the rear echelon of fighting troops along with the supplies, rolling kitchens and supply troops. When an officer became a casualty, his trunk also became a casualty, unless the Supply Officer knew where to send it. Few had access to this information. My locker trunk and its contents were never located after the war. However, many other casualty officers did recover their personal property after the war was over. Later my claim for the actual cash value of the contents, about $150, was paid.

After arrival in the States I proceeded to Fort Dix, New Jersey where tens of thousands of other officers and soldiers were sent to be processed out of the service. Where would I go after discharge? Civilian jobs were scarce. Fortunately, I accidentally bumped into Major Wm. A. Graham, from Warrenton, North Carolina. We had both served in the 120th Infantry Regiment. We had served together during the front line fighting. He was now the Fort Dix Supply Officer. Would I serve as his assistant? Why not? Had to be in charge of the officer's mess as well. Had to travel also, in charge of troop trains, taking soldiers for discharge to points nearest their homes, such as Presidio, California and San Antonio, Texas. It was a very interesting experience for a 25 year old man. The job at Fort Dix gave me time to search for a civilian job, after duty hours. I was stationed there January to November 1919. Here I made notes (manuscript) of my experiences in WWI, and filed them away for future use.

Camp Dix with fellow Officers July,1923. Author on is right.

One day the camp Executive Officer ordered me to go out and find a spot for a small flying machine to land. The only place an aeroplane could possibly land was on the drill field. Orders were issued for drilling to cease and the field to be cleared of personnel before the time of the plane's arrival. Sure enough at the hour specified a small bi-plane appeared on the horizon. I stood by to wave on the first plane to land at Fort Dix. Who was the pilot? I welcomed Walter Schirra to Fort Dix. We were about the same age. Later in life we met again, after retirement, in San Diego, and became fast friends. Also in that city I had a conversation with his son, Walter Schirra, Jr., the astronaut, a brilliant man.

During the summer of 1919 the Executive Officer instructed me to be on tap at 11 a.m. He did not say why. All military personnel were called out on the big parade field. Major General Hugh Scott, Commander at Fort Dix, in front of thousands of troops, presented me with the Distinguished Service Cross. What an honor!

Because of this public news, the Treasury Department through an agency set up to sell U.S. Savings Bonds, approached me to be a movie actor and repeat the attack I made on the German pill-box, with two others, August 2, 1918 near the front near Ypres, Belgium. It was not in line with my military duties, but I agreed. A suitable spot was selected, and after several rehearsals, a movie film was made and shown in various movie theatres in the U.S. Bonds were sold. I never saw the movie. When I wrote requesting the used films, or a copy of it for my personal record, or as compensation for my effort in producing the film, the answer was negative. The agency selling the bonds had not agreed to give me anything. Also I was being paid a captain's salary, $200 a month, while acting in the film. Presumably the used films were filed away in some U.S. Treasury Department vault, or destroyed.

After reaching Fort Dix in January 1919, I was given a few days leave of absence and went home to visit my family in Charlotte. Also to visit my girl friend in Greenville. She was glad to see me and showed me a packet of my many letters sent to her from Europe all tied up with a pink ribbon. To show me--not to give me? In turn I gave her the Military Cross presented to me by King George V. I knew her family and friends would like to see it. Also I told her I wanted her to be my wife. She demurred. Did I have to get on my knees to plead for her hand, or to see her father again? She said there were three men she was interested in. This statement shook me. I would have to wait until she decided. Also I had to get a job to be able to support a family. I needed her more than she needed me. Also I needed a mother and a father such as she had. Also I wanted to leave the Catholic faith and go into a different religion which her family represented. There was much for me to do. wait and work was my watchword. We still corresponded after my return to Fort Dix. Did she know about my mother's problem before her death? Her uncle in Charlotte could also have sent other news. A very personal letter to my family from the front lines in France was published in a Charlotte newspaper with a heading reading: Prominent Knights of Columbus man writes from front lines, (or words to that effect). Only once did I attend a meeting of the Knights of Columbus. How could one visit of an eighteen year old boy cause him to be considered "prominent" in my father's lodge? The unauthorized publication of my private letter under the utterly false heading further alienated me from my family. I must be on my own from now on and be careful what I write, say or do.

On yet another trip to Greenville I again asked Helen for her hand with the same result as before. In t he meantime letters from Doris were very endearing. Finally, I wrote Helen putting my proposal in writing. Would she meet me in Fayetteville, North Carolina where her mother came from--object marriage? She was 21 and I was 25. The reply took the starch out of me. "I will have to ask my mother." Her mother was right there. Three times and out as they say in the ball game. She, nor her mother, replied to my proposal. However, a month later her mother wrote and invited me to be their guest at the first reunion of the 30th Infantry Division at Greenville on a year after we cracked the Hindenburg Line, September 29, 1919. I accepted, and was treated as one of the family. Her mother especially was kind to me during the the two days. Helen and I had no date. She was too busy. Had to dress as a beautiful southern belle and attend all social functions with her many girl friends. Mme. Schumann-Heink was there to sing. During an intermission she remarked, pointing to these girls: "What beautiful flowers." Nothing was said on either side about my written proposal to Helen. I had not yet received a reply. I could be uptight in response to uptightedness! I would not get down on my knees to her or to her mother, nor did I wish a big church (Presbyterian) wedding in Greenville. None of my own family (Catholics) would or could be represented. The stone wall separating these two religions was too high!

About this time there were prospects of a civilian job. Prior to this a board of officers at Fort Dix had interviewed me for a commission in the regular U.S. Army. I failed one question. "What was the year the U.S.A. acquired Alaska?" I could not remember the date. So my education was not up to the standards of a West Point graduate. However, the board recommended me for a 2nd lieutenancy which I declined. With my military experiences in front line fighting I did not want to start at the bottom again.

Fort Dix is not far from Philadelphia and New York City and I visited those cities several times on week-ends. The Chemist's Club in New York City began to list chemical companies who wanted or needed chemists. I filed an application for a job citing my B.S. degree from North Carolina State College--but no experience as a Chemist. Only one reply. Ross Phillips, Inc., Canandaigua, New York offered me a job there. Not much pay, but much experience. Small company. A mechanic, a young high school graduate and I made up the work force.

Ross himself worked harder than the rest of us. We manufactured ammonium and potassium sulphocyanates, later called THIOCYANATES, for the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York. We worked in an old abandoned brick water pump station, have little or no rent to pay. To make the finished crystal products we had to start with some very dangerous chemicals. Sodium cyanide, in 50 lb. iron drums and carbon disulfide in 50 gal. steel drums. These with other chemicals had to be heated in large open aluminum kettles, over a fire, until the reaction was completed. The crystalline product had to be cooled, washed, dried, and packaged for shipment to Rochester. Ross was a born chemist but without a college education. He also had a handicap. His mother in cleaning out his ears, when he was a child, ruptured his ear drums. Never, he later told his family, "put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow." He got his knowledge by reading chemical abstracts and other scientific literature. Ross was a great boss. Frequently we put in over twelve hours work a day.