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Interview with James W. Barnett, Jr. [6/7/2002]

Harold B. Phillips:

Oral history interview of World War II veterans conducted by Harold Phillips for the Handley Library Archives in the Winchester Frederick County Historical Society. Today is the 7th of June, 2002. The interviewee is Mr. James Barnett.

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

We on?

Harold B. Phillips:

Yes.

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

At the very beginning I might say that I was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, 1926. And I was raised down there, very small community of Cowley, Louisiana, which is in the Cajun part of south Louisiana, big -- and I went to public schools there the whole time, although I lived in Alvery, Arkansas, for the past three years. But after graduating from high school in Cowley, I was still only 16 years old because we only had eleven grades in Louisiana at that time. And the war was on. It was June of 1943. So I trotted off to Louisiana State University and matriculated there for as long as I felt I could hang on. And I was in the ROTC at LSU, which by then was pretty sadly depleted by the departure of most of the upper classmen to active duty. A few of them came back, but most of them were gone. In any event, I spent a year there, actually four quarters at LSU, and because they didn't object to how much course load you took, I could take as much as I could carry, I got to finish my sophomore year. And at the time that I left then I was the -- what would you call it -- the corps commander for the ROTC, which at that time was still down to one little smoking battalion. But I left on the basis of appointment received to attend the military academy at West Point, my appointment having come from one of our representatives. And on -- at the last part of June I hopped on a train in New Orleans with orders in hand, which was about the only way you could get on a train at that time, and headed for New York City.

Harold B. Phillips:

How were able to get the appointment? Did you have to seek it out or did --

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Yes, you had to actually compete for it. And in the case of this gentleman and also Senator Ben Elender (ph), they gave what amounted to equivalent of a civil service exam. And based upon that supposedly they designated who would be the primary appointment and the alternates. At any rate I got in through the congressman from my district whose name was Abere (ph), good Cajun name. And I went up on the train to New York, rode the ferry over to Weehawken. All this was with little instructions in hand because I had never been further east than New Orleans, and I had never been further west than Houston. I never been further north than Little Rock, so I was pretty naive when it came to wandering around the country. And aside from a couple of movies that I had seen, which tended to glorify the social side of the military academy, I didn't know really what I was getting into, except that I thought it would be a very nice way to get into a military career, which I was interested in, even years before that. So I show up on the 30th of June for admission on the 1st of July, and along with a number of my classmates we holed up at the Hotel Bear, which is on the reservation. And they put us in bunks that had previously been used for girls coming up for weekend dates, dormitory kind of arrangement. The next morning we went over and reported in, and that's when things really got interesting. I -- we were assigned to companies by size, lined up the whole batch of new cadets, and they sized us, and I ended up in what was then a company of guys that were all about my height, which may look great on the parade ground because you don't have any little heads sticking up here and there. And I was assigned with three other fellas to a cadet run. One of them was a second lieutenant from the corps of engineers who had gotten his commission about three months before, from OCS. Another one was an Air Force -- and this was then the air corps enlisted man who was out of New Caledonia and seen an opportunity to apply, and so he applied and he got picked to go to what was then a prep school at Amherst College, and from that he got his appointment -- Huntington, West Virginia.

Harold B. Phillips:

But they actually brought a lieutenant from active duty in to the corps --

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Yes, we had two majors in our class.

Harold B. Phillips:

Majors?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

They both got to be majors.

