Occasionally, I publish some of Mr. Montgomery’s musings edited only for grammatical errors. Since it is Mr. Montgomery’s birthday this week, here is another of his reflections of earlier times.
SALT LAKE CITY – WARTIME
I first arrived in Salt Lake City (Nov 1942) as a new draftee for the US Army, and was sent up to Fort Douglas. Fort Douglas is just over the city limit fence to Salt Lake City. I was introduced to the “old army routine”, issued a uniform, and told to get in line. I can remember sitting in the army mess hall, when someone turned on a radio to the announcement that the French had surrendered to an American landing force in North Africa; the shooting war was on in earnest.
I was only here at Fort Douglas in 1942 about 10 days. I received the usual medical exams, treatment, intelligence, educational, and occupational tests, and spent a lot of time marching around. Then it was off to Camp Beale, California to return to the typewriter repair business. That’s another story.
BACK TO SALT LAKE CITY – 1943
Well here I was back in Salt Lake City again, this time at the University of Utah, assigned to an army training unit bent on sending soldiers back to college. Apparently the colleges were running short on students, and the army draft had turned up so many recruits that we were getting in each other’s way. Rumor has it, that England was getting crowded with American soldiers, and they weren’t yet ready to accept more of us green-horns before the invasion actually started. So it was back to college.
The army took over some space in the athletic department, and set up barracks using the Field House as a dormitory for 500 or 600 of us lowly soldiers. I am not sure that the army really knew what they were doing with us. They got a number of colleges to put together some kind of College training program that emphasized science, math, etc, and away we go!
It was interesting in that I found a number of the instructors in these classes were nationally known figures, and became names in the news later regarding the atomic bomb design. For a while we marched to some classes. I don’t think we were popular with the regular civilian students. It even perpetrated an incident known to us as the “Chronicle Relief Fund”. The student body newspaper was the “Utah Chronicle”, but the soldier’s picked-up copies with the result it sometimes short changed the regular students in getting their copy of the school paper. A protest was made that the unauthorized army students were taking away the students newspaper. So some enterprising soldier stuck a breakfast food box on a bulletin board with a sign on it advertising donations would be taken for the “Chronicle Relief Fund.” I think the army officialdom finally agreed to pay money into the newspaper fund, but this went on for 2 or 3 weeks, and a large number of coins collected (mostly Utah tax tokens and a few pennies) were collected. A sergeant and color guard were mounted up, and delivered the funds in an unofficial “official” manner to the offices of the school newspaper. We did have fun!
I spent much of my spare time, playing tourist in Salt Lake City, checking out all the places of interest. The university was on 13th street – only a little over 12 blocks from the main street in town. It’s just that Salt Lake blocks are over 600 ft long, with mostly 100 ft wide streets. That 12 blocks is a long walk uphill.
One thing I personally remember was visits to the radio broadcast of the Salt Lake Tabernacle Choir. One time I managed to wait until it was over and walked up to the organ, and was given a 15 minutes private demonstration of the facilities of the pipe organ by Frank Asper the organist that day.
One item was a tour of the buildings in Temple Square, the center of the Mormon Church, where we were conducted about by the most eager high-school age tour guides I have ever met.
I can remember one week when everybody I knew was sick with a cold, or some ailment. There was something not conducive to good living with hundreds of men in double bunk beds only arms length apart wheezing and carrying on at close quarters. I officially took to sick call and ended up in the college infirmary for 3 days.
Bunking with the group where I was located was also interesting. One of the fellows across from me was named Melvin Romney III, the son of a prominent Mormon family, and obviously financially quite well off. He got quite a “razzing” from those around us when he arrived as a buck private wearing a tailored army uniform. There were also 2 fellows from the deep south (Texas and Louisiana) who verbally fought the civil war whenever possible with a couple of fellows from Wisconsin and Utah.
I found myself in a physics class, one time, when the professor was explaining some theory or other that ran on the blackboard completely along one wall and across the front of the room. We had 2 students who not only knew what he was talking about and assisted him in adding to the hieroglyphics. Most of the rest of us weren’t quite sure what we were doing.
This sort of thing couldn’t last. One day they turned out the Company, and announced the following were to be transferred to another army unit. In my case, it was to the 66th Infantry Division at Little Rock, Arkansas – immediately.
I was told that within a month the entire college unit was disbanded. They were getting ready for the Normandy invasion, and everybody was needed to carry a gun.