Oral history interview of Lorenzo Bell, tape 1 of 2

Veterans History Project: Oral History Interviews
Oral history interview of Lorenzo Bell, tape 1 of 2
Brown, Myers; Johnson, Ahnekii
Bell, Lorenzo, 1925-2001
Date of Original:
Artillery--United States
World War, 1939-1945--Participation, African American
World War, 1939-1945--Personal narratives, American
105mm Caliber gun
United States. Army. Infantry Division, 92nd
United States. Army. Field Artillery Battalion, 597th
United States. Army. Regimental Combat Team, 442nd
Wings over Jordan (Choir : Cleveland, Ohio)
Philadelphia Naval Shipyard (Philadelphia, Pa.)
United States. Army--Artillery
United States. Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944
Buffalo Soldiers
United States, Georgia, Atlanta Metropolitan Area, 33.8498, 84.4383
United States, Georgia, Richmond County, Augusta, 33.47097, -81.97484
Italy, 42.833333, 12.833333
United States, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia County, Philadelphia, 39.952335, -75.163789
Austria, Vienna, 48.2083537, 16.3725042
United States, Georgia, 32.75042, -83.50018
video recordings (physical artifacts)
In part one of this two-part interview, Lorenzo Bell recalls his experiences as a black soldier in Italy and Austria during World War II. He describes his training and life in an artillery unit, and relates experiences as a black soldier in a segregated army.
Lorenzo Bell was a soldier in Italy during World War II.
VETERANS HISTORY INTERVIEW LORENZO BELL Atlanta History Center – July 9, 1999 Transcribed by Stephanie McKinnell Myers Brown: First of all, would you state your name and today's date, and that'll do it for the first question. Lorenzo Bell: Alright, my name is Lorenzo Bell. The date is July 9, 1999. MB: What was your place of birth and where did you grow up? LB: What was my place of birth and where did I grow up? I was born in Augusta, Georgia. I grew up during my early teen years in Augusta, Georgia. I was later, after my 17th birthday, I migrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. MB: What year were you born? LB: What year I was born? It was 1925. MB: When you moved to Philadelphia, what prompted that move to Philadelphia? Did your family move there, or did you move there by yourself? LB: When I moved to Philadelphia, and what prompted my move to Philadelphia was I wanted to get a good government job. My family did not move there. I was there living with an aunt on my mother's side. MB: What did you do once you moved to Philadelphia? LB: When I was in Philadelphia, what did I do when I was in Philadelphia? First I was 17 years old. I had to go get a working permit from a local school to be able to work. After obtaining the working permit, I got a job working in the shipyard, well the navy yard actually, in Philadelphia. And I worked as a sheet metal mechanic helper. And I worked on the battleship USS Wisconsin, which it took three years to complete. MB: Was that the only ship you worked on, did you just focus on working on that one? LB: Yeah, the only ship we worked on and what we focused on was mostly the USS Wisconsin. MB: Were there other African-Americans that were working on the same project with you? LB: Sure, there was a quite a few. MB: As you were doing the work there at the shipyard, were the, was there must interaction between the blacks and the whites working on the ships, or did everybody kind of stay to themselves, how did that work? LB: Well, what I actually was going on while I was working the shipyard, everybody had to mingle. Everybody had a job to do, and they had a supervisor who would come around in the morning and would tell them what the blueprints, what had to be done. There was no controversy. Most time that was spent, that I spent was going checking out tools. And after checking out tools, I would come back to the job and would assist the mechanic. MB: What year did you start working in the shipyard? LB: I started working in the shipyard in 1944, no, let me see, I started working in the shipyard in 1943, it was September of 1943. MB: When was your birthday, when did you turn 18? LB: I turned 18, well, when did I turn 18? It was that November 8, 1944. I turned 18 in Philadelphia. But because my friends were going in the service, I moved my age up, instead of November 8, I moved to October 16 in order to get in the service, and then I was drafted earlier. MB: What day did you actually get drafted, when did you… LB: In January, I don't know what year did I actually get, I believe I got drafted in January of '44. But I was set on the a three-week leave to get business and everything straightened out, so I had to return to service on the 17th of February, 1944. MB: And you wanted to do the war? LB: Sure I wanted to go into the, did I want to get into the war, sure I wanted to go. Because all the boys at that time were leaving, they wanted to go into the service. Matter of fact, I asked for the navy because I had been working on the ships, and what they gave me?, army. MB: And how did you get drafted, because I would think working in the shipyard would have been a protected war industry? LB: How did I get drafted, because I'm a nonessential worker. Only essential workers were deferred, given a draft status. Or if I had been 4F, that's what they classified that wasn't qualified physically to go into the service. MB: Once you were drafted, you went through those number of weeks where you had to get everything in order. Where were you sent for your basic training? LB: My basic, well it was, sent me for my basic training, I was sent to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Yeah it has always been our fort. And we did about 6-8 weeks of basic training. MB: What basic training, and you actually got into some wartime experiences, when you look back did you think your basic training had you prepared you for that? LB: When I look back to see whether my basic training prepared us, yeah we were well prepared because most of the recruits at that time were just out of high school, and they were mostly boys from the, from the east coast. We were fairly small because they selected us for a field artillery, and at that time you didn't have any blacks in the field artillery. It was considered as a high branch of service. The only thing that the blacks was selected to go in the most was quartermasters or a trucking outfit or some rear echelon duties. So we were considered privileged. In taking basic training, there was another white outfit called the 16th