544th Departs Camp Gordon Johnston

                                            544th DEPARTS CAMP GORDON JOHNSTON FLORIDA

Late March 1944 orders came for the regiment to prepare to move from Camp Gordon Johnston. This came as no surprise on April 16, 1944 at 3:00 am. We soon found ourselves loaded on trucks taking us to a railroad siding. The train we were to board was there waiting, with its long stretch of box looking cars. The big black engine was huffing and puffing steam with impatience to get going. These troop trains were designed to move large amounts of troops in a confined space resembling an army camp. Sleeper cars had bunks stacked three high that could also be converted for sitting. Our cooks did all the cooking and we used our mess gear to eat. Once the train was loaded it pulled out and headed north. I don’t think there was any doubt that we were headed for the pacific. After a Scenic 4 day ride through the West  on April 20, 1944 we arrived at Camp Stoneman, in Pittsburgh California.

544th HQ Company on the Move

Our stay at Camp Stonman was short-lived, only three days and we soon found ourselves being loaded on a boat that resembled an excursion boat. Once the boat was loaded we sailed down a river and we soaked up the beautiful California sunshine, just as though we were on vacation. Later in the day we sailed into a large bay where there were many ships. We pulled alongside a ship at a pier. Orders to disembark our boat came from a loud speaker and we quickly boarded the ship and went below decks to our assigned areas. There was nothing but rows of canvas covered bunks stacked eight high. We soon learned that this ship was a converted troop ship and that it belonged to the American Export Lines named SS Extavia.

San Francisco, California 

Once we were settled in we went up on deck to get some fresh air and to find out where we were. We were in San Francisco Harbor. As darkness was setting in, the lights of the city were coming on and the whole city sparkled. You could see what looked like trolley cars going up and down a large hill to the water front. Sleeping that night was a new experience climbing into those tight bunks. Sliding in with barely enough room for the guy above. Chow was the usual GI way. Use your own mess gear, no seating, and no seconds. We were told how lucky we were to get three meals a day, when troops going to Europe only got two. Once again we were wondering what was in store for us, but the Army told us “we don’t have the need to know”. As the day went on there was lots of action on the pier and things being brought onto the ship. Soon after, two small tug boats appeared near our ship as the men on the pier were casting off the lines. The tugs pulled us out to the bay and our engines started, as the tugs left us on our own. We soon sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and out to open waters. There was an unusual silence from the troops on deck as our country faded out of sight on April 23, 1944, as we sailed from the USA.

Due to the extreme heat below decks, most time was spent on top side, milling around chatting, playing records and looking out on the vast ocean. As we crossed the International Date Line on, May 9, 1944, we were all made, Polly Wogs, by King Neptune.

We still wondered where ever we were going, but after 31 days on the ocean land was sighted on May 23, 1944.

We sailed down this large body of water with land on both sides. There were no signs of civilization just palm trees. After some time we arrived in a large bay, Milney Bay, New Guinea.  It was late afternoon when the ship dropped anchor. Looking towards shore the jungle was dark and mysterious looking. Thick gray clouds almost touched the tops of the palm trees. As darkness set in the shore line in front of us glowed with the flashes of men welding. We learned later that they were assembling our LCM (Landing Craft Mechanized) boats. The next day we pulled anchor and moved up the coast to Oro Bay, Buna and disembarked to our new home.




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