Wet-Cold Clothing Team
The Quartermaster Review
A few weeks ago, on the “main drag” in Seoul, Korea a soldier clad in an Eisenhower jacket and OD trousers walked up to Lieutenant Richard H. Greene and remarked: “Say, aren ‘t you the guy who talked to my outfit about winter uniforms back at Camp Shanks just before we went to England?” He was right. Lieutenant Greene, an original Quartermaster Corps “wet-cold weather” instructor, and one of his early pupils had each traveled half-way around the world (in different directions) to meet in the American-occupied section of Korea.
Such a meeting is typical of the tremendous scope of the program launched by the Office of The Quartermaster General more than a year ago to reduce to an absolute minimum the amount of suffering due to cold weather that American soldiers would have to endure.
Originally the program was instituted to give winter-weather indoctrination to units headed from America’s east coast to the European Theatre. At Camp Shanks and other eastern staging areas, units, before making the trip to Europe, were instructed in the type of weather they could expect to find there, in the type of clothing they would be issued, and in how to make the best possible use of it.
But the “wet-cold” program really struck its stride after the war in Europe had ended, when America’s military planning centered on the Pacific, and especially on the expected final battles in the Japanese homelands.
The same system of indoctrination of troops at ports of embarkation before they sailed for foreign services was employed. But there were already tens and hundreds of thousands of troops in the Pacific-men who had been working and fighting in tropic and semitropic areas almost exclusively since the war began. These, too, would require a knowledge of the natural dangers which would threaten them if winter operations in the chilly Japanese home islands should become necessary.
That, of course, was before the atomic bomb; before many of the B-29 strikes which crippled Japanese production; before any other than the most optimistic prophet would predict an end of the Pacific war with-out costly, hand-to-hand destruction of fanatic Japs among the ruins of their cities and homes.
Some plan had to be devised to acquaint soldiers already in the islands of the Pacific with the kind of winter fighting they could expect to find in Japan. And find it they would have if the war had continued, for post-victory revelations of war – plans clearly showed a winter campaign in prospect.
The plan was devised at the Office of The Quartermaster General, and it proposed probably the most intensive instructional program the Army has ever attempted. Instructors selected at The Quartermaster General’s Office were to travel to the Pacific and individually instruct hundreds of thousands of troops in the perils and preventive measures pertaining to wet-cold weather.
From among all available Quartermaster officers a group was selected whose background and civilian and military experience had best qualified them for the task of lecturing as many as five times a day to audiences of from 20 to 2,000. Some of these were dispatched to the command then known as the Southwest Pacific, later to become Army Forces Western Pacific, while nine were to journey to Hawaii and there join Army Forces, Pacific Ocean Areas, later Army Forces, Middle Pacific.
The group which assembled in Washington in May to begin its trip to Honolulu was as varied in background and experience as any such body could be. Major Curtis A. Stone had been a bank official in civil life; Captain George D. Godwin, Jr., a football player and trucking company operator; Captain Robert H. Hall, a college student and law-school aspirant; Captain Clarence J. MacManus, a professional boxer and freight-line manager; Lieutenant George T. Dale, public relations man in a public utility; Lieutenant James D. Norman, a newspaper advertising salesman; Lieutenant Richard H. Greene, an insurance company employee in Manhattan; and Lieutenant Robert E. Huber had worked in a hotel operated by his father.
The personnel of “Wet-Cold Weather Team No.4” may not be particularly interesting to one who reads I about it, but to the individuals who composed it the characteristics of their companions were to be most important.
On a dozen Pacific Islands, in heat and cold and mud and slush, these men were to eat, live, talk, and work together. They were to eat in mess-halls ranging from commodious, well-appointed officers’ clubs to hardly-distinguishable mess-lines in clearings but recently claimed from the jungles; live in pup-tents, quonsets, and finally in Korean and Japanese hotels; talk to bored audiences just off twelve-hour back-breaking dock-shifts, and preface USO shows bristling with top Hollywood talent; work under 104-in-the-shade tropic conditions, within range of an occasional sniper, and confronted with the generally incredulous attitude natural to men sweltering under equatorial skies.
On the island of Oahu, at POA headquarters, Captain William F. Pounder, a former Lever Brothers sales manager and, militarily, a field representative of the Office of The Quartermaster General, had preceded and laid the groundwork for the wet-cold clothing team. Specific directives setting out the mission of the group, the importance of their task, and the methods to be followed by subordinate commands, were issued there.
