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Rex Meier, 922nd Engineer Aviation Regiment (EAR)

Rex Meier

922nd Engineer Aviation Regiment (EAR)

Photos
National WWII Memorial Honoree

Rex Meier recently wrote his recollections of his training, travel and experiences as a radio operator for the 922nd Engineer Aviation Regiment (EAR) during World War II.

At Radio School
At Radio School

[I] started Radio School January 25, 1943 at Midland Radio School in Kansas City, MO. [I] Graduated from Radio School June l2th, 1943 as a High Speed Radio Operator. On June 13th and 14th we were en route, by train, to Salt Lake City, Utah. Here we were put through further processing for assignment to a unit we would remain with for the duration of the war. It was here, also, that I had essential dental work done. Army dental work is basically a stop-gap measure and leaves much to be desired. After a week at Salt Lake City doing K.P., calisthenics, and close order drill, we were shipped to Spokane, Washington. We were to be stationed at Geiger Field. We left Salt Lake City on June 20th and arrived at Geiger Field on June 22nd. I had an interview on June 23rd. On the 24th I was assigned to the 2nd EATUTC (Engineer Aviation Unit Training Center) at Geiger Field. After only two days, on June 26th, I was assigned to the 922nd Engineer Aviation Regimental Headquarters as a Radio Operator. Now would start a period of preparation prior to being sent overseas.

It was all very strenuous, very thorough, and very tiring. I guess it was all designed to make soldiers of everyone. On June 30th we prepared for field maneuvers away from Geiger Field. On July 1st we moved from Geiger Field to Sullivan Lake to set up our first camp. On July 2nd we hiked 5 miles to the site of our 2nd bivouac area. On July 3rd we moved our camp another 5 miles and went on a ten mile hike afterward. After the hike we were ordered to break camp. After we broke camp, we hiked back to Geiger Field. We left at 8 PM and arrived back at Geiger Field at 1 o’clock in the morning. After a few hours of rest, on July 4th, we struggled through a 17 mile hike. July 5th we were allowed to rest. On July 6th we got our insurance and bonds in order. On July we had rifle instruction and on the 9th we went to the Range to fire them.

I only fired 153X200 so only qualified as Marksman. I was given a medal even though I didn't shoot too well. On July 16th and 24th we went on 23 mile hikes with full field packs. On July 26th I was issued my new Ml Garand rifle, serial no.1680786. On July 28th we went through the worst part of our training. We had to go through the infiltration course. We had one man wounded, but not too badly. All dates not specifically mentioned were spent doing paper work at headquarters, marking our clothing, and, in general, getting equipment ready for our overseas tour of duty. All final preparations were finished, and we left for our Port of Embarkation on August 6th, 1943.

For the next four days we rode in luxury as we were all assigned Pullman cars on the train. It was nice after all of the hard training. As we came through Minneapolis, one of the fellows could see his house from the train. I thought we would be going through Prescott, but that would not be the case. We went south into Iowa and then east into Chicago. This was done to prevent sabotage on well traveled routes. We arrived at a camp outside of Boston on August 10th.

We were at Camp Myles Standish for a period of ten days. We were allowed to go into Boston on pass. On one occasion several of us decided to have a night on the town. We had a seven course dinner, complete with fine wine and champagne, at one of Boston's finest night clubs. We ate for about three hours. We worked on some final preparations in those days before departing for overseas.

HMS Queen Elizabeth
HMS Queen Elizabeth

On August 20th we left for New York City, our port of embarkation. Upon arriving in New York City, we were informed we would be sailing aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth. We were very pleased with our good fortune. When we set sail there were 20, 000 troops aboard her. We were provided with air cover only as far as the aircraft would have sufficient fuel to return to the mainland. From there we were on our own. We sailed a zig-zag course, changing directions quite often. This was supposed to confuse enemy submarines that might be hanging around. We were rather apprehensive about this, but were reassured that the Queen was unsinkable. Comforting thought.

As it turned out, we made the five day trip without incident. It was a very leisurely five days, spent mostly with everyone playing a variety of card games or shooting craps. The meals consisted of K-rations as preparing meals for so many people would have been an impossibility. We were occasionally chosen to help carry those rations from the bottom cargo hold of the boat to those areas where they would be handed out at meal time. That was about six flights of stairs.

On August 25th we arrived at Gurock, Scotland. After debarking, we prepared to travel by train to a base in England. I will always remember the trip thru Scotland. The hills were aglow with the many colors of heather (I will note here that I was to return to Scotland later for two weeks for more radio training). Our trip into England was also very beautiful, and travel on an English train is an experience in itself. On August 27th we arrived at Birch, Essex, England. This would be the first of four bases we would be stationed at during our stay in England.

