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Aviation Engineers ... A Personal View
This is a summary of the Aviation Engineers. There were eighteen different battalions that built air bases for the U.S. Air Force in England and mainland Europe, consisting of 21,600 men.
The 843rd Engineer battalion was organized in September 1942 at McChord Field Air Base which is near the city of Tacoma, in the state of Washington. The personnel for this unit came from all parts of the United States, from all walks of life from small towns, farms, ranches as well as from big cities. While we were at McChord Field, we had a considerable amount of infantry training. Special mention must be made about the two famous hikes we made while at this base. We were taken by army trucks up to Mount Rainier, slept in four feet of snow, got up at four o'clock in the morning, ate breakfast, put on our full field packs, gas masks, rifle, helmet, and one canteen of water which was to last all day and hiked back to McChord Field. This was 30 miles which took 10 hours. We did not get any other meal until we got back to camp. We were dressed with heavy clothing and the further we got away from the mountains, the hotter it became. These hikes were taken at the end of September and the first part of October, 1942. What a deal that was. It was to test men how much a person could endure. Many men broke down, they just could not take this, a lot of them were 38 to 42 years old, they all got a medical discharge.
Great respect and admiration is to be given the United States Marine Infantry, Paratroopers and the Air Force. These were brave men with great courage to fulfill their objectives. At the same time it must also be understood that the Aviation Engineers had a vital part in winning the war. The engineers built many bases in England and mainland Europe to accommodate the Air Force for our planes to fly their missions from. These were built before the Air Force got there. No bomber or fighter plane can take off or land in some muddy field or cow pasture. It took the hard work of the Engineers to build these bases. We in the Engineers did not have payloaders, backhoes, or bobcats to help with construction. There was no hydraulic equipment in World War II. We did this with hand labor, we worked by sweat, muscle, mud, and blood to build these air bases under the most difficult conditions anyone can imagine. Weather was always a great problem as well as air raids by the German (Luftwaffe) Air Force. There always seemed to be a lot of rain, many times cold rain, strong winds and snow, and injuries to men due to lots of heavy lifting of material because there were no loaders to do these jobs. The hardship we endured was terrible to live under such conditions, but it is part of being in war. We not only built runways, taxiways (this is the road where planes run on to get to the main runway so they can take off and head for the targets that were to be bombed), hard stands were built (this is where planes were parked when they were not on missions). We also built many buildings that are part of an air base, such as hangers to repair planes, mess halls, theaters, infirmaries, shower rooms, toilet facilities, and barracks for the Air Force. The Engineers slept in tents most of the time and when a base was competed, we would go to another location and work under the same adverse conditions. The food was from fair to poor, there were times when we ate meat that was rancid or hamburger that had fly maggots in it. We had no refrigeration to keep meat and vegetables from spoiling, sanitation was not good. You ate this stuff because you were hungry, there wasn't anything else to be had. There was no such thing as a second helping of food, you got what was dished out and no more. Everything was rationed out, no lunch break of any kind was given. The strange thing about all this is that nobody got sick.
We would work six days a week, 10 to 12 hours per day, sometimes 16 to 18 hours depending what the priorities were, and then we would do military training on the seventh day of the week. The Engineers built many fighter bases on mainland Europe, not only for our planes, but to take out the wounded men for treatment to hospitals back in England. Remember war is hell on earth, there is no such thing as glory in war. There is much destruction of all kind, loses of human lives, men and women getting killed or wounded or maimed in many ways, loss of limbs, sight shell shock, etc. Many men never get over these tragedies. The 843rd landed on Omaha Beach, Normandy France, twenty five days after June 6, 1944. We were considered part of the invasion force. This was the greatest invasion the entire world had ever seen or will ever again see (we were there). The 843rd Engineers built in full or in part (some were repaired) 40 different bases. We were overseas 2 1/2 years, went through 5 major campaigns and were issued 5 battle stars.1 We served our country with honor and are proud to be Americans. America, the greatest and best country in the world.
1 The five major campaigns the 843rd went through were:
© Willis A. Havemeier
- Northern France
- Central Europe