G.I. Joe or I Get Drafted
When I was 18 years old or whatever the law was I had to register for the draft. In a short time I got a notice in the mail that I had been drafted and I was to go to Charlotte for an exam to see if I was fit to serve. On April 30, 1953, I met the bus at the Hayes Building in North Wilkesboro about 7:30 in the morning. There were 35 or 40 of us. The Korean War was going on and a lot of guys were being drafted.
We were taken to a big military building in Charlotte where we were given a talk to about why we were there. We were given a chance to tell them of any reasons that we couldn’t serve in the Army. Nobody was brave enough to come up with an excuse.
We went into a room and took a simple written test to check our mental ability. We had to write our name, birth date, skills, education, and any college information. Then we started the physical exam. We took an eye exam and if you could hear the instructors for the eye exam you passed the hearing test. We stripped down to our under shorts and put our clothes in a bag. The next doctor checked our hearts, hands, feet, private parts, and check our ability to move. Some to the guys were pretty dense and couldn’t understand the instructions.
After lunch we went back into a big room. They called out the 10 or 12 names and told them to stand in a special place. The rest of us stayed where we were. When they started calling out the names, I thought they were the ones that had passed. I was a skinny person so I thought that they didn’t want me. I didn’t really care one way or the other, I was ready to go. They told us we were physically fit and we would be hearing from them. They said to go home and take care of business matters.
I took that same bus back to Charlotte. I remember that two or three of us went together both times. Neither of them were my classmates or friends. On the morning we left a lady from Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Wilkesboro met the bus on 9th Street and had a prayer with us and gave us the little Military Bible that I still have.
On May 7, 1953, I got another letter from my local draft board saying that I was found fully acceptable for induction into the Armed Services.
When I got to Charlotte, I took the Oath to the United States and was officially inducted in the Army, July 28, 1953. We were then taken to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for processing and orientation.
We got there about 3:00 p.m. They ran us through a line, throwing out clothes to us. We had been told not to bring many civilian clothes because we wouldn’t be needing them. My uniforms felt like they were three sizes too big. I had to roll up the sleeves and pants legs. The boots were the only thing that fit right. We stayed in Fort Jackson three days, getting shots, a GI Haircut, and orientation before being sent to Camp Polk (now Fort Polk, Louisiana) for basic training.
We flew from California, South Carolina to Shreveport, Louisiana on an Army transport plane. I had been on a little plane at the North Wilkesboro airport, (where the Rotary Park is now) with Daddy. The plane held the pilot, Wood Wallace, Daddy and Me. It was a little, one propeller type. Mama didn’t want us to go but Daddy had a little liquid courage and really wanted to go.
The transport plane was a small propeller type carrying about fifty soldiers. It was old. It shook and rattled. The others assured me that everything was okay, but it took forever to get up in the air. Six planes took off together bound for Shreveport. When we landed in Shreveport we got off the plane and stood around. They told us there was going to be a delay. Five planes were there. We had muster call and about an hour later the other plane came in. It had not been fueled before they left California so they had landed in Jackson, Mississippi for emergency fuel.
While I was standing at the airport I looked around. That was the flattest piece of land I’d ever seen. We got on buses and went to Camp Polk. Basic training in the Louisiana swamps in July had begun. At least the Korean War had ended.
After Camp Polk for about twenty weeks, I was sent to Fort Riley, Kansas for more advanced training. The paratrooper school I had volunteered an extra year for did not happen. Six weeks later I got orders to ship out to Germany. I had seven days at home before I was on my way to New York. I was in New York for three days process for my duty in Germany. I had time to go to Times Square. What a sight for a country boy! There were tall buildings, heavy traffic and lots of people. I ate my first pizza in Times Square. I did not know what a pizza was, but I soon learned it was good.
The fun soon ended and we boarded our troop ship, the USS Darby at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. It took eight days to cross the Atlantic Ocean to the Port City of Bremerhaven, Germany on the North Sea. When we got off the ship, we boarded a troop train to Frankfurt, Germany. The seats were all wood and the ride was rough. It took a day and a night to reach our destination in Frankfurt. From here, we rode a bus to a barracks in Hanau, Germany, about 25 miles from Frankfurt. The base was located eight miles from the small village of Lingendieback. Our barracks were the former German Air Force Officers Base called Fleigeerhorst Kaserne (this is German for “Flying Horse”). There were two and four man rooms made of tile and stucco. They were first class. The US Army did not bomb these barracks in WWII but bombed the airstrip all to hell.