With radio truck
With radio truck

We remained at Birch until September 26th at which time we moved to Wormingford, Essex, England. From there we moved to Weathersfield, Essex, England on November 23rd. We remained there thru the winter months, moving on to Great Barrington, Oxfordshire, England on the 1st of April, 1944. These many moves came about as a result of our engineering status. All of these bases were airfields from which the planes would bomb Europe or provide air cover for the aircraft (bombers). It was the Engineers job to build and keep them in repair. Our experiences, during our ten months in England, will long be remembered. We seen much of the country and met many wonderful people. They were grateful for our being there.

Our final days at Great Barrington were spent getting equipment readied for a shore landing. Everything had to be pretty much water proof. At the time we were instructed to do this we knew the invasion was getting close. It was to be kept very secret, however, until the very day it occurred. It was on the morning of June 6th, 1944, as we were standing Revielle, that we knew the time had arrived. As each name was being called, we could hear the distant roar of aircraft engines. In a few short moments it reached a level when we could not hear whose name was being called by the sergeant. At this same moment the sky appeared to darken. This darkening was not the result of any cloud cover moving in. There were so many types of aircraft approaching the sun was literally blotted out. There were bombers, fighters, small observation planes, and C-47’s pulling gliders filled with first line assault troops. Following this came another line of cargo-carrying planes to supply the troops after they had made the invasion. It was an awesome, but beautiful sight, and one I will never forget. We were to learn later in the day that the invasion had, indeed, taken place and that our troops had landed several places along the coast of France. We were told that the announcement had been withheld until later in the day in case the invasion had not succeeded. It did succeed, but with a very high toll in human lives.

KP duty on LST
KP duty on LST

On June 7th we received orders to move our Regimental unit to Southampton, England, and then prepare to transport the unit to France. We arrived at Southampton on June 12th. We were immediately given orders to have all equipment put aboard the ships that would transport us across the English Channel. This would require two days of hard work. On June 15th we departed Southampton for our destination in France. We were put ashore on Omaha Beach, the site of one of the invasion landings. After going inland a short distance to Longueville, Normandy, France, we established our first base on the continent. The first few days were filled with a certain amount of anxiety as we were really not too far from the front lines. German bombers would make nightly sorties just to create psychological problems among the men. Daylight hours would bring German fighters, who were brave enough, attempting to strafe supply convoys and troop movements. I will mention, at this point, that one of our battalions built a landing strip above Omaha Beach for planes ferrying in supplies. This was done under fire, during the invasion, at the cost of many lives. As the Germans were driven further inland, we would advance also. On June 25th we located at Vaubadon, Normandy, France, where we remained until August 6th. On that date we moved to Le Mans, Brittany, France. Le Mans was captured with a minimum of fighting.

On August 22 we moved from Le Mans to Chartres, Provence, France. We moved again on August 25th to a location at Etampes, Provence, France. Three days later, on August 28th, we arrived in Paris. On September 1st we made our headquarters a short distance from Le Bourget Airfield in Paris. As history records, this is where Charles Lindbergh landed upon completion of his non-stop transatlantic flight. It was here we sustained our first casualties as a result of enemy action. Our Commanding Officer, Colonel A.P. Little, and Lt. Colonel G.B. Hall, of the 922nd, lost their lives from enemy fire while attempting reconnaissance of Le Bourget while enemy troops were still in control of part of it. The morale of the 922nd was greatly diminished by the loss of these two great men. They knew we were there to win a war, so being strictly G.I. was not one of their strong points. Their driver was also wounded, but he recovered, and was to return to our outfit. A bronze plaque was placed in the administration building at Le Bourget in honor of those two officers.

Ehein, Nov 1944
Ehein, Nov 1944

Upon leaving Paris we established headquarters at Ehein, Belgium. This was on September 22nd. This was but a short distance from the industrial city of Liege, Belgium. We had our operational offices set up in a beautiful chateau. The balance of our company was a short distance away on an estate as Seraing. We were to remain here for three months. On December 16th, 1944, Hitler launched a desperate counter-offensive with the hope of recapturing Liege and Antwerp. After a week of intense fighting, and some German successes, we were requested by higher headquarters to move from that area. Not being a combat unit, we were not prepared for that type of action. This area was also known as “Buzz Bomb Alley.” There were times when as many as 12 or 15 of these “Buzz Bombs” would pass over our area in one day.

The Germans were perfecting their V-l rocket propelled flying bombs and could pinpoint them quite accurately. If the rocket engine would stop before getting directly overhead, it meant it might drop somewhere in your area. This happened one day as we were preparing to move away from Ehein. It hit on the estate not too far from the chateau we were at. The resulting crater was large enough to hold a two story house. I was on the second floor of the chateau when it landed. The concussion knocked much of the plaster from the ceiling and blew all of the windows out.

