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The Early Days of the 511th
By James Lorio


March 15, 1999

On Jan. 3, 1944, one year since activation at Camp Toccoa, GA, Col. Orin D. Haugen’s 511th PIR moved by rail from Camp Mackall, NC, to Camp Polk in west central Louisiana. It took 22 trains to move the 11th Abn. Div. by Jan. 10th. The new two story barracks were luxurious. Exploring the neighboring camp areas, the Airborne GI’s found inhospitable tankers of MG George Patton’s 8th and 9th Armored Divisions, also a thousand German P.O.W.’s of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s defeated African Corps. Their morale was high, believing if not well treated their Fuhrer, Adolph Hitler, would inflict reprisals after conquering the U.S.A. They loudly sang Wehrmacht marching songs and the nostalgic, "Lili Marlene."

The 11th Abn. Div. came to Louisiana to be tested and keep the airborne division concept alive. After one week of individual training by Third Army, our 11th Abn. Division was assigned to XXI Corps for the Louisiana Maneuvers, which continued through February. Tactical jumps were perfect. Regimental maneuvers were designed to simulate the four stages of a campaign: First, forced march after landing. Second, attack sequence on the enemy of "flags and umpires." Third, defending the area previously won. Fourth, the "flags" broke through our lines, forcing a withdrawal during the night through the swamp of "gumbo" mud which stuck to men and equipment like glue in wind, rain and sleet. The absolute worst was "digging-in". Tenacious roots did not yield to the dull entrenching shovel. No axes or hatchets. Before leaving a position, orders required the fox holes be filled, so that range cattle in years to follow would not fall into them. "On pass, I tried Shreveport, but they did not seem to like soldiers. Finally, I found it. Lafayette, LA. It was a rural Cajun town, an ideal story book dream. I went there often and left my heart." This narrative is from George F. Doherty, (Hq, Co., 3rd Bn.-511), Anaheim, CA.


Some of the troopers in Company "D" had wives and sweethearts visiting the camp. As entertainment, we had a Friday night band concert and "The Race" on Saturday. Our trooper, Alex Village Center, "Big Chief," we called him, was probably the best athlete in D-511. True to Indian lore, Alex let his deeds do the talking. But, he wasn’t going to enter due to ingrown toe nails. When D.J. Hyatt and I called him "chicken," he promised to run if only to beat the Sioux from Co. "E." Chief was a Blackfoot. He romped ahead of all and won a case of beer. Later, the Chief was selected as a member of the 511th PIR Honor Guard for General McArthur in Japan. This story is from William R. Walter, (D-511), Palm Beach Garden, FL. LAISSER LES BON TEMPS ROULER In Cajun French, this means "Let the Good Times Roll." Col. Haugen’s three day pass policy was liberal. To me, the 511th Paratroopers going on pass from Camp Polk were in five categories: the fighters, the drinkers, the lovers, the intellectuals and the undecided, who in time would follow one or more of the others on their trips. The fighters and the drinkers favored the nearby Leesville and south to DeRidder with fewer MP’s. Amongst the tankers it was said, "If you get into a fist fight with a paratrooper, you had better bring your lunch. Those guys never quit."
The lovers traveled eastward to Lafayette, Opelousas, Ville Platte and other Cajun towns. It was early winter. The weather was cool and clear. With a bounce in their walk and eyes to the sky, they saw large undulating, V-formations of honking Snow Geese and quacking bunches of Mallard Ducks here to winter in the rice fields. Usual hospitality flourished. Thus, "Les soldat" met the young ladies, who would greet the visiting elite paratroopers, "Bon jour mes ami" (Good day my friend). Picnics, home visits and dating ensued. In the night clubs, all "Let the Good Times Roll," as Cajun bands played their guitar, fiddle, accordion, harmonica and base fiddle for dancing and jitter-bug and Cajun two-step. Some romances became post-World War Two marriages.