Harold B. Phillips:

The air corps had majors?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

No, they were both ground officers, and they were the two senior guys present. But they had given up their commission, their temporary commission to come there. And we had about three or four captains. It was quite a number of our class, perhaps a fourth at least, who had prior service. And for that reason they raised the age limit during that period, only admitting up to age 26. Previously it was -- you couldn't have had your 22nd birthday. And that's what it is today. But anyway, before I was in the last____ roommate being a young fella my age, who was the son of an Air Force general____ an air corps general, whose father was in command of the 5th Air Force out in the Pacific. Well, they had this mixture of kids all thrown in and trying to survive the rigors of these barracks and the eight-week West Point version of basic training. We took essentially the same basic training that every solder did, you know. We had a lot of PT and we had rifle marksmanship and bayonet drill and basic squad tactics, a lot of close order drill and all the monkey business that goes into the first eight weeks of almost any soldier's training. And then at the end of that we joined the corps. This was in about the last two weeks in August, 1944, and we all went to what was then Pine Camp, now Fort Drum, New York, and we had a maneuver, one other cadet regiment against the other cadet regiment, which was a great change for us after going through these barracks and being so tightly controlled, to get up there and have a little bit more freedom, although we lived in our pup tents and we had the coldest water for showers I think I have ever remembered.

Harold B. Phillips:

During these barracks was there any of this in-your-face routine?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Oh, yes, a lot of the business of what one would call psychological trials, where they pick you out, and they can't abuse you but they can debase you orally and explain to you why you're the dumbest cadet they have ever seen in their life. And you have so little promise that it's a wonder that the United States government has any interest in wanting to even feed you, much less pay you.

Harold B. Phillips:

And were these sophomores upper classmen?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

They were all upper classmen, but they were all then senior, first class, all of the sophomores were all through the summer camp at Camp Buckner. And we didn't encounter the sophomores until we went up to Pine Camp together. And that came as a rude surprise, because they hadn't forgotten any of the indignities that they had suffered the prior year. Anyway, it was a nice way to end the summer. We went up in the convoy trucks, came back in the convoy trucks, had an overnight stop in a little town called Cogskill, New York, which at least twice a year had to put up with the corps of cadets camping out in their fairground. But then academics started and we -- essentially everybody took the same curriculum at that time. The only elective was your choice of foreign language, and you could take Russian, German, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Take one of those. All of the other subjects that you took were the same for every cadet. And the curriculum was fairly heavily weighted in terms of math, science, and engineering, less so in terms of social sciences. In part that was because the course had been reduced to three years. The first class affected by that was the class of 1943, which should have graduated in January of '43 but did in fact in -- I'm sorry, should have graduated in June '43 but did in fact graduate in January '43. And then the following class, '44, they graduated a whole year ahead, in June of '43. And then there were three other classes, '45, '46, and '47, that all graduated with a three-year curriculum. And in our case, we entered as the class of '47. So we entered as a three-year class. And at the end of the second cadet year we were split, and half graduated in three years and half in four. And they did it on the basis of determining that they wanted the two classes to be equal. Not only just equal in numbers, they wanted to be equal in aptitude for the service, with an academic capability, physical capability. And so the first thing they did was, they had a straw vote, and everybody put down what they wanted. When they did that, they found that there were about 70 people who asked for three years that were going to have to go to four. And among the other criteria that they then put in was age, so that the older guys graduated first. I was in the group of 70 that had to be adjusted, and the young ones graduated in four years. I ended up in four years.

Harold B. Phillips:

How did they compress the curriculum? How did they compress the time?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

What they really did was, you took four classes a day and then, you know, after three o'clock you had Tactics, things like that. Phys ed. But four academic classes.

Harold B. Phillips:

Did you have military science and tactics as well --

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Yes.

Harold B. Phillips:

-- as the other courses?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

That's right. And those were typically the active 3:00 p.m. classes. Some days you'd have MS and T and other days you'd have three of them.

Harold B. Phillips:

Any ratio, how how much academic versus military science?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Oh, about 85 percent academic, about 15 at the most was -- because most of the military training took place in summer, which we did during the academic year, besides drill, was we'd have classroom work in things like squad tactics or artillery, how to aim and direct artillery, organization of army, how to get from a battalion to a regiment and a division and all the things that they could do in classrooms. Then much of field training, almost all of the field training, went on in the summer.