field artillery. We were called the 16th separate field artillery. So that was a disparity among the two groups. MB: Were the drill instructors, were they white or black? LB: Our drill instructors were white at basic training, yeah our drill instructors, they were white. MB: Did you want to go into the war even though you knew you might be doing trucking or quartermaster? LB: Did I want to go into war? MB: Even though you knew you might be doing a lower type of job? LB: Did I want to go in the war knowing that I might take a lower type of job? Sure, I wanted to go into the war because we felt that was a privilege, and we took pride in serving our country because the black press had been pleading, why couldn't we, we was Americans, why couldn't we take part in the war. They had papers such as the Pittsburg Courier, the Chicago Defender, the Amsterdam News, they were all _____ why the Negro couldn't fight, it was his country as much as anybody else's. MB: Right. So when did you actually get your assignment to the field artillery? Did that happen as you went in? LB: I actually got my assignment to the field artillery when we passed basic training, we were shipped to Ft. Wachucka, Arizona while we was assigned to the 92nd Buffalo Division. And this Buffalo Division was the forerunner of the cavalry during the Indians, during the wars with the Indians and their troops were Buffalo soldiers helped in the struggle then, so we was the forerunner, it was the forerunner of our outfit. MB: Give us your full regiment, company, battalion, division, give us the whole nomenclature all the way up the chain. LB: All right, you want the whole nomenclature of my outfit. OK, we went to the Ft. Wachucka, AZ, we was assigned to the 92nd Division. The division consists of infantrymens, artillery mens, medics, and you have certain breakdowns, which I have a book that will break it all down to you. But in my outfit, we had, the five we had in the artillery, that was four battalions: 597, 598, 599, and 600. OK, the 597 and 598 battalions, they were, had the 105mm howitzer. The 598 and 600 had the 155mm howitzers. And each battalion had a ____ that was in charge, and each battalion had four companies: Co A, Co B, Co C, and Co D. I don't exactly know how many men at that time consisted of, but I'd say around 10 men to a company. MB: Which company were you in? LB: I was in B company. MB: Of the? LB: 598, which company was I in, Co B, 597 field artillery, 92nd Division. MB: When were you first deployed outside of the United States? LB: Well, we left, we were first deployed outside of the United States when we went to Italy. I believe it was in September of '44. We went in from ____, Italy. We went immediately to a camping area, and we stayed there for about a week, living in what we call shelter halves. Each man had a half of a tent, and boy did it rain in Italy during that time. It seemed like the monsoon season hit Italy when we was there. Then we got assigned, so each artillery had to support an infantry battalion or regiment rather, and that was their job. We stayed in the rear echelon somewhat between 6 and 7 miles behind the infantry. And our job was to supply the infantry or whoever with fire when it was needed. They would call down a fire mission and say battery B 20 rounds charge 5 side wheel ___ 5 command. Each shell has 7 charges, powder bags. Alright, you had a gun, you had a man that opened the breech, and you had a man that was put the shells together, put the shells and drop the charges in, and pass it along and slid in the breech, and you had a man to close the breech. Then a man would pull the lanyard cord to fire the gun. My job, I was a gunner. So therefore, when a command came down, battery B elevate 15 degrees or depress 20 degrees right so many degrees or left so many degrees. My job was to get on that gun straddle the leg and look through the sites which was somewhat centered to a surveillance pole which have red lights facing and we would aim on it. The enemy couldn't see the light but we could see the light because we were facing it. And line off of that particular sight which we were going to depress or elevate so many degrees. And then after we got that, we commenced firing whenever the order came down. COUNTER 182 But each charge would determine how far the shell was going. If you put five shells that means that we're going to shoot five miles. Seven shells was the maximum. If you wanted to shoot seven miles. Mission would come down, like if the infantry sent out a patrol and they got caught, they wanted a smoke screen. So they had to bail them out. We _____ the fire. If a convoy, enemy convoy came on, they said if we see an enemy convoy because we had a man up in the observation, up near the front line, that would call down for a fire mission on the convoy. After we completed the mission, the call would come down, mission competed. MB: The infantry unit you were supporting was an all black unit as well? LB: An all black unit, because we were, the unit we supported, it was an all black unit. But there were times we went along with the Japanese division, yeah the Nissei division, the 442nd. It was one of the most, it was actually a sacrificial lamb. More Nissei's that any other soldier got purple hearts than any other soldiers during World War II. They was fierce fighters. We were assigned tot he 5th Army, General Mark Clark's army. And also was assigned to us the 750th tank battalion, we were with them also. They had an _____ which the aircraft were flown on the aircraft, and we was assigned with that outfit. But the Germans, we were fighting the Germans, but the Germans had what they ____, and I remember they were screaming ammunition. The Germans what they would do is paint a bullet with the red cross and they had their guns on half tracks. They would load our guns from the side of a building and fire on us and load them back and we couldn't tell where the muzzle blast was coming from. But we couldn't fire on them unless we got instructions from Washington or the command headquarters because we was thinking that they was a hospital. That's the kind of tactics they were using on us. MB: How much were you subjected to incoming German anti-battery fire? LB: We were subjected to incoming German battery fire practically every afternoon. During that time we had to go back about two miles to get our food. Two or three men at a time. German's would see us going back, and they would, with a large man would fire on us and