Saturday, June 20, 2020

My Father's Departure on a Liberty Ship during World War II

Men walking up gangplank World War II
45th Division Departure for WW II, Hampton Roads, Va. 1943
(Photo: US National Archives)

Note:
This narrative is a work of historical fiction. The article is based on my father's diary of his military service in World War II. Clayton Barnes (Barney) served from 1942 to 1945 with the 171st Field Artillery Battalion of the 45th Division. His division was in combat continuously without being relieved from duty beginning in Sicily, 1943 until the end of the war in Munich, 1945.

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The entire 45th Division had just been deemed fit for combat in Europe. Liberty ships were awaiting the arrival of the 45th Division to take them across the Atlantic and directly into the war. Barney, Higgins, and McNab had been selected to check in all personnel onboard the USS Thurston for transport to Europe.

Heading to Liberty Ships at Newport News

On June 4, 1943, Barney woke up at 2:30 AM in the barracks at Fort Patrick Henry. He had prepared for his work the previous day. He gathered together all his records, his backpack, a duffle bag, and his rifle. At 3:30 AM he set out by jeep to the port at Newport News.

In the jeep bumping down the road toward Newport News, Barney said to Higgins and McNab, “It’s awful early.” His mind was not yet focused on the day ahead.”

McNab said, “I’m not looking forward to the trip across the Atlantic. I’m not sure how my stomach is going to hold up.”

Higgins chimed in, “Yeah. Me too. We won’t be boarding until we check everyone in so I’m worried that we won’t get a good bunk.”

Barney said, "I’m not sure there’s a good bunk on the ship. We’ll all be jammed in together.”

McNab replied, “We’ll be sleeping in those bunks at sea for two weeks. I’m glad I’m not a sailor. I wouldn’t want to be stuck on a ship all the time. Just think what it must be like to be aboard a ship under fire.”

Higgins looked a bit uncomfortable. He said, “They say submarines are going to be trying to attack our convoy.”

Barney replied, “That’s true. We’re gonna zig zag across the ocean so they don’t get a good target. Also, the destroyers will be hunting for them. I heard they’ve been doing a pretty good job. It’s been mostly merchant ships that have been attacked.”

As they arrived at the port, they jumped out of the jeep. Before them they could see even at the early hour the docks were a beehive of activity. McNabb said, “Let’s make sure we have all our stuff. We won’t get a chance to do this twice.”

Barney said, “I’ve got all the records organized. We just have to check everyone in and then board the ship. We’ll be sailors soon.” Barney took all of the records he had packed up from the back of the jeep and loaded them into a duffle bag.

Heading for the docks, Barney saw Liberty Ships lined up in a row. It was quite a spectacle. The large vessels were pointed like arrows directly towards the shore along a set of narrow docks. Between them on the docks were railroad tracks. This made it possible for trains loaded with men and equipment to pull right between the ships. Large cranes soared above the ships' decks ready for loading heavy equipment. They looked like masts of a foregone seafaring era. Gangplanks for loading troops splayed out of the sides of the ships.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

My Discovery of Non-Alcoholic Craft Beer

Beer cans and bottles on black background
Non-Alchoholic Craft and Traditional Beers
(Photo: Doug Barnes)
I have had a skipping heartbeat since my 20s. The doctors were never concerned, so I always brushed it off. During a recent physical, my doctor called with the results which were all good, except... She blurted out, “Your EKG shows you have Afib.” If your heart is ever going to flutter, it surely is when your doctor confirms your malady.

I have ridden a bicycle for over 60 years, so I never expected to have a problem with my heart. The irregular heartbeat sent me on a round of cardiologist visits. It was discovered that I have what’s called paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (Afib), a condition that is not uncommon among endurance athletes. I am not an endurance athlete, but I have been riding a bike, running, and walking regularly for my whole life.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Recollections on Discovering my Father's World War II Diary

Emblem Patch of 45th Division and C.J. Barnes sitting on jeep.
Thunderbird Patch of the 45th Division and CJ Barnes in France, 1944
(Photo: C. J. Barnes Collection)
After my father’s funeral in 1991, my mind was in a blur. Late that night I found myself rummaging through his belongings that were neatly organized in his attic desk. I found a tall and narrow black notebook that would fit neatly into a breast pocket. I opened the notebook and instantly recognized his back-sloping left-handed writing. I had discovered something he never shared with any of his family. It was his secret World War II diary (Barnes 1945). He had written the diary for my mother. Astounded by my find, I read the diary as if it was a page-turning novel. 

