Skip to main content

My Father's First Command: A Black Supply Company


Louis Armstrong Played for My Father's Soldiers at Camp Shenango, Pa.

My father, George Gussman, enlisted in the Army at the end of 1939.  He was 34 years old and at the end of his career as a middleweight boxer and a pitcher for the Reading Phillies.  He was the fourth of six sons of Jewish immigrants from the Russia.  They arrived at the beginning of the century.  My father and his older brothers only went to Boston Latin school until the 8th grade.  The younger boys got all the way through high school--business was better by that time for grandpa.

Dad was a warehouseman in a bad economy and the Army was a steady job.  He took a two-year enlistment which was to end in mid-December 1941.  Dad was packed up to go home in the second week in December.  He never left.

On December 8, 1941, all discharges were cancelled and enlistments extended for the duration of the war.

With war declared many rules changed and the Army sent George to Officer Candidate School.  In 1942 he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant and sent to Camp Shenango, Pa., near Erie.  His first command was a black company, a supply company that also repaired stoves for camps and bases across Pennsylvania.

Dad kept a scrapbook of his soldiers which I am hoping to scan and post later this year.  Among those pictures is a picture of Louis Armstrong signed with a a note saying "To My Boy Guss."  It is one of the many pictures my father carefully kept from his first command.  Dad kept in touch with several of the soldiers he served with long after the war ended.

After more than a year in charge of the company in Shenango, Dad went to Fort Indiantown Gap where I serve now.  Then as a captain, he took command of 600 Afrika Korps German prisoners in what is now the Reading Airport.

It hadn't occurred to me until today, but it is possible my sons are related to one of my Dad's soldiers.  Most of his men came from Pennsylvania.  My adopted sons were born in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.  It's not likely, but in a world so different from the one Dad lived in, there might be a direct connection between his first command and his son's family.

  

Popular posts from this blog

Different Water for Sinks and Toilets--Camp Beuhring, Kuwait, and Amtrak

On the train to Philadelphia recently, the toilets had water, but the sinks did not in the last two cars. I walked three cars away from my seat to wash my hands. On the way back, I let the conductor know about the lack of water.  He said there are different water systems for the sinks and the toilets.  Then smiled and said the water is blue in the toilets.  
I told the conductor about a morning at Camp Beuhring, Kuwait, in April 2009. We were there for training before we went to Camp Adder, Iraq.  During our two-week stay, we slept in 77-man tents.  Outside the tent were several sinks and mirrors just standing in the open on the sand. I wish I had a picture.  
About twenty yards away were Porta-Johns or Shit Ovens, which everyone called the plastic enclosures when the temperature approached 120 degrees.  One morning just after down I went out to the sinks, brushed my teeth, then walked toward the Porta-Johns.  One of the soldiers just stepped out of one and was walking toward me.  
H…

Ten Years Ago Today: Cold War Soldier Starts Re-enlistment Process

The Night Before Basic, Killing Brain and Lung Cells
On January 31, 1972, I flew to Texas to begin basic training. On April 2, 2007, ten years ago today, I called Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Askew, recruiting sergeant for the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, and began the process of re-enlisting after 23+ years as a civilian.  I was 53 years old at the time, about to turn 54.

In the Spring of 2007, The Surge in Iraq was in full swing and recruitment for the Army was down a lot. The economy was good, Congress would not even consider re-starting the Draft, so in late 2006 Congress raised the maximum first-enlistment age for the Army from 35 to 42 years old.

The program was a failure and was rescinded three years later. But that failed program allowed me to re-enlist.  The maximum enlistment age for soldiers with prior service is the enlistment age plus the years of prior service plus a one-year waiver.  I needed all of that.

I called three recruiters before I called Kevin. He was the first one…

My Last Tanker Nickname: Oddball

Donald Sutherland as Oddball, a tank commander in the movie "Kelly's Heroes"
I got my last tanker nickname more than a decade after I earned the nickname Sgt. Bambi Killer.I got that nickname on a business trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2000.The company I worked for just bought a company in Brazil and I was part of a team that went to Brazil to introduce ourselves to the people who ran the business.
Sao Paulo has traffic that makes Los Angeles look like Omaha, so the local managers sent a limo for the four of us. This meant we could be more comfortable on the three-hour 20-mile trip from the airport to downtown. 
At the time I had a beard and still had a lot of brown hair.  Among the local staff people who were waiting to meet us was my now long-time friend Ivan Porccino. Ivan speaks five languages and was assigned as our interpreter.  When we got in the car, Ivan introduced us to the driver and said we would be in Sao Paulo for a few days. The driver said, “I love Americ…