Military History/WW 2 Parachute Training
QUESTION: Hello Richard,
I’m a British author needing some research advice for a novel I’m writing and wondered if you might be able to help me. I have a number of related questions.
My book is set in Burbank CA, March 1942. I have a character who has enlisted as a parachutist, and is waiting to be sent for training.
1. Would he have done basic army training somewhere before being sent for parachute training or would they be combined? What battalion is he likely to have been assigned to and where would he have trained? (Fort Benning, GA – or somewhere nearer)?
2. I need there to be a period of time (maybe 2 or 3 weeks) where he is working somewhere in Burbank before being sent for training. Are there circumstances where this might happen? How would he be notified about where he was to be sent?
3. In his barracks, would there be upright lockers or would they have individual footlockers at the end of the beds for personal items like photos?
4. Would he arrive for training in civilian clothes with suitcase, or in uniform with kit bag? If the former, would civilian clothes be kept in his locker, or elsewhere? (If he tried to go AWOL during the night, could he change into civvies?)
5. Would he be issued with a rifle at this point? Would it have a bayonet? Where would it be kept at night?
6. Would he be issued with a switchblade? (M2?) Would he be allowed to bring in his own switchblade as a personal item?
5. An odd last question. I’m looking a lot at the movie Parachute Batallion (1941) as it has a lot of useful reference about training. It shows men changing into pajamas to go to bed. Would they have done this? Was the practice of wearing undershorts and undershirt for bed something that happens later, once they’ve completed their training?
Sorry to bombard you with so many questions. I realise this may not be within your area of expertise, but any help would be much appreciated.
Thank you in advance.
ANSWER: Dear Mr. Rawle,
Thank you for your question. In it you typed "a character who has enlisted as a parachutist". Respectfully, that is not possible. A male could either enlist in the US Army, or be "Drafted" into the US Army. Once a male is inducted into the US Army, they take Basic Training, for different periods of time, based upon what period of time during WW 2. Once Basic Training is completed, the US Army determines the Duty Assignment (M.O.S.) best suited to you. Only at that time, the earliest one could in the entire training period, could a soldier volunteer for Parachute Training. Just because you volunteered does not mean you were automatically accepted. Also, many of those accepted were unsuccessful in completing Parachute Training. The scenario you typed would be the equivalent of an individual entering college without attending Grammar School nor High School.
Before I go further, please let me place my replies in context. My replies will be the typical, not the atypical. There are always exceptions, but the exceptions are exactly what I will NOT provide you with.
In your question you typed "Would he have done basic.......sent for parachute training". Yes.
In your question you typed "What battalion is he likely to have been assigned to". At that period, there would be only one "battalion" to choose from, 2nd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which would become the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion at Venafro, Italy, December 10, 1943.
In your question you typed "I need there to be.......where this might happen?" Lockheed Aircraft Company, the largest employer in Burbank at that time.
In your question you typed "How would he be notified about where he was to be sent?" In the context of the male being notified to be present for induction, by the U.S. Mail. UNLESS, the male was working in a locale different than the address in his induction papers. Then, by telegraph.
In your question you typed "In his barracks, would there.......items like photos?" Footlockers, for clothing, ablution kit, housewife, books, training manuals, writing kit, as well as photographs.
In your question you typed "Would he arrive for.......with a kit bag?" For Basic Training, civilian clothing without suitcase.
In your question you typed "would civilian cloths be kept in his locker". Once the male was fitted with his uniform, his civilian clothing was packed in a cardboard box & sent to his home address.
In your question you typed "Would he be issued with a rifle at this point?" At the beginning of Basic Training, the male was issued the weapon he would go though Basic Training with.
In your question you typed "Would it have a bayonet?" If a bayonet could be fitted upon the weapon, yes.
In your question you typed "Where would it be kept at night?" If a shoulder arm (rifle, carbine) in a wooden rack bolted down to the middle of the barracks floor. The weapons would have a chain through the trigger guard, then the chain padlocked & locked to the wooden rack. If a pistol, sub-machine gun or machine gun, an armory.
In your question you typed "Would he be issued with a switchblade?" I have never heard of the US Military ever issuing a "switchblade" to anyone.
In your question you typed "(M2)?" At the completion of the training cycle when a soldier has made his qualifying jumps, he would then be issued a "Knife, Pocket, M2".
In your question you typed "Would he be allowed to bring his own switchblade". No, but when did being forbidden stop a soldier from arming himself to his own preference?
As to question #5, movies are meant to entertain, NOT do disseminate historic FACT. PJ's would have not been worn, since you would then have to take off a garment prior to dressing in underwear & uniform. One more step that is NOT needed. Wearing PJ's during training or after training had nothing to do with where a soldier was at in training. There are always exception, but I sure would not have liked to be the guy putting on PJ's prior to lights out. Once the lights were out, the fellow soldiers would provide an attitude adjustment to the soldier who HAD BEEN WEARING PJ's!
"To be born an Englishman is to draw the winning ticket in the lottery of life."
Richard V. Horrell
WW 2 Connections
[an error occurred while processing this directive]---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Thank you, Richard.
Incredibly helpful and comprehensive answers. You have been most generous with your time and I am so very grateful for your advice. Given how helpful this has been for me, I wonder whether I might prevail on your time further with a couple of follow up questions based on the insight I have now gained from you.
Assuming my character has completed his basic Army training as an enlisted man by March 1942, how long would the Army take to decide on his M.O.S? If he had volunteered for Parachute Training could he conceivably have spent time (2 or 3 weeks) at home on furlough while waiting to hear if he had been accepted?
Once accepted, where would he have trained? Would the programme of training be carried out by the 2nd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment? Would he at that time be considered part of the Battalion, even though he may not ultimately be successful in completing his training?
Thanks for the tip about PJs. Made me laugh. I had my suspicions on seeing the movie that a soldier in silk pajamas wouldn’t have lasted long.
Again, sincere thanks for your help.
Dear Mr. Rawle,
Thank you for your follow-up. In it you typed "how long would the Army take to Decide on his M.O.S.?" The time the male was in Basic Training.
In your follow-up you typed "If he had volunteered.......if he had been accepted?" Awarding Leave/Furlough between every training scheme was the norm, but there were always exception. However, during that time the soldier could not take a job. Remember, the soldier is now the property of the US Army.
In your follow-up you typed "where would he have trained?" Fort Bragg, North Carolina would be typical.
In your follow-up you typed "Would the programme.......Parachute Infantry Regiment?" No. First there is Basic Training, followed by Parachute Training, ending with the assignment to a unit.
Good Luck with your quest.
Richard V. Horrell
WW 2 Connections