Training & Deployment

Summer 1943

The bright California sun was shining, There were no clouds. The air was bright and snappy on 1 May 1943 when Captain Wilfrid M Cline assumed command of the newly organized 16th Army Air Forces Combat Camera Unit. Cline was born in Los Angeles, California. His motion picture training began twenty-one years ago (1923) and since then he has reached great heights in the motion picture world having photographed in Technicolor such pictures as “Gone With The Wind”, “The Adverntures of Tom Sawyer”, “Captains of the Clouds” and “Happy Go Lucky.”

Mr. Cline entered the Army with a direct commission of Captain and was well qualified to command a motion picture unit. His ability “to get things done” is one of his greatest assets. He encourages and teaches the men in his unit the highest standards of photography. His nature is sympathetic as well as aggressive and the Army Air Forces has certainly chosen wisely when Captain Cline was selected to lead the Sixteenth Combat Camera Unit. But now, the future is puzzling and much remains to be accomplished, and Cline was thinking of the task ahead.

He was to command a Unit of eight officers and twenty-three enlisted men; not only responsible their actions and duties but, also, for their well being and happiness. There was a tremendous job ahead and time was short. Each man had to be carefully chosen. True, the unit was small but all the more reason for each man having to fit a definite job. In addition to personnel processing and training, the problem of supply was present; cameras, film, batteries, typewriters, office supplies and much more necessary equipment had to be acquired an prepared for shipment.

Captain Cline began his task systematically. The following officers were first appointed and assigned duties: 1st Lt. A. B. Nicklin, motion picture cameraman; 1st Lt. L. D. Wiler, motion picture sound technician; 1st Lt. Thomas W. Jones, motion picture cameraman; 2nd Lt. Steward B. Dale, still photographer, 2nd Lt. Joseph T. Konieczny, also still photographer; and 2nd Lt. Howard W. Pennebaker, given the Adjutant’s duties. Twenty-three enlisted men were next interviewed and chosen with Private Harold E. Geer appointed acting First Sergeant and Private Jules A. Kaufman appointed acting Supply Sergeant. The framework for the Unit was now set. The next job was to get it running.

Photographic as well as physical training was started. Camera classes designed to acquaint each man with various cameras were introduced. Long hikes in the Hollywood Hills carrying full field pack were all part of the broad program to whip the unit into shape. Through the efforts of Pvt. Jules A. Kaufman, supplies began pouring in and everything was hustling along . The days were filled with activity as the unit progressed photographically as well as militarily.

As the men became better acquainted Captain and Mrs. Cline invited the officers and their wives to a party. The evening was spent in a delightful atmosphere of fine food and delightful champagne. The hospitality had a great effect in uniting the officers and the unit had definitely benefitted by a stronger spirit and a greater solidarity.

Quite unexpectedly on 19 May 1943 a radio message arrived from the war department directing part of the unit to proceed overseas. The time had come. Captain Cline, 1st Lts. Nicklin and Wiler, 2nd Lt. Dale, Sgt. Roberts, and Cpl. DeLucenay were to be the Advance Cadre Detachment of the 16th CCU. They had not expected orders so soon. Almost instantly what supplies had arrived were gathered and packed.

Hurried “good-byes” were exchanged mixed with tears and smiles. No one can describe the mixed emotions that accompanied the men as they pulled out of the Los Angeles Union Station the next evening. The Advanced Detachment were on their way, anxious yet reluctant, happy yet sad. New worlds, different customs, strange peoples, and great battle lay ahead.

After a lot of baggage smashing, dirt and boredom, on May 25th the Detachment arrived at Boca Raton, Florida, the staging point. Here more equipment was procured and packed for air transshipment. By S.O. #25, Lts. Wiler and Dale, Sgt. Roberts and Cpl. DeLucenay were designated as Air Crew members as prescribed by Par. 54n, AR 600-35. After physicals and inoculations for tropical diseases they were sent to Miami, Florida by bus in a hell of a rain. They were billeted in the Battle Creek Hotel.

On 25 May 1944, 2nd Lt. Herbert G. Johnson was assigned from FMPU to the Unit as Motion Picture Cameraman with additional duties as Supply Officer which, incidentally, is no small job.