Harold B. Phillips:

And were your instructors officers in the army?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

They were. An interesting thing to me was that, starting in 1944 when I showed up, there were already a lot of combat veterans there back from both theaters, Pacific and European theaters. And the longer I stayed, the higher that fraction got. They were on the academic faculty and they were on the tactical faculty too. And our cadet tactical officers, each company's tactical officers with us at that time, either a major a lieutenant colonel, a real older -- when you get right down to it. Except all these guys had only been graduated six to eight years. So they -- in today's army they'd be captains at the most; then they were majors and lieutenant colonels.

Harold B. Phillips:

Do you think their combat experience helped them?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

A lot. And it helped us too because we were always anxious to know what did they really do, how did they really feel. And what did you think was the most important thing you learned that we ought to learn about combat. So it was nice to have that infusion of, oh, resent combat experience come back and expose it to us. In addition to that, we had a lot of fellow guest lectures, fairly senior officers who were coming back to the states from wherever, Pacific or Europe, they'd route them up there to give a little speech, a little -- this is what we're doing kind of speech. And then most of them were really interesting. Then finally they had a regular program for showing staff film reports up there. The staff film reports were prepared for display primarily in Washington. The week after they were shown in Washington they'd run them up to us and show them up there. And they were voluntary, but oh I didn't miss any of them. They were wonderful programs, shot by cynical photographers all over the world, and really topical because you would be reading about the parachute itself on Kargedor (ph) this week and two weeks later you'd see the film from that. You know, really interesting. And all of that I think helped to remind you that you weren't just up there going to college. But yeah, you had to get your calculus done and you had to write the essay for English, and you had to do this, but you were still there because some day you were going to have to do some of the same stuff. And having these, I won't call them necessarily seasoned veterans, because a lot of them had been in combat a year or two years, but they had experienced all these things. I remember particularly not long after -- well, I take it back. It was a year after D Day. One of the recent year science professors in the economics department had been a company commander in the ranger outfit that assaulted Point du Hoc at the south end of Omaha Beach. We persuaded him to come over and give us a speech about it. It was fascinating. But anyway, it went on and on and on from that. In, let's say after my second year then, the superintendent, the prior superintendent named Francis B. Willoby (ph), he was replaced by Michael Taylor. And Max Taylor, just back from commanding 101, and he brought out half the division with him, it was wonderful. The two cadet regimental commanders, that is the tactical officers, had each commanded a regiment in the 101st. The combinantics to that would have been a citizen division commanding the 101st, the commander of what was then called 182nd special regiment. It was the cadre of enlisted personnel for all of the branch training, was commandd by the artillery, division artillery officers in the 101st. And everybody referred to this gang as the 101 ranch hands. (Laughter.) But it was great. They were full of themselves and of us too, and it was good.

Harold B. Phillips:

What did you do during the summer between your freshman and sophomore year?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

That was the first time we really had a chance to enjoy being soldiers, I think, because that's when they sent us out to what is now Camp Buckner, then Camp Polk Logan. And we spent the summer essentially at Camp Buckner. And there we lived in wooden World War II barracks. But around a _____+ and some lake, had a swimming beach, had pretty good chow in the mess hall, and we did all sorts of interesting field problems. Plus we got to fire every weapon in an infantry division, sometimes all the way up from a pistol to then a 155-millimeter Howitzer, the biggest they had at the time. It was a wonderful way to spend the summer. And it was a pretty place. If you could arrange for dates to come up on the weekend and holidays, they'd go swimming and have picnics, and it was a nice summer. And a great relief after the end of Plebe year because you had kind of been tormented enough by that time, and after then what, ten months of being a Plebe. At Camp Buckner, too, you got your first chance to kind of run your own outfit because the -- your classmates were given assignments as company commanders or sergeants and all of the cadet group that was out there. So you weren't just total peons for the first time in your life. It was a nice time. And I think a very fruitful time since you got to try some of the things you had been taught in the classroom on military types of tactics, and then you got to handle all those weapons. That was really fun.