I was assigned to the Headquarters Co. 46th AAA Anti-Aircraft of the 4th Infantry Division. My primary job was a gunner on tanks with 40mm and 50mm guns. Later, I was assigned a job in personnel and driver for the Colonel.
The 4th Infantry Division was a combat ready division. The Russian Army was a threat because they wanted full control of Germany following WWII. The 4th Infantry Division was to defend the Fulda Gap. This was the direction the Russians would use to attack so we were always combat ready and could get out of the base in thirty-five minutes. We were on constant alert. Our movement mostly occurred early mornings about 3:00 a.m. Four times in twenty-seven months I served in Germany, I thought they were for real. These alerts would occur when there was a movement of Russian troops along the Czechoslovakia Border. The blockade of Berlin (we occupied ¼ of Berlin) would cause great concern and danger to our troops there. We were well aware that we must protect our interest at all cost. The Russians got the word and backed off. The Americans, French and English armies saved Germany from the Russians during the Cold War.
My duty in Germany was not all work; we had time for some relaxation and travel. Three of my best buddies and I went to Amsterdam, Holland on a special three-day pass. We walked the city and rode the canal boats. They were like water taxis. Using the canals was the best way to move about town. We also visited the Rembrandt Museum. We had a guide who spoke English and explained all the art and paintings for us. For a nineteen year-old boy from Wilkes County, North Carolina, this was awesome. If you ever visit Amsterdam, do visit the Rembrandt Museum. The Dutch people were friendly and they were good to us. They thanked us for saving them from the Germans in WWII.
The fun soon ended and we were back in Germany doing our duty and job. We used Grafenwhor, Germany firing range to test our weapons and target firing. We spent six weeks there in 1955-56 during Europe’s coldest winter of the century. We had special insulated Mickey Mouse boots. Also, the snow came in late October and stayed till May. I told myself when I get back home I will never ever be this cold again. In a few months, it was time to go home – back to the good old USA.
I got to Germany in June 1954, and left in October 1956. While I was there, I was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, 46AAA (Anti-Aircraft) Battalion. Even though I was a gunner on an anti-aircraft tank and always trained with tanks, I was assigned to personnel and supply when I first got to Germany. My job was to pick up incoming soldiers and bring them to base. I made many trips to the Frankfurt Airport. It looked really different when I went back on vacation in 2001. I also took soldiers to the airport at Frankfurt to fly home. I went to Frankfurt with laundry, dry-cleaning and other errands.
Then I got the job of driving the Colonel. The Colonel was a career man, about sixty years-old. He was tall, medium built and smoked a pipe with cherry-flavored tobacco. I called him Sir and he called me Brooks. He was a nice fellow, the ranking officer of the 46th AAA. He had a jeep and a staff car. I drove the jeep when we went on training missions. When we would have an alert, I would always drive the Colonel. I guess I got picked to drive him because I could read the map, compass and had a natural sense of directions. Once we were on field maneuvers and the communications went out from the Colonel to the Captains with a command. In a few minutes, a message came back, “Roger, Dodger, Old Codger, over and out.” Evidently, whoever said that missed the code that I was with the Colonel. He just cleared his throat. I never spoke.
In the 46th AAA, our primary job was to be a fully trained and combat ready unit. The first ten months I was there, I was part of the Occupation Forces. Later our job was to protect Germany from the Russians who wanted complete control of Germany. This was during the Cold War. Even after the Occupation ended, they still wanted more and were a constant threat. The 4th Infantry was a combat ready division. We could go into battle at any time with the manpower and weapons ready to go. We had frequent mock training and practices. We could go on full high alert at 3:00 a.m. or anytime. We got our pack, strapped it on, our helmet, and rifle. We always knew where to go. We could move out within thrity-five minutes and be on our way. Everything was always ready. We would travel two-three hours to our assigned point, set up and wait for orders. I drove the Colonel in his jeep.
When I boarded that bus in front of the Hayes Building on July 28, 1953, I didn’t realize how much my life was fixing to change. I left behind my family and friends. I guess everybody in basic training was in the same boat. We were all strangers living, eating, and training together – twenty-four hours a day.