they would pin us down sometimes. We had to wait ____ to get our food. We used to laugh about our guys only old men was in service with us. They were, some was 40 years old. But what had happened was, _____ back to get defense jobs and they got caught in the draft, and they were complaining about they couldn't run until the Germans started firing on us, and boy. We were due. We went into a place, we had to first dig those guns in, cover them up with cover with sandbags on the side. We'd be _____ made place for ourselves. And then we would dig a big hole in the ground maybe 5 feet, 6 feet, or maybe about 8, and get logs and put over the top and fill sandbags and put a tarpaulin over it. And that's what we stayed in. We had candles and flashlights while we was fighting. And we fought in shifts. We had twelve hour shifts. We would fight 12 hours, then the next crew would relieve us. We didn't stay on the front line the whole time, next shift would come on. They would stay from 12 to 12 the next day then we went on at 12 the next day till 12 at night. That's the way the war was fought. MB: What were you issued as far as personal sidearms, were you issued Garands or M-1 carbines, or just revolvers, or did you carry anything? LB: Well our personal weapons that we were issued were 30-30 carbines. Semiautomatics. We had a clip that would hold 15 rounds. Some would have another clip wallet to the back so all they'd have to do is flip clips and actually we could have 16 rounds because we could keep one round up in the chamber and that would give us 15 more rounds of ammunition. MB: What did you think of that gun, was it good? LB: Yeah, it was pretty good. There was a lot of play in, course you had to be steady with it. It had a lot of recoil and it would jump around, but as far as it being accurate, it was really accurate. MB: Did everybody on the gun crew have one? LB: Sure, everybody had a gun. He had to carry the gun at all times and keep it, keep his gun, you know maintenance on his gun. That was required every day. Same thing about this howitzer. After we fired a fire mission, we had to go and swab them out and clean them up. Because they would tell us we was indispensable, but those guns, it would take months to get a gun but they could get a new troop. So we kept our equipment in good shape. During the rain, we would take the guns and turn them down. ______ shoulder, turn the barrel down to carry that way. MB: Ya'll had 105's, right? LB: Yeah, we had 105's, that what ammunition we had. MB: How often did you have to move the guns? Did ya'll move them forward as the infantry advanced or did ya'll pretty much stay put? LB: How often did we move the guns? Depending on how often they actually advanced. Sometimes we would stay in one position for two months just mainly firing on convoys and what have you. Then as the infantry, in one case, going through I think it was Luka, Italy, we advanced so fast, we went into an area before the infantry got there. So _____ told our commander that if he didn't get us back as quickly as he could, he was going to court martial everything, every button he had on his outfit. But we usually stayed in a position place for quite a long time. We stayed in a town like Pisa for quite some time until all the people there knew us almost by name. COUNTER 298 MB: How did the Italian people see you, how did they respond to you? LB: Well, how did the Italians respond to us, at first they were a little curious. Because there had been so much propaganda. Some of the troops that came through, the white troops, had told them that we were cowboys, we ate babies, we had tails, don't have no dealing with us. But when we got to a town and we took up time with the children and there was a lot of candy and cigarettes that we would give. At time for our meals some of the fellows, you know, see we didn't get but one mess of food, he would get two, he would come back for seconds in order to feed the children and their families. So _____ when we came there, and they cried when we left. We go out, a typical example would be a radio. When we came, when we went up the coast up to Genoa, we came back to _____, and that was a posted sign off limits. There was one time I was young, which was ______ spoke up for his troops. He tore the sign down and said my troops help took this town, and this will be their town, so he put that town off limits to nothing but the 92nd division. MB: You had mentioned to us in a previous conversation about how your unit managed to get back Columbus' ashes or something like that, can you tell us that story? LB: Yeah, up in Genoa, Italy, I guess it was during his birthday, some of the Italians had taken Columbus' ashes and hid them in the mountains. So we had a big ceremony and we restored the ashes. The 92nd division, they had a black choir with probably from the 40's and 50's and probably into the 60's was called Wings over Jordan, a singing group. I think they was from out of Cleveland, Ohio, but I know it was Ohio. And they came over and helped us in the celebration, and that was quite a feat for us. That brought back a lot of good feelings among everyone. I may also mention that in order to keep the morale up, we had shows that come over. There was a show called Shuffle Along that _____ Cicily. OK, then we had sport events. We had football, spaghetti bowl between the Japanese soldiers and the 92nd division troops, in the 92nd division. And we had USO's. MB: Who won the football game? LB: I can't recall, I don't believe we did, but anyway, I can't recall. Because we had one player that he played football in Atlanta, his name was John Moody. Moody, he played on that team, but he had been a Morris Brown student before going in the service? Int: Did it make you feel better, did you like it when… MB: Sure, sure, it built our morale, it really helped our morale. And when we went over and we saw the black red cross, USO workers. And we saw a lot of blacks that came out of Ethiopia was there, because you know at one time Italy went down in Ethiopia. They was there. So whenever you see a black that would make us feel good. We took, we felt proud, you know. You would see such shows, blacks, it would built our morale up. Int: Did you get lots of letters, when did the mail come? LB: Well, when did the mail come and the letters that we got? Int: ______ stay in touch with you all? LB: No, it wasn't hard to get in touch with us, but the mail had to come through the APO. We would get it, sometimes it would