Harold B. Phillips:

What happened between the sophomore and junior year, what would have been your junior year?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Yes. In that year -- let me stop to think. Oh, that was the year that we went on an amphibious maneuver with the midshipmen, and very interesting time. We lived on Mabel (ph) vessels, you know, ship paint, did all the things that they do to the new seamen, I guess, on a boat. And then we made a couple of assault landings down at Little Creek, Virginia, and had a great time with our mid compatriots.

Harold B. Phillips:

Would that have been during the war or was the war over?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Let's see. The war was over. That was the summer of '46, '47. Summer of '46.

Harold B. Phillips:

So it wouldn't have been anything to worry about?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

No, no. And then at the end of that summer, after we finished with the midshipmen, we got to go back up to Fort Drum and have another maneuver. That was the last year we had a maneuver at Fort Drum. We really were up there three years, I guess. It was nice.

Harold B. Phillips:

Did you have any of the normal college trappings like dances and --

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Yes, that's part of it, that we like to remember. It's very nicely set up as far as your social interaction with the fairer sex. At that time we have to remember, too, when we first got there most of the good guys were in the service overseas, and so we were kind of a last bastion of hope for some of the pretty girls who wanted to tie onto somebody. And they would come, and come for the weekend. Typically you'd invite a date up for the weekend, and she'd get there probably on Friday evening, and then Saturday morning there was always a cadet parade and an inspection. They loved to stand out there and watch. And then from Saturday noon on you were essentially free and you could take your date around the post. You could take her for a walk down on 3rd Division Walk, you could take her riding. We still had horses then. You could check out a couple of horses and take her riding. And during the warm weather, in the summer, you could take them swimming up at the pretty pond that was down the road. And then every Saturday night they'd have a hawk (phonetic), and the gals liked that because they were all formal, they got to wear their pretty long dresses. And the cadets had to have hot cards. And you wore your little hot card on your full dress uniform, and it had in there for your date's information the names of any other people who had asked to dance with you. And so when it came around to dance No. 13 or whatever it was, you'd look down and say, "Oh, Charles is going to be here in a minute to dance with me on the 13th." Anyways, it was a throw-back if you will. But they had a receiving line, always the senior officer and his wife were there present, and cadets' hawk managers would then introduce the issue -- so you had to learn these little formalities. It just came out to be very useful in the long run. But also it was a very romantic sort of a thing, because as you took these pretty girls out, they had nice, nice place. It was in Column Hall (ph), which was a beautiful big ballroom with a balcony overlooking the Hudson River and all. And you could go out on the balcony so you didn't get too romantic.

Harold B. Phillips:

Were you given leave to go home at any time?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

The first leave you got was at the end of your Plebe year. And then you got 30 days. In fact, you subsequently got 30 days each calendar year. But on subsequent years it was split between Christmas and summer leave. Christmas for Plebes was a great break because all the upper classmen left, and the Plebes ran the place and they had a wonderful time. Then I had a date, my present wife in fact, came up from Louisiana and spent the Christmas with us. And we had dances and we had iceskating, did all sorts of things. It was a wonderful break.

Harold B. Phillips:

Were you able to wear your uniform when you went off leave? Did you have to wear it?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Yes. In fact, as long as the war was on, we had to wear it. It wasn't until -- it wasn't until -- let's see. I guess we got to be juniors, second classmen, and the war was over, that we were permitted to have civilian clothes. And then if you left the reservation you could leave in civilian clothes.

