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Posts Tagged ‘A Salute to Patriotism’

  

My father (second from right) and the other Camp Campbell generals (Brewer, second from left and Newton, third from left) turn to greet the visiting General Jacob L. Devers.

My father (second from right) and the other Camp Campbell generals (Brewer, second from left and Newton, third from left) turn to greet the visiting General Jacob L. Devers.


The following are excerpts from Chapter 4, “Old and New Kentucky Homes,” from A Salute to Patriotism: The Life and Work of Major General Howard L. Peckham: 

      I didn’t know anything about the large German Panzer tanks in Europe about which my father had once expressed concern, and I had certainly never seen one.  I did see Sherman tanks, however. One day I stood very close to one that was on display at Fort Knox, and I recall feeling dwarfed by its big treads and complex-looking weaponry.

      As fate would have it, I would never sit in one of those tanks again. Howard Peckham’s stellar performance during an intensive one-month course at the Armored Force School brought about a change in his assignment. One evening in early July 1942 he told us he had received orders to report to Camp Campbell later that month. My mother’s response to the news was unexpectedly dramatic.

      “Oh, no!” she sobbed, while pressing her head firmly against a wall in the stairway. She was still in the process . . ., and we had lived at Fort Knox for only three months. This was one of the few times I ever saw her cry when told we would be moving. “I’m sorry, dear,” Dad said sympathetically, “During wartime, officers are sent where the need for their leadership is the greatest.”  Feeling the determination to behave like a gallant army wife, my mother gradually regained her composure and began to pack. 

      In late July 1942, our furniture was again loaded into a huge van, and I started wondering what my future school might be like.

      We had moved to Fort Knox near the end of the school year, so I didn’t attend classes there. I had enjoyed the vacation, though. For one thing, I always looked forward to the arrival of a bakery truck that came to our cul-de-sac twice a week to deliver newly baked bread and sugary cinnamon rolls. I was unhappy when these treats ended.

Back at Fort Benning, our previous post, other officers’ wives—many of them wives of senior officers—were having to make big adjustments.

For example, in August, General Crittenberger assumed command of III Armored Corps (later called XIX Corps) at Camp Polk, Louisiana.

During the following year, General Crittenberger left for assignments in England and then in Italy, the latter of which had more than its share of danger. Josephine (his wife) undoubtedly felt an enormous strain while her husband was serving there—not only was he leading the IV Corps during its many days of fighting north from Rome and across the River Po, but their son, Townsend, was in combat in the European Theater at the same time.

Tragically, Townsend did not survive the war.  In Italy . . .

Like his job at Fort Knox, Howard Peckham’s assignment at Camp Campbell, a relatively new army installation (now called Fort Campbell), was in Kentucky. We would still be living in a pretty bluegrass state noted for its horse ranches, but the Camp had no available houses for dependents. Therefore, we would have to live in one of the nearby small towns.

No longer would we have quarters on a typical army post.An army post was structured and efficient, a place where straight-backed uniformed men and women, who looked as if they had ramrods attached to their spines, walked at a quick pace on sidewalks located . . .

Nevertheless, the move was quite advantageous as far as my father’s career was concerned. In late August, he received a promotion to brigadier general. He had accumulated an impressive array of complimentary efficiency reports from his superiors over the years, so gaining a star was a well-deserved step up the career ladder.

Other good news was that my parents found an attractive place to live in Hopkinsville, a town sixteen miles north of Camp Campbell. Named for Samuel Hopkins, a Revolutionary War soldier and pioneer, Hopkinsville was caught up in the patriotic spirit of the times. Several of its residents offered to share their homes with army families, and Dad found one prospect especially appealing.

After showing my parents their property, the owners, Robert and Frances Fairleigh, invited us to move in with them. My parents gladly accepted, and soon thereafter we began to unpack the few items we had with us. My bedroom was tiny, as was my brother’s, but my parents at least had a large bedroom-sitting room combination, where we spent much of our time. Our own furniture, which had always traveled with us to our far-flung temporary homes, was placed in storage.

At first, it seemed strange to me that we were “boarding” in someone else’s house, but at least, I reasoned, we were living on an old, charming mini-estate with its own distinctive name: Fairlelond.

The property’s grounds were vast and filled with flower gardens and vegetable patches, and I’ve never forgotten the taste of large ripe tomatoes we picked and ate right off the vine. A favorite four-legged playmate of mine, who stayed in a backyard doghouse much of the time, was the Fairleigh family’s rambunctious setter, Lady, who produced a large litter of puppies during our stay. Also in attendance was the frisky black and white short-haired cat my brother and I acquired, named Willie.  Best of all, Robert and Frances Fairleigh were to become lifelong friends of our family.

For many soldiers assigned to the 12th Armored Division, activated at Camp Campbell in September 1942, training was so rugged that they had little energy for socializing.   Their days consisted of long marches and endless combat exercises. “When the sun shines, dust unmercifully flies into their eyes,” Dad said about their environment, “and when it rains, they have to trek through deep mud.”

The commander of the 12th Armored Division then was Major General Carlos B. Brewer. When General Jacob Devers paid a visit (shown in the photo at the top of the page and in A Salute to Patriotism), Dad and the two other 12th Armored Division generals greeted his plane, gave him a tour, and updated him about the division’s progress. 

