Bellingham man recalls chance encounter of a brotherly kind

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 11, 2011 

Drafted in 1943, I reported to Fort Lewis and trained in Camp Maxey, Texas. I was assigned to the 776th Field Artillery Battalion, a 155 mm howitzer unit with three batteries for a total of 12 guns. I was in service battery, about five or six trucks, to supply ammunition for them.

Upon completion of training on Sept. 16, 1944, I boarded a train for the three-day trip to Camp Shanks, N.Y. (aka "Last Stop, USA"). From there, we shipped out for Europe on the RMS Aquitania. Built in Glasgow, Scotland, she was the longest-serving Cunard liner in the 20th century and survived service in both world wars as a troop transport. She was a luxury liner in her day at just under 900 feet long.

After 10 days at sea, we arrived in Gourock, Scotland, on Oct. 5, 1944. We immediately boarded a train, arriving in Southampton, England, the following day. We marched to the docks and boarded an English transport for "destination unknown," heading east across the English Channel.

The "destination unknown" turned out to be Utah Beach, in France. Landing craft came out to take us ashore. Once aboard the landing craft, we had to stand with full packs for two or three hours waiting for the tide to drop far enough to be able to drop the ramp on shore. Needless to say, it didn't help much.

Finally, we got ashore near Montebourg, France, where we slept in the mud in our waterproof (?) tents. Finally, we located an ordinance depot and helped them in exchange for some plywood shipping crates and proceeded to build small huts and double bunks to get out of the mud. We named the city of huts "Camp Crud." Everyone had to be careful of mines and booby traps.

A few days later, 22 of us boarded an LST vessel for the trip back to Southampton to pick up trucks and other equipment. In England, we stayed in pyramid tents set up in a bombed-out area. It was there that I saw an approaching jeep with the 84th Division insignia on the bumper.

Remembering that my older brother, Harvey, was a staff sergeant with the 84th, I flagged it down and learned that Harvey was at the docks waiting to load up. The second lieutenant driving the jeep said "Hop in and I'll run you down."

As he stopped the jeep, about 20 feet away was my brother, walking with a couple other guys. I jumped out and, without saying anything, walked beside him. When he looked around to see who it was, I said "Hi."

You could have knocked him over with a feather!

He took me to meet his first sergeant and a lot of others who wanted to know what it was like in France, etc. We didn't have much time to talk since they were in a rush to get the ship out of the harbor so the next one could move in, but it sure was great to see him.

We did manage to take time for a quick photo. What a chance encounter that was!

Meanwhile, our trucks, howitzers and prime movers were being loaded for the trip back to France. We went up the Seine River to Rouen and unloaded everything, getting ready for combat.

Finally, we were a battalion again, attached to General Patton's 3rd Army most of the time. We also provided supporting artillery fire to other divisions, including firing on the Siegfried Line, the Battle of the Bulge, Bastogne - the worst, very cold, and facing the Tiger Royal tanks didn't help - and across the Rhine River in Germany.

Our great gun crews sure proved themselves, which helped lead to victory.

George W. Gooding, 89, lives in Bellingham. His brother, Harvey E. Gooding, died three years ago.

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