Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

Veteran's History Project

William O. Graves, Corporal, US Army, 1952-1954


Larry Nelson for the Western Nebraska Observer

The Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.

It was a round-about route to get into the military for William O. Graves (Bill). At age 20 he was drafted by the Selective Service Board in Southern Illinois. He went to St. Louis, MO for the physical and other testing. He returned home for a short time. He went back to St. Louis to board a troop train that took lots of young men in a similar situation, to Battle Creek, MI.

When leaving St. Louis, Bill had worn street clothes and a windbreaker. Arriving at Battle Creek, the temperature had dropped significantly. He became chilled and feverish. The Army couldn't seem to find warm enough clothes. He was there for a week, completing paperwork and waiting and remaining cold. From there, the large group of almost-soldiers boarded a troop train that delivered them to the stop near Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

The chill and cold resulted in pneumonia for Bill. He was hospitalized for a month before beginning basic training. That also meant that the guys he knew and was inducted with were already into training.

Training went along fairly good. Saturdays were for inspection and parade wars. The training company commander would conduct the inspections of the men, their equipment, and the living area. After that, the men would exit the building and form up outside. The Drill Sgt would march them to the parade field where their platoon would compete with other platoons for "who's best".

Bill was 6'4" at the time. He was selected as the guidon-bearer (the one at the front of a formation that carries a staff with the Company flag.) Whenever the platoon formed up, they would be in four rows, 12 men in each row. Their heads would face the leader. They would be at the position of attention... with head and eyes forward...no movin" around. The next command was usually for the men to execute a right face, a movement done so as one group. The Drill Sgt then directs "Guidon, POST!" The soldier who has that job gets to a position 10 feet in front of the formation. He then is a marching cheerleader, in a way, who carries the Platoon's colors.

The problem that developed was that long-legged Bill was just doing his job while the shorter people in the platoon had to hustle to keep up with him. Bill had to hand over the colors and move into the formation so the troops would quit griping!

The military/history timeline has the Korean War in the headlines. Things were overlooked occasionally because men were indeed needed. The people conducting the entrance physicals got half of Bill's vision test right.

When Bill's unit began rifle marksmanship phase, about 5 weeks into the training cycle, Bill was shooting but not striking targets. A Drill Sgt thought he needed extra coaching. Bill was blind in his right eye. The rifles were designed for right hand shooters. When Bill moved the sights so he could line up with a target, the hot expended brass would hit him in the face. DANG! The Drill Sgt and Bill worked on it tirelessly and made modifications to the shooting positions so that Bill could qualify.

Following graduation from basic training, Bill entered the next phase of his training in Engineering. He went through the electrical side of the field so that he could climb poles to put up wire and transformers and such. At the end of this training, Bill was quickly sent on to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. This was a replacement center for the Army, and reportedly a fun place to be.

The stay in New Jersey was short as Bill and others went by troop ship to RAF Greenham Common, England. This air station was about 55 miles west of London, near Newbury.

Bill was attached to the 804th EAB (Engineering Aviation Battalion). Here the engineers worked on restoring the landing strip that had been hit by German bombing runs in WWII. The men lived in larger tent structures. When the weather got cold, they would have to light up an oil-heater to stay warm.

The tents would be lined up side by side, front to rear. There was a boardwalk connecting the tentage so the people didn't have to walk in the mud when doing their business. Sometimes there was hot water in the showers, sometimes not. Food was cooked by Englishmen.

Bill got a letter from his mother every day. There were entertainment groups passing through the bases in the areas. On pay days, there were lots of card games and crap tables so the men could engage in games of chance.

Bill was in England for quite some time. In December, 1953, his unit was sent back to the States. The unit boarded a troop ship and headed west. The experience was something Bill had not expected. He recalled that the tables in the galley (dining area) had metal borders around their edges so that in rough waters, ones food tray and drinking glasses wouldn't go off the table. When it was time to get off the ship, and back on land, there was a shipload of happy men!

Bill's enlistment time had drawn near. The Army requested that Bill stayed in, but he had other plans. Eventually, he was employed by the government working at various bases in the Country. His final site of work was Warren Air Force Base, west of Cheyenne. Bill worked over 35 years for the government.

Corporal Bill Graves, you overcame some challenges and the Country is better for it! Thank you for your service!


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