June 1943 -- The first month of the Unit’s History had passed. In less than thirty days it was organized and part of the Unit was already on its way to front line duty. Many new friendships would endure long after the battle was won but now the future was unpredictable and challenging. Men were organizing for war – a war that would take many weary and difficult years to run its course.

In Capt. Cline's absence, 1st Lieutenant Jones became acting Commanding Officer of the 16th Combat Camera Unit. Thomas W. Jones was born in Farmount, West Virginia. From 1928 to 1931 he was in the U. S. Army as an aerial photograph stationed at Scott Field, Illinois. Here, as an enlisted man he learned aerial photography, flying in blimps and old type aeroplanes. Later he made his way to the glittering city of Hollywood, working as cameraman and projectionist at many of the major studios. With the outbreak of war, Thomas Jones entered the Army as a 1st Lieutenant and was stationed at the First Motion Picture Unit, where he was assigned to the 16th Combat Camera Unit.

He continued the training program, becoming a conscientious leader utilizing all his previous experience to train the men. He spared no efforts in the task which he knew was of prime importance.

While this training was going on the detachment at Miami boarded a large C-54 and began their flight across the ocean. The trip was a series of quick hops from one base to another. In Natal (Brazil), they spent an evening sampling the fine liquors and, at the same time, the mosquitoes were sampling their tender skin. In the famous Gold Coast (Africa) town of Accra, a taxi cab was hired wherein they viewed many strange customs and manners. But for the most part the trip was accomplished very quickly. At Maiduguri, French Equatorial Africa, most of the passengers became very ill, but most of the 16th CCU Detachment withstood the trip in excellent condition. That is, excluding the monetary losses suffered through the poker games that accounted for many of the hours in the air. At Karachi, India, several pleasant days were spent in seeing the town. Sgt. Roberts became ill with dysentery but was able to continue the trip.

Finally, they boarded the plane for their last hop over ‘the Hump’ and into China. They had reached their final destination. Within seventeen days their lives had been completely changed. They had traveled more than halfway around the world. They had seen South America, the islands in the Atlantic, Africa, Egypt, India, and finally China. The one thought which all had as they settled to make the best of their new home was “I can’t wait to get back.”

Meanwhile, in California, the men “sweated” through military as well as photographic training. A bivouac in the Chilon Flats (Chantry Flat??) high in the Sierra Madre Mountains was undertaken with long hikes in conjunction with calisthenics and sports as part of the “toughening-up” program. New pup tents, blankets and field clothing were all given complete usage before being returned to FMPU on June 5.

The enlisted men would spend their evenings together a “Bob’s” place on Washington Boulevard, near the Headquarters of the First Motion Picture Unit. Many happy evenings were spent there with plenty of wine, women and song.

A formal and technical inspection of the Unit was made by Lt. Col. Bowers of the Inspector General’s Office.

When 2nd Lt. Joseph Konieczy was transferred out of the Unit because of health, which prevented his going overseas, everyone felt the loss of a valuable officer. 2nd Lt. Hechtlinger replaced Konieczy and was assigned as still photographer. Pfc. Kenneth C. Stubsten was also added t the Unit and completed the personnel requirements.

Cpl. Kenneth A. Cox announced his wedding intentions to the comely Phillis H. Lehmer and immediately plans were made for a military wedding. At this time Los Angeles was threatened by a series of “zoot-suit” riots. An anonymous tip was received stating that the “zoot-suiters” were going to break-up (sic) the wedding. This resulted in added precautions to prevent any disturbance beside it added a bit of excitement to the whole affair. On the evening of June 10, the men dressed in full military uniform, including helmets, gas masks, knives and pistols. Lt. Jones carried both a Thompson sub-machine gun as well as a pistol.

The wedding was to be held at the First Methodist Church in Long Beach. All was still and solemn as the bride walked down the aisle with Cpl. Cox. The bride looked very beautiful as the ceremony was being performed. All of the Unit stood at attention mindful of the threatened violence. But as the ceremony ended it was apparent the “riot” tip was false and the wedding ended peacefully and perfectly. The only violence that resulted was from Kaufman and Gendler, as they rushed in line for a “second” chance to kiss the bride.

