William J Auell - Dreux

From Nike Historical Society - William J Auell Autobiography



A Soldier's Story


I was group operations sargent of the 322nd Engineer Aviation Group at Landstuhl Air Base, Germany when Colonel Young, the Group commander and Colonel Welsh summoned me to their office to tell me the 821st Aviation Engineer Battalion, currently under the Group, had a Master Sergeant [E7] slot vacant in the Operations Section [S3] at Dreaux Air Base in France, about 60 miles from Paris.

They would transfer me there so I could be promoted to Master Sergeant, but it would involve moving back to France, which really didn't appeal to us. Considering the alter- natives, I assumed this was the best chance for promotion I would get in quite a while since it would take time to get to be known in a unit after returning to the States.

We moved to the Dreaux area and found a house in one of the little villages not too far from the base and I reported to the 821st EAB. When word got around Group head- quarters back in Germany that I was being reassigned to Dreaux, several of my friends applied for transfer to the 821st, some of them were E7s. These transfers filled all the E7 slots in the Battalion and left me once again working in an E7 slot but being unable to get promoted because the Battalion now had their full compliment of Master Sergeants. Nevertheless, I was assigned to the Operations Sergeant slot under a Major Ferrari and a Captain Larson.

The commanding officer was a Lieutenant Colonel, a native Frenchman who became an American citizen and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was a brilliant engineer who liked to work with me in the planning of the various projects that had been assigned to this battalion. He had no faith in the Operations Section Major or the Captain, and would usually send them on an errand or home when we were working on the construction plans for the projects. He had good reason to be skeptical of the S3 officers. Every time the Major would get a telephone call about one of the projects, I would have to get on my phone and listen in on the conversation, then either shake my head to indicate yes or no, or write him a note with the answer. The Major, an Italian tailor from New York City rode around in his shiny Buick and always wore his Class A uniform, even out to the muddy construction sites. About the middle of every month he would call me into his office and ask "Do you have an extra $50 you could let me have until payday?". I usually let him have the money which he always repaid. The Captain spent most of his time trying to prove the inefficiency of the Major, or was out of the office doing who knows what????

The Colonel was a rare and unusual character. He was a tall slender man who would have looked good in a clean and serviceable uniform. However, I have never seen a soldier, especially an officer, that looked more shabby wearing the uniform of the United States Army. His wife apparently washed his tropical worsted uniforms with other family clothing so his TWs became a light purple instead of the light tan they were supposed to be. He wore shoes that had big holes in the bottom of them. I don't think his brass had been polished since the day he left West Point, a little green along the edges. He drove an old rattle-trap Plymouth that had never known water except when it rained. His kids looked like poor ragamuffins and smelled as if they hadn't been very close to a bath tub in quite a while. He lived in a run down place not far from the base. But, he had an allotment to a bank in the States for over half of his pay every month. I often wondered if he made full colonel? probably he did, because he was a graduate of the Academy which qualifying him as one of the full-fledged ring knockers who had a better chance at getting promoted to full Colonel and into the General ranks that the average non- Academy officer.

The Battalion had several projects at the base including perimeter storm drainage and the construction of a 400 unit trailer court, both major projects. The Colonel would come over to the S3 Quonset building which was next to his Headquarters, and ask me to go with him to check the projects. He drove his own Jeep. When we arrived at a work site he would stop and ask a soldier that may be digging a ditch if he was getting tired. The soldiers usually answered that they were not tired, but the Colonel had him come over to the Jeep and would say something like "You look tired. You sit down here and rest. I'll do your job while you're resting". The soldier didn't know what to say or do, so he just sat down by the Jeep and watched his commanding officer dig a ditch. He would do the same thing if we stopped at a site where heavy equipment was working; I saw him operate a grader, a bulldozer and a roller. Quite a bird. As I said, a brilliant engineer, but a poor example of a military officer.

We lived in two different small towns near the air base, sharing the houses with Ralph and Billy Piper who had two small boys about the same ages as Cathy and Bill. The oldest boy fell madly in love with Cathy. Here again, the accommodations weren't comparable to on-post housing in Germany, or any other place for that matter. The Commissary and PX were in Paris so we made our trip to the big city about once a month. We tried to get all the supplies we needed at one time. One time we were returning from the commissary and decided to eat in a fancy looking French restaurant in one of the small towns along the way. The kids got French fries, coke and some other thing that I can't remember. Berniece, Billy and I decided to splurge $25 on roast duck. [a lot of money in 54]. As the waitress was bringing the duck we commented how delicious it looked. When she put it on the table it was a different story. The pin feathers were still on the bird. This disgusting thing quickly destroyed our appetite so we finally ended up eating only the parsnips that came with the duck. A really expensive vegetable. We passed this place every time we went to Paris, but never got brave enough to try more of their French cuisine.

The year of 1955 finally arrived and we started thinking about going home. We had to decide which items we would take back to the States and what we would sell or give to someone. I sure wanted to get rid of that Plymouth, and we needed transportation when we got back to the States. We ordered a new 1955 Mercury 2 door hardtop from a dealer in New Jersey to be picked up when we got to the States. We left Dreaux and went to Paris where I sold the Plymouth. We took a train from Paris to Frankfurt, Germany and then went to Rhein-Main Air Base for our flight to the States. We boarded the 4 turbo-jet propeller plane and along with some of our friends settled down for our trip across the Atlantic. We taxied to the end of the runway, the pilot revved up to engines, then shut them down and announced that he "did not consider the plane worthy of transcontinental flight". We went back to the terminal and waited a couple of hours for the plane to be repaired. It now was about ten o'clock at night. Once again we boarded the plane and the pilot took the plane to the end of the runway and went through his pre-flight checks again. Once more, he repeated his previous comment and told us we would not leave before the next day. The following day we were a little hesitant to board the same plane, but we got settled down and waved goodbye to Europe, landing in New Jersey about 15 hours later.

I wanted to get down and kiss the ground. We were back in the good old U S of A. I don't think most people realize how great it is to be an American. After spending three years in Europe observing the living and working conditions of the different countries, I was much more appreciative of my country and our way of life. Throughout the countries that we were stationed in or visited [ France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy ] the people in the small villages live in a structure that is a cattle barn on the first floor and the living quarters on the second or third floor. Most folks do not have indoor plumbing. The waste from humans and animals runs down the ditches of the dirt roads. The stench in the streets during the summer was something to experience. Some of the houses had electricity which consisted primarily of a light socket hanging down from the ceilings. Refrigeration was non-existent, even in many of the meat markets and grocery stores.

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