Harold B. Phillips:

How were you treated by the people?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Oh, very nicely. You know, a lot of them didn't know what you were, because although you were in this army khaki uniform and a funny little nice little hat, but nobody understood what the insignia amounted to and all that. And so frequently you'd have to explain who you were and why you were misbehaving as you were, things like that. Everybody was very nice as a rule. Then when you'd get home, coming from a place like my hometown, nobody really knew anything about West Point. You'd get gussied up in your summer white uniform and go to church or something, oh, you got a lot of attention (chuckling), a lot of attention. But the people who would, who you would encounter, particularly while you were traveling in uniform, they were invariably so nice. They'd want to talk to you but they didn't want to tie you up. But they loved to talk to you, find out what you were doing and why you were doing it. And it was very nice. I typically would go home on a streamline train from New York to New Orleans. It was 36 hours or something like that. A wonderful trip because there were a bunch of guys in my class on the same train. And we'd drop them off all the way through Virginia and Tennessee and Carolina, ultimately most of us at the end would get off at the end in New Orleans. And we would invariably have some very interesting times in the club car (laughter).

Harold B. Phillips:

Were you ever hassled by regular army troops --

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Never once. Never once. And I don't know if anybody else ever was, but I never was.

Harold B. Phillips:

Did they continue the football games during the war years?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Yes. That's an interesting thing, because that was probably West Point's golden years as far as their athletic activities were concerned. They did very, very well. In fact, in the four years that I was a cadet I only saw us lose two football games, and those were both in my senior year. For three years we were undefeated, had two Heisman Trophy winners, had all the big names that they talk about, Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard were my classmates. And all the other guys on those terrific teams, both army and navy had at the time, they were tremendous. It was a great satisfaction to demolish Notre Dame 69 to nothing one year and 48 the next year. (Laughter.) And to go to the away games, most of them were held in New York City in the polo grounds, and the corps cadets would travel to that game on an excursion boat from New York. It would come up and the corps would climb aboard and down the river we'd go. And we'd dock at one of the Hudson River piers. And then we'd march across the island to the polo grounds. And then after the game we would then be free until midnight, and you could go whatever you wanted to do. But you had to be standing in ranks back at the pier where your boat was at midnight. And hopefully you stood straight and steady, because some of them would_____ a little bit from time to time and not be quite so steady.

Harold B. Phillips:

To go back to training and the academics a little bit, did a very large percentage wash out or most of the people, most of the guys make it through?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Oh, of the group that entered, we lost about a fourth. One thing, it was a very competitive time to be there so they had some really capable applicants. The other thing was, it was an emotionally good time to be there. A lot of people went there because they wanted to be in the service. Patriotism was flaring and all this business, and so we perhaps lost a few less percentage-wise than some of the other classes. The average now is closer to 30 percent or even as much as a third.

Harold B. Phillips:

I can see it would be competitive, the class consisted of 17- and 18-year-olds right out of college, along with these majors --

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

That's right.

Harold B. Phillips:

-- that (two voices).

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

It was an interesting assortment of talent that was there, you know.

Harold B. Phillips:

When they were washed out, when they failed, were they put into the regular army?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Yes, they were. And several of them went on to help, to have interesting careers and got commissioned. They'd show up in the directory of graduates, you know, not as members of the class but as associated with our class. We had about, I guess, five that they eventually had a military career. And of the other half of our class, it was a bigger number because more of them washed out the first two years than the last two years. That's typically it. And so they had perhaps 13 or 14 that washed out as cadets but then had a successful military career.

Harold B. Phillips:

What was your official rank as a cadet?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Oh, everybody has their own feeling about that. In fact, it's a rank all to itself. That is, there is an authorization for a cadet in the army. Now within the cadet corps you had cadet ranks, you know, MCOs and all this business. And the highest cadet rank is a captain. But then you have the first captain, who is the brigade commander, then you had a regimental captain, who of course was a battalion captain and so forth down the line.

Harold B. Phillips:

This was in the corps cadet?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Within the corps of cadets.

Harold B. Phillips:

In the army --

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

But your official title is cadet.

