The notice containing the “Greetings” from the White Bearded Uncle came to EUGENE NOBLE DEMPSEY in December 1943. After completing his physical examination at Huntington, West Virginia, he was inducted into the U.S. Army in that same month. Following induction Gene was granted a three week furlough for the purpose of placing his personal and business affairs in order before being sent to Fort Thomas, Kentucky for processing, classification and assignment to a military unit.
In the processing for the military service stage, numerous papers were filled out where such questions concerning the individual’s education, previous military service, work experience, and special skills were required to be answered. Although Gene had previous service in the Infantry branch of the U.S. Army (1933-36), he avoided reassignment to this combat arm because of one seemingly innocent question he answered on his personnel questionnaire regarding his work experience. Here he indicated that he had worked for a short time as a brakeman on an electric motor propelled train which moves coal cars in and about the coal mine. Since at this very moment in time the U.S. Army was in the process of organizing railway operating battalions to be assigned to the newly created Transportation Corps, classification officers had been alerted and directed to assign any newly inducted personnel with experience on railroads to these units. The Transportation Corps is that branch of the Army that is assigned the responsibility for the movement of personnel and materiel over land, sea and in the air. During World War II, this was to and from the European, African, Middle East theater of operations as well as the far flung bases and battlefields of the Pacific.
In January 1944, following five days of classification and processing at Fort Thomas, Kentucky, Eugene N. Dempsey was sent to Camp Plusha, New Orleans, Louisiana. He spent three weeks there in basic training before he and several others were moved to an abandoned U.S. Army Air Force Base on Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans where they continued basic training for three more weeks. In February 1944, after they had completed their SIX weeks of basic training, the group was given a farewell party and dance on the campus of Tulane University in New Orleans before being reassigned to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana for seventeen weeks of technical training on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Gene was assigned to the Alexander to Monroe, Louisiana Division of the Missouri Pacific where he trained under the regular civilian train crew to be a railway brakeman.
About the middle of June 1944, Gene Dempsey completed his seventeen weeks of on-the-job training as a brakeman on the Missouri Pacific Railroad and was reassigned to Camp Reynolds, Pennsylvania. He was given a seventeen (17) day delay en route before he was to report to his new station on 17 July 1944. After spending several days at Camp Reynolds, Gene and his contingent were moved by troop train via Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Albany down the Hudson River to West Point. Then they moved on to Camp Shanks near New York City, the Port of Embarkment for Europe, where they arrived on 22 July 1944. On this day Gene and his contingent became part of a larger group of 15,000 military personnel who boarded the British ship QUEEN MARY in New York harbor from which they departed for the United Kingdom on 23 July 1944. To hopefully avoid German submarines who were prowling the waters of the North Atlantic, the QUEEN MARY with Eugene N. Dempsey and its cargo of other soldiers proceeded to take a zigzag course across the Atlantic. Five (5) days later, on 28 July 1944, the majestic Queen arrived at Glasgow, Scotland.
On the evening of 29 July 1944, Gene Dempsey and his railway buddies left Scotland on a British troop train. They rode through the night in complete darkness, the use of lights of any kind only being an invitation to the German Luftwaffe to bomb and strafe the moving train. (Gott strafe England – God punish England, German propaganda slogan during World War I.) On a cold and rainy morning, they arrived at Doddington Park near Liverpool, England on 30 July 1944. Gene, along with the other military railway unassigned replacements, remained at Doddington Park until 4 September 1944 before being moved to Delmar Park, England. There they remained for only eight (8) days before being stationed at Tidworth Barracks a permanent British Army Base about ninety (90) kilometers south of London. Also stationed here was the 9th U.S. Armored Division and many other military units. On 4 December 1944, Eugene N. Dempsey and other replacements departed for Southampton, England where they were to cross the choppy waters of the English Channel on a L.S.T. arriving in Le Havre, France on 6 December 1944. In Le Havre Gene was to lose his duffel bag which, after thirty-eight (38) years, is still missing and has now been dropped from an AWOL status to that of a deserter.
On 9 December 1944, Eugene Dempsey and several other railway replacements were moved to Ballan Court, near Paris, France, where they remained for eighteen (18) days and where they observed a Christmas that was everything but the usually delightful holidays spent in the States. Many of the replacements, including Gene, were overcome with a bad case of diarrhea. This is an extremely dreadful and distressing malady when one must hike through deep snow to the nearest Straddle Trench, which serves as an outhouse when the army is in the field. At that time, the Labor Unions were not strong enough to require that the U.S. Army provide “Comfort Stations” for their troops in the field. It should be remembered that under these conditions certain tender extremities which are exposed to a low chill factor only add to the pathetic predicament. Even under these unpleasant circumstances, soldier Dempsey was able to mail a box of souvenirs back to West Virginia. Included in this parcel post package was a German steel helmet, which Gene still has.