At Oahu the group picked up its tenth and last member, Lieutenant Robert S. Kelly of the Quartermaster Section, Headquarters Army Forces, Pacific Ocean Areas, in civilian life a newspaperman and politician, who became both public relations representative and participating instructor of the team.
After preparations were completed at Honolulu for the trip westward, the ten instructors took off. Prior to their departure from the Territory of Hawaii, troops of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, rear echelons of the 10th Army and IX Corps, plus garrison troops of the Islands, were instructed in the climatic conditions prevalent in the Japanese home areas.
Each instructor carried with him a complete outfit of the clothing to be issued to troops scheduled to participate in the forthcoming offensive operations in Japan-and demonstrated its proper use.
Actually, the demonstration was the worst cross to bear. Picture, for a moment, an outdoor theatre; a tropic sun beating down with almost unendurable force; men sweating even damper clothing that already seemed sopping wet-and a “wet-cold” instructor donning layer after layer of woolen clothing.
On Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, Guam, and Iwo Jima, Greene, Dale, and Kelly, the heaviest of the group, each dropped between fifteen and twenty pounds. It wouldn ‘t have been so bad to put the clothing on, then take it off immediately, but the purpose of the instruction required that the layers be donned in succession, and the use of each explained before the next was put on. It all added up to a Turkish-bath-like sweating-out.
Each instructor, although conforming to a general presentation of the basic facts, worked out his own approach. Huber acquired an almost evangeheal fervor; so did Godwin. Pounder, Dale, and Kelly relied strongly on politician-style interlarding with jokes and gags. Hall and Greene were more serious. Major Stone stuck very closely to the written outline known as “Cold Facts,” which was the bible for the tour, and Norman and MacManus were the “swing men”, sometimes very serious, sometimes heavy on the humorous side.
Each, in his own right; worked out an approach. In the “heavy days” on Okinawa, where instructors sometimes talked to as many as five thousand men a day when they gathered in their tents atop “Iscom Hill” to talk over the day’s work, it was not unusual to hear such soldier-remarks as “the best Army lecture I ever heard.”
Speaking quite frankly, they sold the program. It wasn’t a complicated matter, really, reduced to its bare essentials. The “layer principle,” wherein the warmth is derived primarily from insulating layers of air between separate, relatively light woolen garments, was the key-note, was the key word in describing proper care of wet-cold weather clothing. “Keep it clean,” “avoid over-heating,” “wear it loose,” and “keep it dry”-these were the basic principles.
Such matters as the temperature of the target area-Japanese home islands and surrounding territory-with relation to climates in the States, were discussed; the great losses of units in the European and Mediterranean Theatres of Operation from weather conditions, and the possible permanently crippling effects of such injuries to individuals were dwelt upon.
It wasn’t all work, of course, despite the days when speaking-schedules stretched from seven o’clock in the morning until midnight, to catch men who worked the swing shift. Several long-distance card rivalries grew up, and before the long voyage home began, hardly a man in the group-not even Dale, who had always boasted of being impervious to cards-was less than a moderate expert at gin rummy and cribbage.
There were disturbing times, too, even on such semi-rear area” islands as Saipan and Guam, where .45s were standard equipment for more reasons than their war-like appearance. On Iwo Jima, Japs were killed a few hundred yards from the quonset hut where the “wet-cold” group was quartered, and on Okinawa there was no doubt at all that a war existed nearby. One night, between air raids in the 7th Division area on Southern Okinawa, Godwin, Dale, Greene, and Kelly crept back to bed-or cot, to be more accurate. Hardly had they arrived when the swish of a 5-inch shell seemed almost to take the metal cap off their tent-an exaggeration, obviously, but one which they didn’t stop to argue about as they scrambled back to a nearby ditch.
MacManus was awakened one night in the same general area of Okinawa by machine-gun fire, and left his tent just in time to see the last of a party of Japs, creeping over a nearby ridge, shot down. The following morning he went out with an investigating party of the 20th Armored Group men, but fortunately didn ‘t get too close before the lone Jap survivor pulled the pin on a grenade. One of the splattering fragments took the ear off a soldier who did go too close.