Harold B. Phillips:

Did you have a pay grade? What was your pay grade?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Oh, it was about half -- I was talking about the fact that we didn't have any cash. We had an account with the treasury, and our pay went into that account. You were encouraged to bring $300 with you when you were admitted, and that was to pay for your first issue of uniform. But if you didn't have $300, you just got a debit in your account for whatever it cost you to get your uniform. And you eventually paid it off. The idea was that you didn't -- they preferred not to have you in debt too long. So in my case, my parents gave me $300 and I plunked it on the drum and then added my monthly pay to it. And the only time you could draw cash was if you left the reservation. For example, if we'd go to a football game in New York, you could draw some cash to spend in the city. Or go on leave, you could draw some cash. But to spend things on the post you signed a chit. Even for an ice cream soda we had what we called the bootlers, it was really a soda fountain in your barracks, you could go over there and get ice cream and cokes and things. But you could sign a chit or check, or you alternatively could buy a chit book, and you could have so many ten-cent coupons, so many 20-cent coupons, and then you'd pay for your meal. And you'd pay for your date's stuff with this, too. Now when you had a date, and one of the nice things that you could do would be to have dinner with her down in the hotel, the Hotel Baylor, but she had to pay. (Laughter) Very nice in the sense that the poor little girl was coming up there, having to pay for their own hotel room, their own transportation, and then had to pay for dinner. Yes.

Harold B. Phillips:

Did you have an opportunity to observe the men who had been on active duty, they're back as a cadet, how did they hold up through all of these various --

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

That's a good question. I only knew of really one instance where something happened that really was kind of fraught with danger. We had a classmate, he'd been down in -- I think he fought on Guadalcanal. And anyway he had some direct combat experiences in infantry, and we had to stand night area guard when we were Plebes, because they worried about sabotage. You walked guard with a loaded rifle and a bayonet, fixed bayonet. And the privates of the guard were all Plebes. The NCOs of the guards were all yearlings, second-year guys, and then the officer of the guards were seniors. But the yearlings would be the sergeant of the guard coming around to check on the privates. And every night then you'd get a yearling who would try to put a private in a tough spot, you know, catch him or take his rifle away or something like that. Well, one particular instance, this combat veteran was walking over by the mess hall and his corporal of the guard tried to jump him from behind. And he swung around, he flattened the guy with a horizontal left stroke and then had the point of his bayonet right here against his thorax when he said: Oh, I didn't know who you were. (Laughter) There wasn't anything the corporal of the guard could say except: O.K., thanks, or something. But as far as resentment on the part of these guys, I wasn't aware of any. If they had it, they were pretty good at hiding it, because by the time they had been there long enough to get through these barracks and all, they realized that that's the way the system worked, and that if they wanted to be in the system, they had to play the game according to the rules. If that meant being insulted by a guy who was four years younger and twice as dumb as they were, that was the way it worked, you know.

Harold B. Phillips:

Did -- In any of your classes were you allowed or were you able to challenge conventional wisdom or the policy of the government?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Yes, definitely. They really encouraged that. There was more chance to do that in what you would call the social studies than there had been in math, between those things. But in the social studies, the professor of social science was a fella named Herman Buekman (ph), a real brainiac, one of those men. And he encouraged that. In fact, he would go around to the classes, whichever one you were in, they had economics and you had European history and you had politics and other things, and he would come around and everybody was glad to see him because usually he would get wrapped up in a discussion. And if he got wrapped up in a discussion then you didn't get graded that day. But the more important thing was, he would provoke discussion in the group. And the class was really enjoyed. It was a lot of give and take between the officer instructor and the cadet. For one thing, you had to be examined every day in every subject. You were graded every day in every subject, except for these couple instances where you might skip one. And to do that you had to say something or do something. Well, in math you can go up and solve things on the board. You didn't do it at your desk. Everybody had a blackboard. And you went up and you worked your problem, and then everybody sat down and the instructor would point out people, have you explain problem one, and me explain problem two, and so forth. So you had to get up and speak. And the class was encouraged to then comment on what the solution -- whether it was a math solution or a physics solution, or in the case of the social studies, whether it was what I would call a topical answer. And if -- did I really address the question that was raised? And if so, did I convince anybody with my argument that what I said was right wrong or indifferent? And those got to be interesting and fairly heated discussions at times. It made a lot of things -- made a lot of classes a lot more interesting than they would have otherwise been, I think.

