"THE MEN"

Allan Wilford Howerton

         
Company K Group Picture


More than five hundred men served in Company K from the fall of 1942 at Camp Howze, Texas, at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, during six months of combat in Europe, and the occupation of Germany until demobilization in January 1946.

We were a diverse group: grizzled regular army sergeants, draftees, a few volunteers (not plentiful in the infantry), and "mad as hell" college kids from the discontinued Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) chagrined to have wound up as lowly foot soldiers.

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Not long before, studying under the banner of what was jokingly called "the flaming pisspot," the ASTP-boys, so labeled by the "old guys," had dreamed of commissions and significant roles in rebuilding Europe after the war. We were also, until the Army ended the program because of the need for more men on the front lines, escaping combat.

Suddenly, we were buck privates; learning to crawl in the red mud of Louisiana under machine gun fire and endure twenty-five mile night marches with full field equipment. Soon, however, we commenced to find our place. The old guys began to view us as fellow soldiers, young men with the potential to shoot, fight, and f____ as well as they. Slowly they took us under their wings and made us brothers.

One in particular, George O. Prewitt the platoon sergeant of the first platoon, became, before long, our mentor, trusted confidant, and role model.

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Ole George, as we called him, was a southerner from the hills of North Carolina with little formal education. However, he was a Phi Beta Kappa of soldiering. Later, although he was commissioned a second lieutenant on the battlefield and earned two Silver Star medals, he was always known only as "Sarge." He has lived forever in our hearts.

 The rest of the leadership was iffy, at best. The company first sergeant had almost no words in his vocabulary save four-letter obscenities and used them liberally to break us into the walking infantry. The company commander at Claiborne was Captain Oreste Valsangiacomo. Unable to pronounce his name, we called him Captain Val. A New Englander from Vermont, he was likeable and generally respected. The executive officer, however, was another story; Leonard Reed Carpenter, just out of Brown University, had an eagle eye for dust on footlockers, wrinkles in bunk blankets, and shoes with the tiniest speck of dust or dullness of polish. We called him "grandma." He was so loathed by T/Sergeant Bailey, the platoon sergeant of the second platoon, who hated all educated officers, that he even cast his eyes away from the executive officer in the official company photograph.

 What's more, Bailey, a hard-bitten regular army soldier of some competence, thought even less of his platoon leader whom he derisively referred to as a "shave-tail twenty-six-year-old school teacher." Several men, including the platoon sergeant of the weapons platoon voluntarily transferred to the parachute corps to get out of Company K—or so it was alleged. The Division's reputation was little better. A few weeks before we shipped out of Claiborne it was rumored that two boxcars loaded with white gloves had arrived at the base. We would be sent overseas as MPs because we were not good enough to fight.

 Yet we, somehow, met the challenge. The division came to be regarded as one of the best infantry units of the war. Company K did its part. When Captain Val's jeep hit a mine and he was wounded as one of our first casualties not long after we occupied defensive positions the Siegfried Line, our morale sank to the very bottom as the fussy Lieutenant Carpenter assumed command. Then something near to a miracle happened. Our grandma executive officer's leadership style changed dramatically, from insistence upon sartorial perfection to concern for his men as Job 1. He became company commander, let his beard grow a little, made Captain, and was awarded two Silver Star medals and the love of the men who served under him. The company received a Presidential Unit Citation for its first offensive action at the battle for Lindern, a key division objective in the Siegfried line, just ten days after he took command. Less than a month later, an operation in the Battle of the Bulge brought a French Croix de Guerre (as part of a Third Battalion citation).

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In addition to Captain Carpenter there were a few other unlikely heroes. The best example is David Bassert; a small, skinny, sheltered only child from the Philadelphia Main Line, he was the only man in the company who was never heard to use a curse word more offensive than "darn." Dave became a medic by chance during the Battle of the Bulge, earned three Bronze Star medals, saved many lives, and wrote vivid notes about it after the war.

 Several others performed brilliantly and in retrospect might be thought of as heroes. I was not among them and not even a very good soldier. Eventually, though, I gained enough self-assurance to become the company communications sergeant. There I found my niche and came to love Company K.

 After hostilities ended I made several pages of notes. These, together with those of David Bassert, became the basis for years of research among original source military records, walks through the battlefields and cemeteries, and eventual publication of the book "DEAR CAPTAIN ET AL.: the Agonies and the Ecstasies of War and Memory, a Memoir from World War II," which tells the Company K story and my own.



THE MEN THE BOOK Company  K, 335th

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