During December of 1944, the front line combat units were fighting the fierce and bloody Battle of the Bulge (and Cousin Eli Dews was up there with his men pinned down by the grazing fire of the enemy guns). Everyone, including the support units of the Army, was somewhat jittery because the German Army had cracked the lines of the Allies and were rapidly moving toward the English Channel. Under these extremely explosive and unstable conditions, Gene and his group of replacements departed Ballan Court on 27 December 1944. The following day they arrived at Compiègne where the World War I Armistice was signed in a railroad car on 11 November 1918. It was also where Hitler, in June of 1940, added to the humiliation of France by requiring their leaders to meet with him and sign a treaty with Germany during World War II. Here on 28 December 1944 Gene Dempsey’s group was to spend a bitter cold night in tents pitched on a race tract for purebred horses. The following day, 30 December 1944, Gene and his group of replacements were moved by army trucks to Noyon, France a small town several miles northeast of Compiègne. Here Gene and his comrades enjoyed a bath at a public bath house. Here also, Gene Dempsey committed a dishonorable theft when he removed a light bulb from a French Post Office while his buddies engaged the sweet young Postmistress in a conversation of pigeon French. Gene rationalized this shameful act by calling it a “requisition” since the light bulb was removed, he said, from one French government building to another building owned by the same government, that is from the Post Office to the French Army Barracks where they were temporarily quartered.
On 7 January 1945 Eugene Dempsey along with other replacements were moved from Noyon, France to Aulnoye, France where they were assigned to the 716th Railway Operating Battalion. This Battalion was then under strength because several of its members, including the Battalion Commander, were charged and court-martialed with selling to French civilians materials and supplies they were transporting to the troops fighting on the front line. After spending about twenty (20) days at Aulnoye, Gene and his entire Battalion was ordered to Metz, France, where they were quartered in French railway box cars. It was here in Metz that Gene learned of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he heard a French newsboy cry out the headline on his newspaper “ROOSEVELT EST MORT.” With Metz as their home base, Gene along with other members of the 716th Railway Operating Battalion were sent out in groups on detached service and at this time Gene found himself working in a railroad yard in Maubeuge, France, for several weeks. Nearly every morning while at Maubeuge, Gene observed the heavy bombers of the 8th U.S. Air Force in formations which included several hundreds of planes, along with their fighter escorts, passing over on their way to destroy military targets in Germany.
On or about 10 April 1945 Gene was transferred to Thionville, France, which is located on the Moselle River near the border between France and Germany. The Germans called the town Diedenhofen. It was from here that Gene Dempsey rode a street car to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, where he bought an ice cream cone – the very first ice cream that he had in over two (2) years.
On 5 May 1945, the day of the German surrender and the end of World War II in Europe – Gene left France with his railroad unit. They headed for Kornwestheim a small town northeast of Stuttgart, Germany, where they arrived on 10 May 1945. In this town there was a large shoe factory (Salimander) where Gene traded a package of Lucky Strike cigarettes for a pair of brown slippers. Gene and his train crew continued to use railway boxcars as their living quarters when they crossed the Rhine River near Mannheim, Germany, where they spent seven days before moving on to Esslingen, Germany, on 17 May 1945 where they moved from their boxcars and commenced to live in buildings. For the next fourteen weeks they were quartered in a schoolhouse in Esslingen which is a city of about 50,000 located about ten miles southeast of Stuttgart, a city of about 700,000. The 100th Infantry Division was also stationed in and about Esslingen at this same time. The 716th Railway Operating Battalion to which Eugene N. Dempsey was assigned operated the electric railway from Stuttgart to Augsberg, Germany, a distance of about 110 miles. It was on one of these runs that “One” Dempsey almost made contact with his cousin, Captain Eli “One” Dews who was a rifle company commander with the 44th Infantry Division. The train on which Gene and his crew were operating had made an emergency stop and was blocking the highway over which elements of the 44th Infantry Division were traveling. They were on their way to France in preparation for being re-deployed through the States before being assigned to the Pacific Theater of Operations to continue the fight against the Japanese. Gene was unable to contact his “Cuz” because Eli was still in Ulm, Germany, a city that his Infantry Regiment captured during the fighting.