It didn’t take long until I made some really good friends. My best buddy at Camp Polk was Donald Aultman. Donald was from Crestview, Florida. He was tall and lean. He had a car and went home a few times on a weekend pass. He asked me to go with him, but I never did. Another soldier named Barlow was also from Crestview and they would ride together. At that time, Crestview was a little hick area sort of like Wilkes County.
Homeward Bound – Auf Wiedersehen
About 7:00 a.m. we left Goppingen and rode in the truck to Stuttgart to the train station. Then we took the train to Frankfurt and then to Bremerahven, just the reverse from what I had done before. We boarded the ship The Butner late in the afternoon to come home. We pulled out in daylight hours and waved goodbye to Germany but not in the sense of grieving. The trip home was tougher because I was ready to get home, but I couldn’t make the ship go any faster. The days in Germany had been filled with excitement and fun. I matured a lot while there and learned a lot living in a foreign country for twenty-seven months. I think we sailed for eight days. Time seemed slow. I worked in the snack bar and helped keep the ship clean.
We arrived in New York Harbor about 9:00 p.m. too late to get off the ship until the next morning. We had to wait about three miles out from the Brooklyn Army Terminal Harbor. Seeing all the lights of the city was a thrill – so close to U.S. soil, but we had to wait until the next morning. “Harbor Lights” is still one of my favorite songs. They go us up the next morning about 4:00 a.m. and gave us cold navy beans, a roll, fruit, juice, and milk for breakfast. Sometime after daylight, we moved into the docks. The tugboats took us in. When we were ready to get off the ship, they lined us up and checked our names and serial numbers. We went into a big Army terminal and waited for buses to take us to Grand Central Station, New York where they gave us a real American lunch. It was so good.
We took a train from New York to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. We rode all night and arrived the next morning. We went to the Processing Center Barracks to get released. I spent two days processing out. They paid me up-to-date, gave me a physical, checked all my records and sent us to classes about the things we needed to know. I had a seven-year obligation to the Army, so I chose the Ready Reserve. That meant in case of war or if I was needed I could be called up and sent back to active duty. In 1958, during the Lebanon Crisis, I got notification that I might be called up. They told me to stay where I could be notified until further notice, until the crisis was over. I got my final discharge in 1961.
Finally, the day came that I could leave Fort Jackson, South Carolina, October 17, 1956, and be a civilian again. Mama and Daddy picked me up at Fort Jackson in a brand new 1956 Ford. I had written that I wanted to get a new car when I got home Daddy had brought it for me using money that I had sent home. It was a complete surprise. What a happy day!
My military service had ended. It had been quite an experience. It took me places that I had never been. I met many people and made lots of friends from around the United States. It expanded my knowledge and taught me to take care of myself. I’m proud to have served in the U.S. Army and to serve my country. I am proud to have been in the 4th Infantry Division in Germany, the best trained combat ready force the world has ever known.
Following active duty, Joe served in the U.S. Army Ready Reserve and received an Honorable Discharge on July 29, 1961, with the rank of Corporal.
Some of his medals are: WWII Occupation-Germany, National Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Expert Rifle Badge and Sharpshooter in Carbine and Submachine Gun and recently received the Cold War Certificate of Recognition issued by The Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfield.
"After I got home, I met a beautiful girl name Pat (Patricia). A few months later we got married and had four kids, Sherry, Liz, Joe Jr. and Jim. We now also have six wonderful grandchildren, David Brooks, Clinton Calloway, Daniel Brooks, Ryan Smith, Anna Brooks, and Patrick Brooks.
I attended college on the GI Bill getting a degree in Business Administration and Accounting. I worked 40 years as an insurance salesman and retired in 1996.
Some years later, after retirement, my wife Pat, daughter Sherry and I took a tour of Germany. A lot had changed since 1956. Our time in Berlin was a highlight of our trip. It was good to tour and see Germany as a visitor and not as a soldier.
I must say as a young man, I learned a lot about other people and living in a foreign country. My time in Germany was a great experience and I take pride in serving my country.
I am a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Blue Ridge Mountain Post 1142 in North Wilkesboro, NC where I can support our troops around the world and help Veterans who are in need."
God Bless America
Joe Robert Brooks
An American Hero