I Join The Navy - The Reality & The Realization

     I have often been asked what was it that prompted me to join the Navy and my answer is always the same. I loved the uniform, and wanted to serve my country wearing it, and at the same time, take advantage of,- and the opportunity - to further my interests in aviation mechanics. The reality of that decision follows. The realization of the truth came years later.

     Three months into my seventeenth year, having gotten my parents permission and some misguided advice from a number of friends already in the service, I enlisted in the Navy (V6 USNR) That was December, 1943. The aptitude tests I had taken before signing up ,inferred that after boot camp at Sampson, NY. I would be assigned to the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, Fla. for aviation machinist school. I was a senior at the Manhatten High School of Aviation Trades (NY) and this seemed like the opportunity of a young life. . As a matter of fact, I was so anxious that I waived graduation to take advantage of the ‘deal’. Boot camp was accellerated to only four weeks, followed by a short leave, then back to OGU. Once there, I waited for my assignment to Pensacola. Meanwhile, each day new lists of assignments were posted. Finally, after two weeks, my name came up for transfer. It had been selected randomly (every other name on the roster) for what was called ’Spur 86’ headed for New York. I went to the guidance counselor for a deferral, but to no avail. I was told that that group was in fact going to Little Creek, VA for amphibious training and that once there, I could request consideration for aviation machinists school. What happened next is almost unbelievable, but I am living proof that it is true.

     Spur 86 and several other drafts, (a total of about 1600 men), were billeted on pier 92 in the Hudson River awaiting transportation to Virginia. For two weeks, we waited aimlessly. There was no one in charge and no one seemed to know what we were doing there, when we would leave or what was to become of us. The Queen Mary docked at the adjacent pier to begin loading troops bound for Europe. In the days that followed, we were issued kaiki combat gear including boots, helmet, heavy outerwear, gas masks and survival equiptment, then one afternoon, without prior notice, without even a check of the roster, and without an opportunity to say goodbye to our friends, our entire group was marched unto the Queen Mary with an army regiment. It was Palm Sunday, 1944. That evening we were underway and 4 days later arrived in Scotland. For 3 more days we lingered on the ship as she lay at anchor in the Firth Of Ford, awaiting direction that would explain our being there. When, finally we disembarked, we were taken to an un-used CeeBee camp in Roseneath. Our seabags did not follow us. We had no change of clothing, not to mention a place to sleep, other than on raw, rusty springs without bedding, and as we were to find out in the next couple of hours, no provision to feed us. A Red Cross truck came by the next morning and passed out ‘K-rations’. Two or three days later, our seabags were delivered and we began to organize ourselves into groups of 16 or so based on the number of bunks in a quonset hut. Still, there was no Naval officer or anyone else in charge. We had no regular mess. The Red Cross, or the Army, came once a day to feed us (‘C-rations’). Finally, after two weeks of unsupervised ‘free time’ officers came upon the scene and asked for a hundred volunteers for a decidedly dangerous, but heroic detail, promising all who volunteered a quick return to the States and in most cases, meritious and promotional rewards. (The fate of those volunteers and especially of a dear boot camp friend of mine, is quite another story.). Eventually Naval bureaucracy caught up with us and each day new lists wereposted assigning us alphabetically to specific groups and told to stand by for further direction. We didn’t know it then, but our group, sixteen of us, was assigned to an LST and when all the group selections were made, we were boarded on a train to Southhampton, England, where we were to meet our assigned ships,- again, without provision for mess other than a ‘K-ration’. to tide us over The trip took two days ! We arrived in the early AM and were herded into a large fenced in field, there to await transfer to our ships. The problem was that the ships could not come into the ‘hards’ until night fall because of security reasons and we, of necessity, had to remain in the field without cover until then. It was cold and damp. it rained and drizzled and somewhere beyond sight but within hearing, anti aircraft guns popped and bombers droned. There were no meals and the day seemed to last forever,- - for us, truly - the “Longest Day.&##148; At one AM we were driven to the harbor and watched as a big lumbering, clumsy looking ship made it’s way in the darkness onto the hard concrete ramp. As it approached, it’s bow opened up and a massive loading ramp came down. It was quite a sight, I had never seen anything like it before nor had I had any idea of what it was. I was amazed.! At two AM we went on board exhausted, relieved that at last we were where we were supposed to be. And surprise of all surprises, awaiting us, in spite of the hour, were hot showers and a turkey dinner. The Captain welcomed us aboard and explained that he was aware of our ordeal and sorry for the delay in bringing the ship in. He had ordered the cooks to prepare the special dinner and directed the chief engineer to open the fresh water showers just for us, To make our welcome complete he advised and allowed us to sleep in till mid day. And so it was, that we became shipmates of, and part of the crew of the LST 279. The concern and compassion of the captain (Lt. James T. Beard) had created a bond that night between his new crewmen, ship’s company and ‘his’ ship, that lasted through-out the entire European tour of duty. Less than a month later, we had our first taste of combat, a torpedo attack (which missed) on our return from beaching maneuvers on the southwest coast of England. A month after that, we were in the vanguard of the Normandy invasion.

     As is evident in this narration, we who joined the 279 in England had no training other than 4 weeks in boot camp, yet in the weeks before the invasion, we learned quickly and became a functional part of the crew, earning the respect and admiration of the ‘old salts’ already there. I can honestly say, that as a crew, we were content. Relations between officers and men were good, amenities plentiful and rules relaxed for the comfort and well being of all. Altho’ we considered ourselves to be in the ‘dungaree’ navy we were, never-the-less, a proud bunch. As for aviation machinists school, it never happened. I have no regrets, I’m rather grateful that as it turned out, I came through the war without harm and equally important,. . as a man! The lessons I learned and the experiences I gained have stood me in good stead all my life. To this day, I am proud of having served in the US Navy.

     Years later, matured and mellowed, the realization of reality became apparent. The unexplained and outwardly hap-hazzard schedule of events in those months before ‘June 6th, was probably part of an overall deception conjured up to insure secrecy and the success of operation "Overlord", otherwise known as ‘D Day’. With that in mind, I can readily justify the inconvienences, (minor on my part). and believe the results more than justified the means.

----- Bob Benvenuto

        WELCOMEBOB@aol.com

LINKS

Biography of Bob Benvenuto, LST 279, USN

Bob Benvenuto, Gangway Watch, USS Berkley County, LST 279

LST 279 and Christmas `44, Bob Benvenuto, LST 279, USN

USS LST 279 Deckload, English Channel, Fall, 1944

USS LST 279 Enroute to Normandy, English Channel, Fall, 1944

LST 279, High and Dry, Utah Beach, Normandy, Summer, 1944

USS LST 279 Stern Anchor, Weymouth, 1944

LST 279, Unloading, Utah Beach, Normandy, Summer, 1944

Some of the Crew on Deck, USS Berkley County, LST 279

USS Berkley County, LST 279 - in 1954

USS LST 279 - Captain's Inspection, 1945

USS LST 279 - Weymouth England, 1945

Wartime Birthday, Bob Benvenuto, LST 279, USN

White Caps, Watch Caps and Dress Blues, Bob Benvenuto, LST 279, USN

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