I also have written a fictional account based on history of my father's departure from the US with the 45th division on a Liberty Ship. This event took place at Newport News on June 4, 1943. 

The title of the Diary was Record of Service in the US Army. The 2005 version annotated and edited by Chris Barnes (Barnes 2005) is The World War II Diary of C. J. Barnes: An Account of Service in the 45th Division 171st Field Artillery Battalion March 21, 1942, to September 24, 1945.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Washington DC’s Vision Zero Problem:

The Case of the SuperFresh Site Development near Spring Valley Shopping Center

Walking around the future construction site, the representatives of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) including the new director, Jeff Marootian, got a firsthand view of the alleys in which pedestrians, cars, and trucks would mix together in unsafe numbers. The representatives of DDOT listened and were very friendly, but in the end, they stated that alleys are meant to service buildings and not pedestrians. This, in a nutshell, is the District’s Vision Zero problem. When push comes to shove, vehicles are favored over pedestrians, even in alleyways. Although DDOT has an active pedestrian and bicycle unit, the regular staff still are not incorporating a mobility focus consistently into their more general work.

Friday, November 30, 2018

A Short History of the Birth of Bicycling

Cartoon of Velocipede Cycling Class, NYC 1869
Figure 1. Cartoon of a Velocipede Riding School in New York, 1869
(Source: Harpers Weekly 1869)

The adults in the bicycle riding class wobbled, crashed and generally felt out of control. Due to a new-fangled invention called the velocipede, in the late 1860s a host of new classes sprang up to teach adults how to ride a bicycle (figure 1). Mastering the awkward, heavy riding machines required the novel ability to balance on two wheels. It was a new experience for those who generally walked, rode horses or moved about in carriages.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Thrill of the Mountain: Bicycling Down Chestnut Ridge

Sign along roadside on top of mountain
Truck Warning Sign Atop Chestnut Ridge near Uniontown, Pa
(Photo: Doug Barnes)
In the 1970s my friend Dave and I were both new to road cycling. During one summer, several times a week we “pumped the mountain” on our new bikes. The mountain in question is what locals call "Three-Mile Hill." It’s hardly a hill.

At the top of Chestnut Ridge, Dave and I are sitting on the deck of the Summit Inn and resting from our climb up the mountain. The Summit Inn is an historic “porch” hotel that dates back to 1907. It sits atop the most western edge of the Allegheny Mountains near Uniontown, Pennsylvania. It sometimes is covered in the clouds, but this day the weather is clear. Dave and I have a great view of the foothills below.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Story of my 1976 Sekai Competition Bicycle

1976 Sekai Front Bicycle Headbadge
1976 Sekai Front Headbadge
(Photo: Doug Barnes)
The US in 1977 has its largest trade deficit in recent history (Lawrence, 1978). Asian and European companies are making inroads into US markets with sales of less expensive or higher quality products. Fears abound that this will hurt the US economy. Sound familiar?

Trade concerns also were felt in the booming bicycle industry during the early 1970s. Consumers began turning away from American-made bicycles such as Schwinn and began favoring brands from Europe including Raleigh, Peugeot and Motobecane. This all changed in the mid-1970s as Japanese companies began taking advantage of their low-cost and high-quality manufacturing facilities to penetrate US markets (Brown n.d.).

Even companies like Schwinn got into the act, importing bicycles from Japan and relabeling them as “Schwinn Quality.” The World Sport and Le Tour models introduced by Schwinn in 1972 were made exclusively in Japan (Crown and Coleman 1996). This was paralleled by the emergence of high-quality component manufacturers including Sun Tour, Araya and Shimano. The Japanese bicycle invasion was in full swing.