It was while the 716th Railway Operating Battalion was stationed in Esslingen that they commenced the project of turning the operations of the German railroads back to their German owners and very shortly Eugene Dempsey found himself driving trucks for the Transportation Corps instead or operating railway trains. The war with Japan ended in August 1945 and it was here in Esslingen in late September of 1945 that re-deployment started to wreck the 716th Railway Operating Battalion. Based upon length of service combat assignments, campaigns, decorations, dependents and other considerations, an individual soldier was assigned “points”. The soldiers with the lowest number of points were being reassigned to other military units all over Europe while those soldiers with the larger number of points were sent back to the States for separation from the service Since Gene Dempsey was in the low point category, his service with the 716th Railway Operating Battalion ended. He was shipped, along with several of his buddies, to Hannover, Germany by troop train. Here in the British Zone of Military Occupation, they were assigned to the 741st Railway Operating Battalion. It is reported their duty assignment at this station was somewhat of a “cake walk” and that these combat characters spent more time loafing and “fraternizing with Frauleins” than they did performing military assignments. However, all of this good stuff came to a screeching halt on 4 November 1945 when Gene and others in his train crew departed Hannover, Germany, for duty assignments at Kassel, Germany. They remained in this city of about 130,000 located approximately 100 miles south of Hannover until 23 November 1945 when they were released from assignment with the 741st Railway Operating Battalion. They were then assigned to the 817th Tank Destroyer Battalion at Fürth, Germany, the town where Henry Kissinger was born. Since Fürth is practically an eastern suburb of Nürnberg, Gene had occasion to be near the Palace of Justice where the Nuremberg Trials of war criminals were taking place.
Eugene Dempsey spent his second Christmas in Europe in the city of Fürth, Germany, and it was here on 18 December 1945 that he had to say farewell to several of his old army buddies. John Shay of Falls River, Massachusetts, who in 1948 supplied him with most of the dates and places used in the preparation of this “after action” report was one of these old army buddies. Since most of his railway buddies were being re-deployed and Gene was left almost alone in strange surroundings he became homesick, dispirited, depressed and extremely melancholic and felt that he needed to do something very soon to overcome this undesirable condition that entered his young life. A solution – take a furlough to England where he at least could be among people who spoke a language he could understand better than he did French and German. Since he felt that he would be re-deployed to the States in the very near future he would be even more depressed if he was in England and “missed the boat” which might return him to the nearest port on the Atlantic coastline of the United States. Gene solicited and received assurances from his first sergeant that there was no possibilities that he would be scheduled for Stateside transportation for several months. Consequently, Gene accepted the 10-day furlough in the United Kingdom which also authorized “necessary travel time.” What a trip!! At 11:59 PM or at 2359 hours on 31 December 1945 he boarded a train in Nürnberg railway station. About daybreak the following morning his train stopped in Strasbourg, France, for breakfast and in the afternoon of 1 January 1946 Gene Dempsey was in Paris, France. Since he had almost unlimited travel time and because things looked VERY interesting in “Gay Parree” ONE decided that there was no great need to hurry on to England. Although there are no witnesses, reportedly he went on a conducted tour of the city where he visited Napoleon’s tomb, the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Palais Royal, Notre Dame, the Louvre, Sorbonne and other educational, artistic and cultural works. One reason to wonder about some of these reported uplifts in refinement of this soldier’s party received in Paris is hazy because seven days of the diary is missing and is believed to have been lost at Place Pigalle. Anyway, Gene left Paris and continued on his journey to the United Kingdom on 7 January 1946 only to arrive at Le Havre, France (Camp Lucky Strike) and find that because of rough seas in the Channel there would be no boat train to England for several days. After three days Gene volunteered to ride in the back of an army truck 50 miles up the coast to Dieppe where crossings to England had not been interrupted even though the seas were high. Along with a large number of military personnel Gene boarded a boat for the 67-mile crossing to Newhaven, England and a few hours later a boat load of sea sick soldiers were met by a train which took them to Waterloo Station in London in 30 minutes. From the train station Gene took the subway to the Columbia Hotel and here he was indeed surprised to meet Forrest Scales a fellow worker at the Alloy Plant in Fayette County, West Virginia. Forrest was the very first person with whom he had worked that he had met since he left there when inducted in the army in December 1943. Gene and Forrest reportedly spent the 10-days together and London, England, has never been the same.
On 16 January 1946 Eugene N. Dempsey left London and headed back toward Germany. As he felt he had not received enough culture in Paris while on his way to England, he decided to make another extended visit on the return to soak up more of the esthetic and intellectual excellence of this refined civilization. The exact number of days he devoted to this chore is not known because in Place Pigalle time stands still. Reportedly this, by now, “soldier of fortune seeker” that some would characterize as a “soldier of fun seeker” also spent a few days at his old stomping ground and watering holes in Esslingen, Germany on his return trip. Although written records of these events have been lost or deliberately destroyed, military history will record that he did not return to his unit until 28 January 1946 and his first sergeant was surprised to see him back so soon.