Zepperen, 1 Jan 1945
Zepperen, 1 Jan 1945

Two days before Christmas, December 23rd, we hastily moved to Zepperen, Belgium. Here we moved into a Catholic School and Convent. We were treated royally by the Sisters of the Order and they made our Christmas one to be remembered. On New Year's Day we sustained our third casualty. Our head cook, being from the South, had an inborn hatred for black people. He, having celebrated New Year’s Eve in excess, walked down the road to a Negro Quartermaster Depot. He walked up to the guard on duty and knocked the gun from his hand. The guard picked the gun up and proceeded to empty the 16 shot clip into our cook. An inquest was held, but the guard was cleared of any charges. It was while in this area of Belgium that some of us were granted a three day pass to Brussels. Five of us, in those three days, consumed 15 bottles of Cognac. We did enjoy it.

Early in February we received orders to proceed to Aachen, Germany and set up our headquarters there. We arrived there on February 8, 1945. The winter was still very cold, and one always envisions having to sleep in a tent. Luck was again with us as we were able to find quarters in a two story apartment complex. It had all of the comforts of home, including a laundry facility, where we were able to do a good job of washing our clothing for a change. It was here, also, that the true realities of war would be brought to us. As we were looking out onto the street one day, several truckloads of soldiers who had lost their lives were being taken back from the front. They were frozen stiff, and were piled in the trucks like so much cord wood.

To interject a historical note, the city of Aachen was captured on the 21st of October, 1944 by the United States First Army. It was at Aachen that the first break through was made in the Ziegfried Line, something that Hitler boasted would never be done. The Engineers were to play an important role in this break through. They were first line troops whose job it was to blow the bunkers and concrete barricades. They were true fighting men in every sense of the word, and many lost their lives in these efforts.

On leave in Paris
On leave in Paris

On March 13th we would move to Bonn, Germany to be headquartered there. The advance of the Allies was quite rapid during the period following the break through into Germany. In a short month we moved onto Kassel, Germany on April 14th, 1945. It was while we were at Kassel that Germany surrendered to the Allies. General Alfred Jodl signed the instrument of surrender on May 7th, 1945, and it was ratified on the 9th of May. A week following Germany's surrender we moved to Frankfurt, Urberach, Germany. This was May 16th, 1945.

Here I received another surprise. After the war had ended, all coding of radio messages was no longer necessary, so everything was just sent word for word. I was working the radio in the evening on the same day we arrived at Frankfurt. As I started to copy I noticed a Cpl. Meier’s name being mentioned. It was a request for me to see my brother Walter. As you can guess, I was very excited about this, especially, since I was the one working the radio when the message was received.

At Paris Exhibit, 5 June 1945 (note PSP)
At Paris Exhibit, 5 June 1945 (note PSP)

Following our short stay at Leipheim we moved to a suburb of Paris, Buc, Versailles, France. It was from here that the 922nd Engineer Aviation Regiment would gradually be broken up. As each person acquired the necessary number of points, he would be rotated back to the states. We did spend quite a long time here, but it was an enjoyable stay as we spent many of our off-time hours in the city of Paris seeing many of the sights. We were stationed just a short distance from the Palace of Versailles where the treaty was signed ending the First World War. We were witness to the Arch de Triumphe, Napoleon's Tomb, and the famed Eiffel Tower. While we were there the Ninth Air Force put on a huge exhibit. They displayed all of the types of aircraft that took part in the war. There were many, but they were all displayed directly under the base of the tower. This is an indication of just how large the tower is at the base. There is an elevator that runs to the top, but it was not operational at the time we were there. We did not feel like walking all the way up.

During our stay at Versailles I was to spend twelve days in an army hospital. I had developed a cyst at the base of my spine. It had become so painful that I was admitted to the hospital to have it removed surgically. This was not necessary as it burst as I was being readied for surgery. For the balance of my stay at the hospital they treated it medically. I remember having to take sitz baths, in very hot water, three times a day. The rest was enjoyable, as was the food. Even though the time we would spend in and around Paris was an enjoyable experience, we all tended to get a bit more homesick, as we knew our time remaining in the service was drawing to a close.

At Last Mission Beer Bar
At Last Mission Beer Bar

Finally, in October, the number of points required had dropped to 83. I had acquired this total, so I received notice that I was to start processing for my return to the United States for my discharge from the service. This was a very sad time for the 922nd as it was a time for many goodbyes. After many months together, most of us would never see each other again. Sometime around the middle of October I was transported to Camp Wings somewhere near Le Havre, France. There were several of these camps in this area all named after brands of cigarettes. They were camps specifically set up to process G.I.s for their return to the states. All army equipment was taken away except what was necessary to sustain a person for the boat trip home and perhaps a week following arrival back in the United States. I can remember vividly my having to turn in my rifle. I almost broke into tears. I received ol’ 1680786 brand new and had carried it all during the war. I asked if it was possible to purchase it, but they told me no. I often wonder what became of it.

On October 26, 1945, I departed Camp Wings on a Liberty Ship. The trip took 11 days from Le Havre to New York, and 8 of those days were spent in a typical Atlantic storm. I landed in New York on my birthday, Nov. 5, l945. I was discharged on Nov. 12, 1945.

Copyright © 2004 Rexall Meier

Rex passed away on 21 March 2005.


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