Dad’s main task was to ensure that the division received training to prepare it well for its inevitable participation in battle. Learning how to load armored vehicles for sea transport, how to communicate in a tank environment, how to perform armor tactics were necessary components of armored warfare training.

The second edition of A Salute to Patriotism: The Life and Work of Major General Howard L. Peckham was published in May 2011. Click on the link below to see the table of contents and other pages.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0966585550/

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My father (third from left, second row) and some classmates at Command and General Staff School: Ft. Leavenworth, 1940

Howard L. Peckham spent his pre-World War II days serving his country in the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, the branch into which he was commissioned upon graduation from West Point in 1918. His work took him to various locations, including the Philippines, West Point (where he was an engineering instructor), Cleveland, Puerto Rico, Florida, and New York.

Excerpts from Chapter 3, “Clouds Over Leavenworth and Benning” of A Salute to Patriotism: The Life and Work of Major General Howard L. Peckham:

In 1939, when my father’s work as Deputy Administrator of the WPA (under Brehon B. Somervell) in New York City ended, we moved to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, where he attended the prestigious Command & General Staff School.  In February 1940, he graduated from the school and would soon be a part of an expanding U.S. Army. Under the guidance of Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, the army was increasing its membership, modernizing its equipment, and starting to prepare its troops for combat.

More and more officers would be needed to fill leadership roles. This caused a rumor to spread in officers’ clubs throughout the United States that Camp Beauregard, Louisiana, would soon become the location of massive war maneuvers.

That rumor turned out to be true. One of the participants in those realistic games of war was my dad. His three months in Louisiana serving with the 21st Engineers involved intensive training for a leadership position in a combat environment, precipitated by the storm of events in Europe and Asia. The War Department ordered more than sixty-five thousand troops from various divisions and regiments of the U.S. Army to join this massive training operation. Tanks and other equipment lined the wide highways, and soldiers marched through busy towns and open fields. Occasionally, soldiers rode atop mule packs, which was a sight the residents of Rapides County, Louisiana, would never forget.

In Europe, meanwhile, German troops were not able to land in Britain—much to Hitler’s disappointment and Churchill’s relief. Its shores were highly fortified, and the use of radar there helped the military spot potential invaders who attempted to arrive by ship.

Churchill’s relief was short lived, however. Starting in July 1940, frustrated Germany sent its Luftwaffe bombers roaring through the sky to Britain, causing its terrified citizens to run repeatedly, week after week, into the safety of bomb shelters. Like crystal vases shattered by rocks, Britain’s factories, airports, homes, ports, and buildings were broken apart by German blitz bombs.

Significant events were also happening in Howard Peckham’s army career. In July, he received news that he had been promoted to major and would soon participate in a growing armored force.

This force, which moved on treads, had historic roots in the United States Cavalry, a force of mounted horsemen who galloped their way through America’s wars—starting with the Revolutionary War and ending during World War I. The Louisiana maneuvers, in which tanks had played an important role, had shown the need for a strong armored force within the army. Also, World War I had shown a horse cavalry to be impractical.

The War Department thus created sixteen armored divisions during World War II. It selected Fort Benning, Georgia, as the home base for the 2nd Armored Division, which was activated there on July 15, 1940.

Among the core units attached to the 2nd Armored Division was the 17th Armored Engineer Battalion, whose job was, among other tasks, to design and construct the pontoon bridges across which heavy armor would be driven. The officer appointed to command the 17th Armored Battalion at Fort Benning was Howard Peckham, and Fort Benning was the destination to which we drove in August 1940. In October 1941, about four weeks after his promotion to lieutenant colonel, Howard Peckham was detailed to the General Staff Corps as Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, of the 2ndArmored Division. As G-3, he was concerned with the dual functions of planning and operations.

In the following month, the last peacetime maneuvers for the division were held in the Carolinas. In Patton: A Study in Command, H. Essame writes that in an exercise in North Carolina, “Patton and the 2nd Armored Division completely outshone all others.”

In spite of the preparedness of the 2nd Armored Division, no one at Fort Benning was prepared for the startling events that occurred on the otherwise peaceful Sunday of December 7, 1941—especially not the wives and children.My mother was the first member of our family to hear the news. She had been listening to the radio when an announcer interrupted her program with a shocking report—the Japanese had made a sneak attack on America at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Soon after the attack, the post commander (Omar Bradley) ordered troops from Benning to guard the bridges and electrical generating plants throughout Georgia.

Fears of sabotage or enemy attacks also resulted in the enforcement of air raid drills. When we heard sirens at night indicating that a drill was about to begin, Dad would often call out to my brother and me. “Turn off the lights!” he would shout. Like busy squirrels hunting for acorns, we would rush from room to room to check that they were all off. Then we would sit quietly in the bleak darkness of our home, as though sitting in a cave, until the signal came on again to indicate that the drill had ended.

[It’s interesting to note that George Patton served under Omar Bradley at Ft. Benning. As the war progressed, it would be the other way around.]

 Patch of the 2nd Armored Division worn by my father and the other men of the division.