On 10 February 1946, One Dempsey, the nomadic vagabond soldier, was transferred to the 379th Anti Aircraft Artillery Battalion stationed at Hann Münden, Germany. Here, appropriately, he was assigned to the motor pool as a driver of various purpose army vehicles. This detail as a gasoline cowboy was much preferred over that as a guard on railway supply trains operating from the American Sector of Occupation to the city of Berlin, Germany, which was also being offered as a choice duty assignment. While here Gene was assigned as the driver for a Captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, an Irish national who had never been in the United States. It was while driving for this medical officer that the otherwise unblemished military record of Eugene Dempsey was almost marred, tainted, blemished and tarnished beyond all recognition. One night while they were in Bremen, Germany, this usually circumspect soldier decided to go to a movie – probably a cover story – and placed the army vehicle for which he was responsible for protecting in an unguarded parking lot. Several hours later this red faced soldier returned to find that his vehicle had been stolen – not an unusual happening. The missing vehicle was reported to the military police, the CID and several other military and civilian law enforcement and criminal-investigating agencies but it was never located. Negligence on the part of the custodian-driver of an army vehicle can subject the guilty party to court-martial and could result in his being required to reimburse the Federal government for the depreciated value of the vehicle. This was one hell of an unpleasant predicament for a “lonely” soldier whose primary goal at this point in time was to he assigned to a unit which was scheduled to return to the States for demobilization. After several lengthy investigations and the intervention of several high-ranking officers, Gene was absolved of blame for the lost army vehicle.
It was in March of 1946 that Gene was transferred to the large seaport city of Bremerhaven, Germany, located on the North Sea. Here he was to make contact with the first group of U.S. Marines that he saw during all his travels in Europe. The detail of Marines were guarding the German Liner EUROPA which was anchored in the harbor at Bremerhaven. In addition, it was here on 1 April 1946 – April Fools Day – that One Dempsey received the information for which he had long been waiting. His name had been placed on the roster of those to be returned to the United States and he was placed in the re-deployment pipeline. This pipe line processing can be long and hazardous and often subject to much chaos, commotion, pandemonium, confusion, disorder, disarray and general snafu. Along with a group of others scheduled to return to the States, Gene boarded the boxcars of a troop train and after traveling day and night they arrived in the city of Mannheim on the Rhine River in Southern Germany. Here they were assigned quarters in a tent camp and in order to get to the Post Exchange for “rations” they needed to ride a street car to Heidelberg, Germany located several miles to the southeast. Monotony can become intense when one has nothing to do but lie in the springtime sun for three weeks and that was the occupation which Gene and his fellow re-deployees were doing in Mannheim, Germany during the greater part of April 1946. But, the good news came: “board the box cars boys” and be on your way back to Bremerhaven, Germany on the North Sea was the order which the First Sergeant barked out. Boarding the troop train and riding day and night the rag-tag group arrived at their northern destination where they were moved to a German Luftwaffen hanger which served as their sleeping quarters while waiting ship passage to the States. After about two days here Gene and about 1,500 other soldiers were placed aboard the Victory ship ALHAMBRA for the westward voyage across the Atlantic. They sailed out of the North Sea and into the English Channel where they passed the white Cliffs of Dover before nightfall on the first day of a 10-day trip back to the United States. On the morning of the 10th day the greatest thrill of a lifetime was experienced when they sighted the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. An unexpected but very moving and touching ceremony was given the troops on the Alhambra Victory before they docked at the 84th Street Pier at 11:00 A.M. on 2 May 1946. They were met near the entrance of the harbor by several tug and fire fighting boats which were spraying water in all directions and every ship and boat in the harbor began to sound their horns. As the troops came down the gangplank a band was playing “I Love You Truly”. Another touching scene was to witness a few returning soldiers drop to their knees at the end of the gangplank and kiss the soil of the good old U.S.A.
From New York the returning contingent was loaded aboard a train for the short ride to Fort Kilmer, New Jersey where they were served a meal of T-bone steaks with all the trimmings. The table waiters at Kilmer were German prisoners of war, which had been captured in North Africa and parts of Europe. After two days at Port Kilmer Gene was sent to Fort Meade, Maryland for processing and discharge after over two and one half years of Wartime service nearly 90% of which was spent overseas. For control and administrative purposes Gene was attached to an Ordnance Battalion for the return trip to the States and he was a little apprehensive that this unit might show on his discharge as his “Wartime” assignment. It did not however and his discharge from the service that he received on 6 May 1946 shows that he was a member of the 716th Railway Operating Battalion.
Immediately upon receiving his final pay and separation papers at Fort Meade, Maryland, Eugene N. Dempsey caught a bus to the Union Station in Washington, D.C. where he got a ticket on C&O train No.3 to continue his westward journey to Wonderful West Virginia where he arrived on 7 May 1946.
This brief military history made by One Dempsey shows his contribution to keep the World free for Democracy. How free? How long? It seems somewhat doubtful that this War has ever ended because there was a continuation in Korea and Vietnam and now it has spilled over to Afghanistan and Poland, Central America and the Middle East.
EUGENE ONE DEMPSEY
© Eugene N. Dempsey