Harold B. Phillips:

Was there any discussion about the decision to use the atomic bomb?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Yes, there was quite a bit. Most of what I heard was questions about how does it work? How was this tremendous energy suddenly released? We hadn't seen no clue of it at all. The rest of the world didn't either, for that matter. But when we first heard about it and suddenly realized what a massive weapon we had available to us, there was a lot of speculation as to how it worked and how frequent we could use it and how accurately we could aim it and all that. I didn't -- I don't remember hearing anybody say we shouldn't have done it. Some of them may have thought that, I don't know, but I never heard anybody express that attitude.

Harold B. Phillips:

Did West Point hold any kind of a wartime footing while you were there?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Even -- (two speakers). Oh, the first two years until really the end of '46 when we went in the Far East. A lot of things that affected your military training were emphasized. And for example, for two years we actually trained air cadets. And they left in the spring, early before, about a month and a half early and went off and did their primary training, and then they came back for their senior year, and they did the rest of their flight training up in Stewart Field, New York, which is about 20 miles north of the military base. That was a distinctively different thing. The other thing was that each time a new weapon was fielded we got to come up there and got to see them fired or sometimes fired them ourselves. I remember the first time I saw a recoilist rifle, I think it was a 57-millimeter recoil rifle, they shot that thing right in the opening, in a field box. One of the guys that saw that field box____ don't know, that's a bad place to be. And there were other weapons that showed up at the time. And we got a lot of training, for example, in mine welfare, not just how to lay them and all but how to defuse them and how to find them. So that they were pretty well aware that as long as the war was going on, you graduated in a month, you were going to be in some unit somewhere. It wasn't time for fooling around.

Harold B. Phillips:

Yes. Was there a policy that you had to spend a certain period of time with a troop unit from overseas before you could be sent overseas?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

No.

Harold B. Phillips:

Could you go directly?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

You could go directly at the time. It depended entirely on what the demand for replacements was at the time. I think the only ones that were relatively assured of a short stay in the States were the air cadets, who then had to go to transition to whatever they were going to fly, a fighter, a bomber, whatever. But all of the ground forces, they were eligible to get on the ship the next day practically, and a lot of them did. A lot of them did. I don't know if I mentioned, but in the summer between our junior and senior year, too, we got to, all our class, the whole class, took us up to Steward Field and they brought in a whole bunch of the little PT19 steermen and AP6's, and they brought back a bunch of fighter pilots from Europe. And these guys were crazy, the_____. And they taught us all to fly. We got to fly, I don't know, 20, 30 hours total. And we flew the open cockpit steermen, you know, with the white scarf thrown over our shoulder and all that stuff, and learned to do acrobatics. And we flew AP6's. And they mounted one machine gun in the wing and they let us go out an strafe a sandbar at Long Island Sound.

Harold B. Phillips:

Did you keep up your efficiency with flying or --

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

No, I never did. I never did. I had a chance to do a little flying down in the Solomon Islands after the war, after I was commissioned, and I had access to what was then just a glorified Piper cub, an old L4, I think. And my roommate down there was a qualified pilot, and he and I would go out and we'd fly back and forth, land on the beach and do all sorts of things.

Harold B. Phillips:

When were you commissioned?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

I was commissioned in -- June the 8th, 1948.

Harold B. Phillips:

Did you take the corps of engineers or whatever --

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Yes, I did. That was my choice. I was glad to get it. And I'm glad that I got to stay with it.

Harold B. Phillips:

Where did you get assigned after that?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Well, immediately after graduation we all went to Fort Riley, Kansas, all the ground force officers went to ground. And we went to what was called the army ground general school. And much to our dismay, much of it was just a repeat of what we had had in our military science and tactics. But they did teach us how to be an officer, what to do at the Officers Club, how to play golf with your boss and all these important things. And for many of our class they were just freshly married, they had gotten married at graduation or shortly thereafter, and this was their first post. So they had learned to live together as couples, gathered around. We had a great time, everyone. And then we split up at Christmastime in 1948, and we all went to our various branch courses, units, infantry and artillery and so forth. I went to Fort Bellwood, and we were there then for another six months roughly.