be a month late. People would send us packages, they ____ some two and three months earlier. And we could never mention where exactly we were, we would always say somewhere in Italy in order to, in order to offset the enemy. Int: You weren't allowed to say where you were? LB: We were not allowed to say where we were, but we could just only say somewhere in Italy. And our APO No. was a New York, APO New York. That was the European theater of operations. Int: You said that you were called colored, did the Italians and the Germans have any names for you? LB: We were called colored, other names, did Germany have names for us? The Germans had a lady they called American Axis Sally, and they would throw leaflets telling us why we were over there fighting, we did not have anything to fight for. Int: They just passed out to black soldiers? LB: They passed it out, leaflets. Int: Not to everybody, just the black soldiers. LB: Well they did drop it from the air. They'd drop it and it would tell us why are you over here fighting? The Germans are not your enemy, the Americans are your enemy, that's who you should be fighting. They were trying to ____ our morale down, but we didn't go for that, we didn't accept that. But the Italians never did, the Italians accepted us COUNTER 428 TAPE 1 SIDE B COUNTER 001 …. as their liberators. Some of the ____ they were just there, thought they were just there. They didn't try to win friends, __________. I don't mean to be sounding like I'm being prejudiced or biased or anything, but that's the truth. And we were there, they were just amazed, they would come up to us and rub our skin because, they had never seen a black before. And they would come up touching your back, thought you had tails, and after they find out we were human same as anybody else and how they acted, they were very friendly and had no trouble out of them. Now occasionally a guy would pull a few tricks like selling cigarettes, they were gypping them out of cigarettes or something like that sometimes. I still have a ten pack of cigarettes in a carton they would have five backs and maybe had some sodas or something in the bottle. When they open it up and pay for it, they find no cigarettes. Anyway ___________________ at the bar. A black soldier was no good, you know that black soldier was no good. But we had our own club that we'd go to and had trucks that would carry us every night or every day whenever we wanted to go. MB: Was there, kind along the same line that you asked, I don't know if we picked it up, but US troops, they referred to you as colored units, is that right? LB: Right. The US troops referred to us as colored units. Colored or Negro. At that time, we didn't have any blacks known as blacks or Afro-Americans, we were known as colored or Negro. MB: Was that a term you found particularly offensive, or what would you have, if that wasn't acceptable, what would you have preferred to have been called? LB: At that time, do I consider those terms to be offensive? No, because we had been conditioned for a long time that we were colored. And whenever we signed any kind of major, or paper, or any value, you made a race, we always would be colored and later would be either Negro. That was accepted during that time, that was an accepted name. But the one name that we could not accept was the n-word, nigger. Now we were offended a lot of time by that name, we were called that. Int: Did anyone call you that? LB: Oh sure. Sure. Did anyone call us that name, niggers, oh sure. Let me give you one incidence in the United States. We were traveling from Ft. Bragg coming through Atlanta. We ate at the, on Decatur Street at a place called the Metropolitan Café. We had meal tickets. The white troops went to Rich's, they ate at the Magnolia Room. So _____ back up to Union Station, we were going to Arizona, it was a troop train. When we got to Little Rock, Arkansas, now this is as vivid to me as if it were happening today. The porter came through and said he would have pull the _________. We wanted to know why, and he said it would best if we pull the ________. Now I know at that time, we couldn't even have, it might have started it out going through Little Rock, AK. We could not be on a troop train. So we met a lot of racism. Course there was a cloud at that time of the South but we met a lot of racism. Not only did the fight the war over there we had, some of the troops had to fight a war right here. I recall a time, one incidence, here in Georgia, a black _____ came through, I don't know exactly what time it, but he got shot just driving through the town, so there has always been hostility during that time. So things haven't always been like that anymore, you know. Int: Did you sometimes see the colored troops that were left over in uniforms and supplies, brand new stuff? LB: Oh sure. Well most of our equipment was new, the equipment was new, we got new equipment. Course that's the thing about it, a lot of time we were hard… Well the equipment that we got, once a week if we could, we would go back to the rear echelon and take a shower, and we'd get a clean outfit, everything clean, socks. At night we would take socks off and put them to our chests and dry them out because we were in a lot of snow over there, and we got clean. Int: So almost every week you got like a different uniform? LB: Yeah if we could get back to the rear echelon, we'd get sprayed and get a different uniform, I mean a change of uniform, clean uniform. MB: Was there any, well talking about uniforms, was there any particular piece of uniform or equipment that you thought was a really good thing to have? I mean, on the same token, was there any piece that you thought was worthless and lot of guys threw them away and got lost or something like that? LB: Well any good uniform that I though was valuable or we could use or wasn't no good, for example, when I went in the service, everybody was issued these, what they call thermal underwear now. I never could get any because they didn't have my size. And I went through the entire army without having a thermal underwear. Int: Were they too small? LB: Yeah, because of my size, I never did get them. See you would get in what you were issued. If you were issued a sweater, what were those kind of jackets that we had?, I can't recall the name of them now. If ______, that's what you got. There was one case that in Italy, they had some troops over there from, called Sengalese, they were from out of Africa. There were ____ with the