Camp Gordon Johnston

Camp Gordon Johnston

As we boarded the troop train at the Cape, the guessing game began. "Where are we going?"  Once we passed through Maryland it was obvious we were heading south.  We landed at a place known as Camp Gordon Johnson in Florida. The camp was located on the beach facing the Gulf of Mexico, which is in the north east corner of Florida, also known as the "pan-handle".  The camp opened in 1941 and served as an amphibious training base housing around 10,000 troops. Dog Island, 3 miles off shore, was used for amphibious landings. Carrabelle was the closest town, with a population of 1000. Our barracks were long narrow structures held about 3 feet above the ground, and housed about 60 men. Being in HQ Company had its advantages like no guard duty, which was done by the line companies. Also, KP wasn't too bad.  We only had 130 men in the company. Sergeant Lasseter and Sergeant Day, who headed up the Communications group, had us train on various types of communications equipment. Class rooms were started teaching Morse Code and radio procedures. Sergeant Bank, Peace and Kauffman trained their men boat handling. Training was not limited, and was extended to combat warfare, rifle and machine gun training, forced marches, etc. The Boat companies (A-B-C) were now trained the LCM's (Landing Craft Mechanized), the same craft that would be used for combat landings. The 4th Infantry Division began amphibious operations with the Regiment. Both the Infantry and the personnel of the Regiment gained valuable experience.

 Life at Camp Gordon Johnston

Life at Camp Gordon Johnston was lived “by the book”.  At the crack of dawn, the barrack lights came on and a voice bellowed, “Out of those sacks! Roll call in ten!” We had to get out of bed, dress, lace up those boots and fall out in the company street.

While waiting for roll call, we shivered in that cold Florida morning.  After roll call, the “Sarge” read off some of the training schedules for the day. Sergeant Bank will hold navigation classes for his boat people. "Don’t forget to bring your brains with you”, he shouted.

"Sergeant Lasseter, your communication men have been playing with their radios too long! Let’s play soldier today! Ten mile forced march, full field packs, rifles and helmets! Fall out!” The entire company, in addition with the other companies stationed up and down the beach, went down to the water’s edge. You could almost hear a sigh of relief in the air. Back to the barracks was Police Call. That meant our company had to pick up any garbage on the beach. There wasn’t a minute to spare before chow. We had to wash and shave, make the bed, and leave the barrack looking like nobody lived there.

Chow call. This morning was SOS – ground beef in a creamy sauce spooned over toast. Sergeant Willett was in charge of the mess hall. I guess they fed us the best they could. Some of the cooks, such as Hawkins, Ben Buhl and “Flat Top" Zuzga, told me they had never even boiled water before the Army made them cooks. I was lucky to be one of those to go on the forced march down a dusty road and into a forest of giant southern pine trees. We marched. Then came that dreaded command – “Double Time!” I could feel that Florida heat and humidity beating down on me as I jogged with my helmet popping up and down, and my canteen slamming against my hip. Why didn’t I get KP today? 

After lunch, we watched some training films about VD – the first porno movie for most of us 18-year olds.  Evenings were free unless assigned to other duties. Most of us went to the camp PX to pick up some personal items such as stationary, edibles, etc.  The jukebox played Tommy Dorsey’s “Boogie Woogie” over and over on the highest volume. Some got passes to town where there was a bar built on pilings at the water’s edge. This place was noted for causing many GI’s to spend the night in the clink. Us poor “juniors", not being 21 yet, avoided this punishment.

The boat companies have stepped up their night and day beach landings with the 4th infantry division. There was definitely a feeling that we would be moving out soon. One morning, a notice was posted that listed the men who were to go on furlough.  My name was one posted, which meant I had a pass for 12 days that included Christmas 1943. Leaving camp was no easy task since for it was 50 miles to Tallahassee and then 163 miles to Jacksonville for the train north. Arriving at the train station, I entered a terminal with all black people. I soon realized my error and found the white terminal. I then learned that I needed a reservation for the train home. I didn’t have one! Since I had no reservation, some GI’s told me to hide in the lavatory, so I did. I finally made it home to New York.

While at home, my buddy Joey Cianculey called and said “Let’s go to the Stage Door Canteen in Manhattan.”  He heard there was plenty of dancing girls, food and free theatre tickets. I met him there and the place was jumping!  I wondered who was fighting the war!  We weren’t there too long when we were approached by a Paratrooper from the 101st Airborne division. He questioned the fact that we were wearing jump boots the same as the Airborne.  We told him that this was our issued uniform. He didn’t seem convinced but he went back to join his buddies. Joey and I high-tailed it out of there. They would have cut off our boots for sure.

Soon it was time to leave home and get back to camp.  Upon my return I reported to the company clerk who then promptly told me that I was issued another furlough. He said “Don’t ask questions, kid. Just get out of here!”  So, I returned to New York and spent my Birthday, Christmas and New Years at home.


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