Back to work the next Monday. Drill and photographic instructions continued. Rifle practice was conducted with 2nd Lt. Johnson receiving an “expert” qualification. Many of the others qualified as marksmen and sharpshooter.

At Santa Ana the Unit was given physical examinations to determine their fitness to fly. Pressure chamber tests were also conducted to see what altitude their bodies could withstand. The gas chamber drill at Camp Haan [located just outside the town of Riverside, California, about thirty miles south of Los Angeles] was also included as part of their training.

The First Motion Picture Unit celebrated its first anniversary [on 26 June 1943], and the Sixteenth CCU was invited. Stage #5 was completely decorated with a new dance floor, ornaments and a bar. Beautiful sun-tanned girls and well known movie stars were invited to the party. Goldie Foy was master of ceremonies and Dinah Shore rendered her “blues” songs in a perfect manner.

On 2 July, Cpl. Hilliard went to the hospital with tuberculosis. On the 8th, Hilliard was permanently transferred to FMPU. All hated to lose him and he felt cheated at not being able to join the Unit overseas.

The Unit was making the most of what they sensed was the short time remaining in the states. The training was stepped up and equipment was packed and readied for shipment.

After the I. G. day, the men of the Unit went back to doing things their way, both on and off duty. There were many parties, “Bob's” was the after-dark Unit Headquarters. All will remember especially a party at Mary Pickford’s home, a party tendered by Pfc. Tutwiler at his acquaintance with her following attendance at the The Hollywood Canteen.

On 16 July Lt. Hechlinger was ordered to Fort Mason, Calif. for Temorary Duty. This was the first indication that the Unit was soon to be moving toward a P. of E. (port of embarkation). He was to get final clearance on equipment and personnel, and all emergency requisitions were immediately filled. In his quiet way Lt. Hechlinger was preparing the unit for the long trip to China.

The unit stopped its training and now set to work packing cameras, checking clothing and doing the thousand other things necessary before leaving. Those whose homes were in Los Angeles spent their last evenings taking out their families. Cpl. Cox sent his wife back to Iowa. The others spent evenings with their girl friends. They wanted to remember Los Angeles, Hollywood, The Palladium, The Canteen and all the other places which they had enjoyed so much. Most of all the men were anxious for victory and to get back to their homes and wives.

On the 20th 1Lt. Thomas received a wire (a telegram) ordering the Unit to move to a staging area, and on the 21st, the officers departed. With officers gone Sgt. Geer was in charge. At 1700 hours on the 22nd, the men slung their packs on their backs and moved through the gates (of Hal Roach Studios) singing “The Studio Men Will Win The War.” Waiting trucks carried the men through familiar streets to the station. The train pulled away at 1830.

The unit detrained at Pittsburg, California, near San Francisco. By truck to Camp Stoneman, a hot, dusty camp. All insignia except that of rank had to be removed from the uniforms. Here also, last minute recheck on equipment was made, final packing performed and processing was completed. More hikes, drill and obstacle courses were prescribed. Chow lines over one block long were “sweated out.”

Finally at 1600 on 30 July, with all barracks bags packed as full as possible, each man of the 16th CCU donned his full, strained, field pack, picked up theie barracks bag and, after a two mile hike with hundreds of other soldiers they reached the docks. There they boarded a small passenger ferry “Catalina,” which took them the forty-seven miles to San Francisco. The Unit filed off the ferry, through a warehouse and aboard the USAT Brazil. Bunks were located on ‘D’ deck, below the waterline.

The next morning the anchor rattled up at 1000 and the large vessel set out to sea. Few saw the shore slip away as the Unit, and all passengers, had been ordered to remain below decks as the ship slipped out of the harbor. A long voyage lay ahead.

The trials and trevails encountered by the men during the next many weeks as the Unit proceeded to join the Detachment in China are thoroughly documented in the adventures "Crossing Oceans Blue" and "Kipling's India".

While this was going on, 15,000 miles away in China, the 16th CCU detachment was becoming acclimated to the dust and heat; preparing the way for the rest of the Unit, and conducting Operations.

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