British, yeah, I think they was attached to the British. They would, they went barefoot, and they were going on the front lines, sneak up on the enemy and cut his neck and like an outpost and sneak up and wake the enemy up and he would just panic to see that, but they were getting paid by the ears, and then _____ they were cut. And so one asked me for a jacket, he had one of these British ____ jackets from, field jacket, and I didn't know what he was saying, he ______ and so I didn't want to do, and he got so mad and said they ever pull this knife, these swords, whatever they call them, sabers, or whatever, they're going to have cut _____ after they cut themselves. So I gave him my jacket, so I went a long time without one. COUNTER 92 MB: So when you were talking about what you ate, you usually went back to the rear and ate, two or three miles. So usually you were getting hot food, right, from a kitchen, or were you eating C-rations? LB: Well, the food that we were getting when we went back to the rear echelon, it was usually hot food. Now, most food that we got was dehydrated food such as eggs, milk, and each day, we got a bar of candy, chocolate candy, and a pack of cigarettes. And at that time, they had a different brand of cigarettes, I think such as Lucky Strikes, Camels, and ______. There were seven guys in the group that had been smoking the same brand of cigarettes. By me not smoking _______ Camels, I'd always give them to somebody else or something like that. The only time that we ate C-rations we were moving so fast that we couldn't get nothing else and we got C-rations. But the infantry, they were the ones that got most of the C-rations. Int: What was your favorite piece that you ended up using the most of your equipment, was there something that you used everyday? LB: Well, the favorite piece of the equipment that I had to use everyday, I would say was my helmet. The reason I say my helmet, because we would take what I call a can of canned heat and light it and put the helmet over it and get hot water to shave with. We had a net to go over our helmet to camouflage. Also we had a net that go around our gun to correspond with the terrain, so that would be most important that I used everyday. MB: When you moved the gun, were the guns moved by deuce and a half's or? LB: When they moved the guns, the guns were moved by we had _____ movers, 2 ½ ton trucks. And we rode. We didn't walk. We rode everywhere we went. The infantry was all the unfortunate, we were fortunate to ride. And we had this song about When the Caissons Go Rolling Along, we roll along in the trucks. MB: What was your first engagement, what was the first time you guys actually participated in combat action? LB: What was the first time that we participated in combat? I believe I was in Pisa, Italy. We got our first dose of comat. MB: That would have been in, when? LB: That was in '45 I believe it was, '45 because we stayed in the area a long time without doing anything, just waiting to be called, and that was in '45. I don't know why I think it was, I can't say exactly what month it was in, because we had our big push in November of '45 I think it was, but we had been fighting before then, but we got the enemy pushed and we kept them going. But occasionally we, now I came in contact in Pisa with some misfortunates to a lot of the troops, but I was fortunate. There was a guy in our outfit named Howard Bellamy from Indianapolis, Indiana, which you call ____town. We were in Pisa, and we decided to go to the USO. While we were in the USO< Bellamy said lets go get some vino, you know that's the word, Italian word for wine. And you got the blanco and the rose, so we would go into town and get some wine. We'd been gone about 15 minutes and the USO blowed up. But this is what happened. They had stowed some mines from the sea, the New Guinean sea I think it was, into the basement, and some kind of way they were set off. I had one buddy, his name was Bill, and he was from Memphis, but he got saved because he was sitting on a piano stool and it blew him behind the piano, but we missed that incidence just by about 15 minutes. Because we decided to go to get wine. MB: In your company, did everybody survive the war? LB: My company was very fortunate. We had one sergeant which we told him if you have anything wrong with your lines, your sight, do it before nightfall. And he didn't adhere to the command to the request. And he went out that night and he got shot. And there was one incident where that the Germans fired into our position between where we were staying, but it happened to be a dud, didn't go off. MB: So if all of those counter artillery barrages, they really didn't accomplish much except to keep ya'll pinned down? LB: Keep us pinned down mostly. And kept us away from getting at the food or what have you. But we didn't know effective with ours because we had the air force over there with us. We had, I think the 332nd Air group with us, they came out of Tuskeegee. They were very effective, and they called them the, what was it, the word for black in German, you know the German air force called Luftwaffe, but they were very fortunate in supplying our air power. MB: Where were you when you heard the Germans had surrendered, and where did you get that information? LB: It happened in '44? Oh, where was I when the Germans surrendered. I believe we were up near around Genoa and we heard that the Germans had surrendered. And we said now we know when we'll be going back home. So in November I think of that year, the deactivated the 92nd division and they started this points system which is points, so many points for each 6 months you stayed in service. And if was rumored that the unit was going to come back to the United States as a whole, but some of the guys said that they came back to the United States, it wasn't going to be the same because there was going to be a lot of destruction because they felt like they were entitled to a lot more than they were going to get, so they decided they would deactivate the outfits and send them on a points system. So therefore, I was shipped, and a few more of us were shipped to Vienna, Austria by freight, packed in like cattle, on a freight car to Vienna, Austria to join the 3478th trucking company, it was a supply company. MB: What did you do once you were there? LB: When we were there, and what did we do when we were there in Austria? We hauled supplies, we got stuff like for the armored troops, we got American liquor