And then there was the wild night of August 10th on Okinawa-the night the first Japanese surrender offer was broadcast. Stone and Kelly, who had just returned from lectures at the 187th QM Battalion, returned to the Island Command Area to find all of the other members of the group already back and either at the prize-fights in Iscom Bowl or the movies in a nearby mess-hall. Stone selected the prize-fights, while Kelly went to the movie-a never-to-be-forgotten showing of Joan Fontaine in “Susan and God.”
The movie was about half-finished when some one ran in shouting the news of Japanese capitulation, just received on a radio in an adjoining mess shack. The movie crowd broke up, of course. Soon after the “wet-cold” squad assembled on a hill atop the previously oft-used dugout bomb shelter, the fireworks began.
There will never again be such a fireworks display. Every calibre gun on the island seemed to be firing-and mostly tracers. The sky actually assumed almost the tint of dawn when the firing reached its crescendo-and only the next day did the group learn of the tragic number of men killed in the exuberant display, which finally ended only when an air alert began. We thought it was a “phony” alert, pulled to end the shooting. Actually it turned out to be genuine, for Japanese planes were over the Buckner Bay Harbor. And a few nights later other planes staged the raid which severely damaged the battleship Pennsylvania, while peace negotiations were in progress.
The “wet-cold” team broke up after VJ-day, with Major Stone, Captains Godwin and Hall, and Lieutenant Huber journeying to the Philippines to aid instructors in that area in completing their training program. The others remained together, although Captain Pounder and Lieutenant Greene visited Mindoro in the Philippines to instruct the 96th Division, then expected to be a part of the occupation force in Korea.
The end of the trail came in Korea, where Wet-Cold Team No.4 functioned as winter-clothing advisors to the Office of the Quartermaster of XXIV Corps. Pounder, Dale, Norman, and Greene made the Okinawa-Korea trip by APA, while MacManus and Kelly went up via 308th Bomb Wing Troop Carrier C-46s.
And speaking of C-46s, there’s no doubt but that Stone, Hall, MacManus, Dale, Norman, and Huber will long recall that trip from Iwo Jima to Okinawa, when a half-filled gasoline tank caused both motors to cut out in mid-air. As MacManus phrased it, “It can get awful still up there awful quick.,’ Fortunately the switch to another gas tank was successfully accomplished.
The work in Korea brought the rewards of civilization to the “WCTU” (short for “Wet-Cold Training Unit” and no commentary on the personal habits of its members), as it did to all other troops who had experienced such sites as Iwo, Kwajalein, and Okinawa in the early days. Incidentally, troops in the forward areas had an expression which the “wet-colders” stayed on Okinawa long enough to use: “you should have seen this rock when I hit it “-a remark ordinarily employed when some newcomer referred to the relatively pleasant state of development of an island.
At Seoul, the capital of Korea, the remaining members of the “wet-cold” team were quartered on the American-style sixth floor of the Hanto Hotel, appropriately enough in “one big room.” In small groups they left to return to Washington, until the last departee, Kelly, left on October 25th to return to the Island of Oahu.
In Tokyo the last reunion took place when Kelly, awaiting air transportation, encountered Major Stone and Captain Godwin, up from the Island of Kyushu and ready to go Stateside. On Kyushu they had functioned as advisors to the 5th Marine Amphibious Corps, as had the team’s majority section in Korea to the XXIV Corps.
It is difficult to recall such a journey as other than a series of incidents and individuals. Lt. Col. William S. Rockwell, Army Garrison Force Quartermaster at Guam, who accorded such a pleasant reception, is an example selected at random from many such friendly individuals.
But in a broad sense, a tremendous task was accomplished. Some 600,000 Army, Navy, and Marine personnel were instructed. The troops who today occupy Japan and Korea were each and all familiar with the winter uniforms they received, as the winter months set in long before they got them.
True, no invasion of Japan was necessary, and that very fact rendered unnecessary a knowledge, on the part of every man who would have participated, of the dangers of icy slush and freezing rains. But, on the other hand, had we never prepared for an invasion of the Japanese empire, had superforts and carrier strikes and atomic bombs not been put in action to prepare the way for us, we would never have won the war.
Those, however, are side issues. The fact remains that when the soldier in Seoul, Korea, who spoke to Lieutenant Greene stands guard this winter at some ordnance depot or billeting area in drifting snow, he’ll know the dangers of the wet-cold weather we talked about under blazing skies on Saipan.
That was the end we sought and that was the end we accomplished.