Harold B. Phillips:

And how long did you stay in the army?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Twenty-five years actually commissioned. I retired June of '73.

Harold B. Phillips:

All right. Did you feel that West Point gave you the training that --

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

I was really very satisfied with education. One of the things that surprised me a little bit, I had a chance to go to graduate school after, and I went. And I was fortunate enough to be accepted at MIT, and I took nuclear engineering, which was then pretty new stuff. This was in 1954. And I discovered that I knew more than I thought I knew, which was very nice because they were pretty demanding up at that place. And when I talked -- I was there for two years, and at the end of my time when I was finishing up doing my thesis and all, I got to be pretty friendly with the head of the department. And he was very nice. He said: You know, we're not surprised by the fact that most of the graduates in the service that come here do very well. They did have a big curriculum for the naval officers who came up for nuclear engineering because_____+ had really sponsored the program. And so this guy had had encounters with many of the naval officers. I was the first army officer. He said: You guys do all right. He says: It's not as if you know things that the other guys might have gotten, because they were more specific in their education. So it was very good sounding to me.

Harold B. Phillips:

How did you get to Winchester?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Oh, well, that was interesting. When I was in the Pentagon and I was in the Office of Research and Development, and I looked around, and this is 1973, and I decided that the army was going to go down, it was going to go down in numbers, probably go down in quality, too. And that I had been a colonel for three -- no, four years I guess. And I said, well, I think the time has come to look around for something else to do. And I had a call to go up and build a sports complex at the Meadowland, and I went up to work with them for a little while. Then I discovered that they were doing some things with the contractors I didn't quite agree with, and I backed off on that job. I never actually took the job. And lo and behold I had a call from Bijoux and Allenton in New York, who said: I understand you're not working over there in New Jersey. And well, we think we have a job for you, come up to New York and talk to us about it. Here I am living in Alexandria, Virginia. I go to New York, they tell me the job is in Winchester. So I came out, and I took a nice job with Shaki (ph) Industries back down in New Orleans, and did it for about three, three and a half years. Then I got the old change of station syndrome, and I came to this area with my wife. I had to do something else. So that's when I left on my own and went into business with another old army officer, and we did some construction management work around the world and had a great time for another ten years.

Harold B. Phillips:

Do you keep in contact with your West Point --

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

Quite well, matter of fact. One thing, being split as we were, there were only 301 in our graduating class. And we really knew everybody in the class. Then we went around the same army with them for 25 years, you keep bumping into them, as you well know, many, many times. And so I'm as close to them as I am to my cousins, because I don't have any brothers or sisters, but I'm as close to a lot of my classmates as I am to cousins. A lot of them live around here, live in Washington area and all. And we get together. We're in the midst of planning our 55th reunion for next May, and we'll have a grand time doing that. But it's been a very nice introduction to a very interesting bunch of people as far as I'm concerned. I've enjoyed every bit of it.

Harold B. Phillips:

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

The only other thing that I could suggest is that, for people who really want a little adventure in their life is, consider the Services. I can't picture myself having spent all my adult life working at a job when there were so many fascinating things to do that I got exposed to, partly out of luck. But I think everybody gets exposed to them to a large measure. And it's a very satisfying thing to look back on and realize you had a chance to do things nobody else ever had a chance to do.

Harold B. Phillips:

Appreciate it.

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

And I would encourage people who want a little adventure in their life to think about the Services. They do things that are satisfying.

Harold B. Phillips:

Well, Mr. Barnett, thank you very much.

James W. Barnett, Jr.:

My pleasure to do this. (End of recording).

 
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  October 26, 2011
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