for the officers, we went to place in the mountains that people needed rations and food to carry them the food, and the 5th Army rest center up in, I think that was ______ Garden, one of those places, that we carried food and picked up supplies. Int: Everyone that was doing that was black? LB: Was everything doing that with us, yeah they were black. They were black. Now when we were in Austria, the city was divided into four zones, sections. There's a section for the French, a section for the Russians, a section for the English, and a section where I was stationed. And we went from one section to another section, we had to use a pass to go through. The Russians were the only troops that were allowed to carry artillery pieces, I mean, their guns all the time. We couldn't carry guns, they carried their guns all the time. So we would make different areas like _________ and take up supplies in the trucking outfit. Go ____________ and pick up different things for the outfit, and I got to become dispatcher for the outfit. I was assistant dispatcher, and the ______ so my job was in charge of to make sure all the vehicles were in good running order and keep a record of a, a log of the maintenance work to be done and make sure each vehicle had two drivers assigned, make a report on what details each man was supposed to carry out and perform and then turn in that report to headquarters every day. MB: When did you finally get discharged? LB: I was discharged, when did I finally get discharged? I was discharged in June 11, 1946, at Ft. Dix, New Jersey. Because I went back to Philadelphia for a brief stay, then I came back to Augusta. MB: How did you end up coming to Atlanta, and when did you come to Atlanta? LB: How did I end up coming to Atlanta? Alright, my first wife, I put emphasis on first because this is my third wife, but anyway, my first wife she was an Atlantan, and she wanted to come back home, and I had been working at Camp Gordon and they had a reduction in force, and so I came to Atlanta to seek employment, and that's how I got here to Atlanta. When I got to Atlanta, my first job was with the Atlanta Broom Company. That's where I worked for a while. My father-in-law, he was instrumental in getting that job for me. And then I was __________ to work as a food chemist _______ called the Dairy Tech Corporation. It was out there in Sage Hill, it was __________ right down from Channel 5, I call it channel 5, and we was manufacturing chemists for ______ ice cream plants, and I got that job, I stayed there almost 25 years, but we moved to Doraville after I was there about 18 years, we moved up to Doraville. MB: What year then did you move to Atlanta? COUNTER 264 LB: I came to Atlanta in I think it was September or October 1953. And I've been here ever since. MB: I have heard, and I don't know how true it is, maybe you can clear it up for us, that the white officers that were put in charge of all black units generally tend to be southerners, was there any truth to that? LB: Was all white troops that was put in charge of the blacks was southerners? Well I can't say all but the majority was southerners. Now, I must give this due respect that all those white officers, were not all you might call racist because one of the best officers that I met, he was from Mississippi, white officer. Most of your racists came from your top brass because they wanted perfection. What they did, this is what happened. They conscripted a lot of the troops, the black troops, prior to World War II, they had a work going on called the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, and the guys in this, the government were paying them money to dig sewers and ditches and drains, and whatever. So when the war started, they got those guys. Threw them in the army. None of them was _________, a lot of them had never worn a suit of clothes until they got in the army, _____ or something like that. So they tried to teach them in schools, at Ft. Wachita they had these schools, and they would teach them how to be a good soldier, how to comply with the law, what it meant to be a private. Private Pete was a good boy, Private Pete was a good soldier, and that kind of basic, they taught them how to read. So naturally when they perform on the battlefield, there was a little cowardice, there was a little frightening, but as a whole, they stood up and fought. There was some misjudgments when one of our generals, he directed fire and killed a lot of his own men because he _________ should have been. When things went wrong, the black officers got the ____ for it because a lot of them were incompetent. I'm not saying this out of context, you got outfit put together real quick because ________ Jones _____ he was the brother-in-law of __________ who was chief of staff under President Truman. And he wanted to make a big showing, he wanted to make esprit de corps out of his black troops. He wanted to make a big showing. When he took over, and when we got assigned to the 5th army under General Mark Clark, he too, himself, he wanted to be like this General Patton. He wanted to be another Patton, and he wanted everything in perfection, and if something went wrong, he always thought that the troops were not _________ couldn't do a good job. And our General, he felt that regardless of how much education some of the black soldiers had, they still weren't qualified to do a good job. And the only time he really spoke up for us was when we went into the town of _________ and he declared the town off limits to everybody except the 92nd division since they took that town it was their town. But he felt, to show how incompetent he was, during the Korean war, they sent him to the Korean war and he failed. Int: You got a good conduct medal because of what, good conduct? LB: I got a good conduct medal, yeah I got a good conduct medal and I got two campaign medals. The good conduct medal was for being out of trouble, not getting intoxicated, not getting in fights, and you know, getting along with your fellow soldiers? Int: Did a lot of people get in fights? LB: Oh yeah, there was quite a few scuffles, you know, there was a lot of people, and whenever you find a bunch of men together, there's going to be ribbing and get drunk and resent one another, you know, so there was a few scuffles. There was nothing that the MPs couldn't handle because they ruled with an iron fist. We had MPs in our outfit, you couldn't compromise with them. Well, I ain't going to say bad as storm troopers but they used some of those tactics you know what I mean? MB: Your MPs in the 92nd Division, were they black or white MPs. LB: The MPs of the 92nd Division, they were black. But they were ________ to the _____ the white _____, the were _____. They couldn't hear nothing but he said do, and that was carry out, that was the law, they were the law. But there was a lot of incompetence, but in spite of all that, soldiers fought well in my outfit, but the ______ 92n was one of the best field artillery outfits all around, we got highly recommendation, we got highly praised. General Coburn, he was one of the best qualified, he was a white general. We had a lot of officer was a little mediocre, you know frightened. Who wouldn't be frightened when you face an enemy like those Germans were fierce fighters. But the propaganda, one thing I said, propaganda didn't get to us. We received the Stars and Stripes everyday telling us what's going on on the western front, what was happening over in the Pacific and how it was trying to tear morale down, so we didn't pay any attention, and what General Patton was going, how he was advancing, so we got information. COUNTER 409 TAPE II SIDE A COUNTER 000 Int: When you got back home, did you feel like you got respect from everybody or did you feel like white Americans didn't feel like you did? LB: When I got back home did I feel like I had the respect of everybody? I was still young. All I wanted to do was get me a good job and get married. I say that was all I wanted to do, and I got, I went in as a boy, I came out as a man. I lost all my young teenage years, from 18, I lost those. So I didn't know anything about 20 years old, 19 years old, those years went by me, I was in service, so all I wanted to do was get me a job and settle. But there was a buddy of mine, he enticed me into going to school, he said lets go back to school, he said the government will pay you to go to school. So we got enrolled in college and we were getting $65 a month I think it was for going to school. And after I got married, the amount increased to $102 or something like that a month. But anyway I… [tape repeats until COUNTER 32] went to that school and got interested in school so I stayed in school. But my first primary reason, I just wanted to get out of the service and get home. But I can't say whether I got the respect. Because when I get home, things were very cheap then. They had a system they called the 52/20. They would try to place you in the same type of work you were doing before you went in the service. So what we would do, we had to go down to the unemployment office and sign up each week if you were, couldn't find no job, you would get $20 a week until you got a job. So the jobs at that time, base salary at that time was averaging $20 a week on the job. By the time we took our social security, we were getting something like $18 or something. So we said what the heck, we working for $18 something week and I'm going to get $20 and not work. So we refused those little old jobs, it was menial work like working in the brickyard or some menial task, and it was supposed to give you some _____ of the work you were doing when you was in the service like truck drivers, that's what they put me down for. My spec called for me being a truck driver after I went through that trucking outfit. I couldn't get the jobs so we stayed around and got the little money every week. So there was no jobs much to do at that time, but there was no welfare. Everybody was working because ______ was so cheap then. MB: So when you went to school, was that on the GI Bill? LB: When I went to school, that was on the GI Bill. MB: And where did you go to school? LB: I went to Payne College down in Augusta, GA. MB: What was your degree in, did you graduate from Payne? LB: No, I was lacking two hours. MB: Two hours? LB: Two hours. I got married and I was lacking two hours. Then I came to Atlanta, and I was going to transmit my transcript and do up here and got connected as a food chemist and didn't want to leave, so my major was social studies and my minor was secondary education. But I never pursued it because this guy that I got with, he trained me into doing chemical work in this ice cream and dairy supply company. And I stayed there for almost 25 years. MB: When did you go and work for Oglethorpe? LB: Went to Oglethorpe back in 1981. MB: And you just… LB: I started out as a custodian, there was an opening for maintenance, they put me in the maintenance, and I stayed there until 1990, and I retired in December of 1990. I came back as a part time worker in July of 1991, and I stayed there about six years, stayed there until nineteen, got away now, but anyway, I went back to my old job and worked there six weeks and I couldn't make it. There was so many new products and there was a little animosity among some of the workers because I came in, they made me a production manager and they though that it should have been given to somebody within the position that had been there, and so they wouldn't tell me nothing, you know wouldn't work for me, so I gave it up and went back to Oglethorpe. The job, my position was still open, so I stayed at Oglethorpe until March of ‘9_, as a part time worker, maybe working three days a week, because I was on social security. At that time I could only make so much money. MB: We'll stop this. Mr. Bell tell us a little bit about this piece. LB: Alright about this piece here, that piece was made from a shell, a 105 mm howitzer shell. I contacted with an Italian machinist. He wanted some shells to make to some equipment some stuff he wanted to make, and he asked me what would I like to some memorabilia, and I said, well could you make you a little wine glass or wine, and so he made this with the shell from a casing of one of our mm howitzer shells, and he put my name on it, and _____, Italy on it. MB: Can you turn it a little bit so we can see what's on the other side there, you're going the right way. Yeah, keep turning it. So an Italian fellow made this? LB: Yeah, he made this for me, he was a machinist and he had, after you get the names on it, show you how the top comes off. MB: Go ahead and show us how the top screws off. LB: Alright the top screws off, you see the screws up in there, and here you see you got a, just like a wine glass. You know over there, if you go to their house and they're having a meal, they'll ask you ____, and just like to me wine to them just like we drink water here, and if you left you'll insult them if you didn't accept the wine. And they made some very good wine. But anyway, this is supposed to symbolize the shell, like our shells, that was the shell part that came out and this was the housing where they sit, and but they were like that, so that's what this is symbolizing. You see how the bottom, work piece of art he did on the bottom left. They said Italia, _____ Italia in Italy. MB: This picture here… LB: Tell you about this picture here, this picture here was salute to a 48 states, I think that was during Independence Day. And this is my outfit, that's _____ 597th field artillery. But I think I am missing from this picture, I think I was on details or something. You may note each gun has someone ____ that's how they had ____ gun, we had four guns in our company, B company. And each other company had four guns. This is my outfit, it was during a ceremony we had over there, down in Pisa, Italy. I don't know what the occasion was, we always had some kind of celebration or ceremony for something that happened back in the states. But anyway, if you see ______ the little guys with their eyes squatted, that's my picture. MB: We're going to try to focus in on your picture. Tell us about this little photograph here. LB: This was a photograph where the ashes were being carried to the next resting place of Columbus. They had been brought down from the hills where the Italians hid them during the German occupation, campaign there. So this is being taken away now to the final place, where the second place, where they're going to put them back to the original place and store it, I don't know where the resting place was, but this is going back to the original place. MB: OK, tell us about this photograph. LB: This picture was the soldiers is giving the ashes that were brought down from the hills to put them on the caisson to be carried out to its original resting place. And that's the division chaplain, he was giving the invocation ceremony, and the group that was behind there was a famous Wings Over Jordan, that was the famous black choir that used to sing during the 50's, 40's and 50's. Come on the radio every Sunday morning, they were noted for their spiritual singing, and they were over to help us celebrate. The soldiers holding ashes and… MB: OK, what is this? LB: This is the Wings Over Jordan choir, they came all the way to Genoa, Italy, to help us celebrate this occasion, a momentous prestigious occasion. They were a singing group, sang back in the 40's and 50's and it was a famous spiritual group. And so they came over, and that's what they were doing. And we were really proud to see them, anybody from the United States at home, it made us, it lifted our morale, it was a great morale booster to see them come all the way overseas to be with us. That was the band that played for all occasions for the division, the entire division would march and do ___ the band was there to play. MB: All African-American band? LB: All African-American band. 597th Field artillery, 92nd Division. MB: Where was this picture taken? LB: That picture was taken in Pisa, Italy. MB: Are you in this picture? LB: Yeah, I'm somewhere but I don't know where it is, I wouldn't be able to find me, I think I'm on the tail end. Because usually they would have the tall men in the front and let it escalate down, and I'm in the background or somewhere, I don't know where I am in that picture. MB: So was this taken in probably '45? LB: Yes, in '45. MB: Tell me about this again. LB: This was some kind of ceremony we was having, Verazze, Italy, I don't know what occasion it was for, I can't recall, but it was for some kind of occasion. That was part of the band, some kind of victory celebration, probably some kind of victory celebration. MB: Alright, who are these fellows? LB: These are members of the 347th trucking outfit. This picture was taken in Vienna, Austria. This is taken in '45, well very end of '45, '46?, I can't remember. '46. MB: Are you in this picture? LB: I am in this picture. MB: Which one are you? LB: There I am right there. MB: Right there. LB: Uh huh. MB: Do you know who any of these other fellows are? LB: No I don't. I know this guy he was from Kansas City. This guy here, he was from New York. Mel, he was from North Carolina. This guy here, he was from St. Louis I think. But I don't know. Johnny, he was from New York, but I don't know where they are, I never heard them anymore. Once we left… MB: Tell me what this is. LB: This here is a pass for, it says Vienna, Austria, back in 1946, the latter part of '45 and early part of '46. Each soldier needed a pass to get through the four different sections, mainly the northern section, the French section, the British section, and the western section. They would need a pass to go from one section to the other, with your name on it and on the other side… MB: Yeah, go ahead and turn it over for us. LB: OK. On this side you see here, the note that you've got the four different country flags. And each, there's writing in Russian, French, and American. MB: And you said something about when you were in Vienna that Americans and the French and British weren't allowed to carry weapons? LB: No we were not, only the Russians, they're the only ones that carried weapons. And also the Russians, when we was in that trucking outfit, we had to take our steering gear and ________ a chain to the ________ and loop it around the steering gear and lock it whenever we'd get out of the truck because the Russians were stealing the trucks. MB: The Russians were stealing the American trucks? LB: The American trucks. They were taking them. And the Russians, they didn't ask for anything, like they wanted something, they would just take it. MB: How did the Russians respond to you, both being black and also as an American? LB: We were the, we would ask them different questions. They would say _____ the won't, they would just take it. But they didn't, they were very friendly, but they would give us schnapps, not schnapps, vodka, the ___ vodka, sometimes we would exchange vodka with them for gasoline, gasoline for vodka they wanted gasoline, but anything they wanted they would take it, they didn't ask. Didn't have the courtesy to ask. COUNTER 242
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Original Collection:
Veterans History Project oral history recordings
Veterans History Project collection, MSS 1010, Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center
Holding Institution:
Atlanta History Center