The intellectuals and troopers from other categories visited New Orleans, "potpourri" of culture and cuisine and sight-seeing tours. After sundown, some of all five categories enjoyed the French Quarter and its Bourbon Street as the main attraction with po-boy sandwiches, seafood restaurants, Dixieland jazz bands, bar rooms and exotic girlie dancers. Booze was used, not abused. Cops were congenial. No MPs. In retrospect, 511th troopers were really not the Rowdies, except when their combat training induced Airborne fighting spirit spilled over, usually when provoked. Most leaders could reconcile with this psychological phenomenon.
By April, 1944, jump boots and all other airborne identifications were stowed in duffle bags. The 511th was READY for travel to a Port of Embarkation as Unit 1855.


Source: THE STATIC LINE, August, 1997, Don Lassen, Editor, Box 87518, College Park, GA. 30337-0518.
The Race by William R. Walter, (D-511), WINDS ALOFT, quarterly Newsletter 511th Parachute Infantry Association, Issue No. 5, April, 1988, James W. Lorio, M.D., Editor.
Reproduced: James L. Dendy, Esq., and Mrs. Rhonda Graham, Baton Rouge, LA, March 15, 1999.


CAMP POLK, LA Jan-Apr, 1944

After the Louisiana Maneuvers, Capt. Jim Lorio, C.O. Company "G", was ordered to Regimental Headquarters on TDY for two weeks to write his "Small Unit Tactics in Jungle Warfare." Upon completion, Col. Haugen advanced Capt. Lorio to Regt. Staff, S-3, Operations and Training Officer. Requesting return to his company, the "Rock" simply replied, "Negative. Not negotiable." That’s the Army.
By April, 1944, the 511th Parachute Infantry Regt. was READY for travel to the Port of Embarkation, Camp Stoneman, CA, as a "straight leg" unit, code 1855. For secrecy, all parachute identifications were stowed in duffle bags, including wings, jump boots and the M-42 two piece, poplin Jump Suits and jump knives. New GI fatigues and shoes were issued. All troopers were told never to speak any airborne language, i.e., "Geronimo." We in the 511th never shouted, "Geronimo." In jest, some did shout on the green light, "I don’t wanna GO." Forget C-47s and the yell "47, 48, 49, 50. Some Shit," whatsoever be the mood, time or place from the Camp Polk railhead forward until aboard ship.
The troop train trip from Camp Polk, LA, to Camp Stoneman, CA, was met with mixed emotions among the paratroopers on their final step into the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of War against the Japanese Empire. The coaches were space adequate. The chow was OK. Long delays on side tracks were boring, awaiting passage of priority freight trains. On one stop, platoons jogged around the block experiencing unanticipated shortness of breath due to thin air, over a mile high, crossing the snow covered Rocky Mountains. The 511th paratroopers saw "America the Beautiful."
The accommodations at Camp Stoneman Port of Embarkation, near San Francisco, CA were first class. Beer (3.2% alcohol) was available. There were, however, three general orders, the same: "No passes, No passes, No passes," to Frisco to shoot off your mouth or leave your heart. Perhaps in silent rebuke, there appeared in the Post Theater a few platinum blonds for the next three nights, more and more. Some wore ear rings. These blonds were not "local broads" invited into camp, but were 511th rebels who dyed their hair with hydrogen peroxide. Then came orders to cease and desist. Obeyed, for sure.


Steel helmets covered the blond crew cuts and naturals on a record breaking 12 mile forced run/march for the whole regiment with individual weapons and full field packs on a circuitous route through the rolling hills. The 511th PIR in its last regimental formation, broke the Camp Stoneman record set by a Marine unit by approx. 1 hour. Our time was 2 hours and 48 minutes. It was never surpassed in WWII.
On that clear cool morning, Col. Haugen said to his Regimental Staff at the head of the column, "We will set a record no one can beat." As the head of the column neared the finish line, it occurred to Capt. Lorio that being far ahead of schedule the Regimental Band would not be ready to play the Regiment’s return to camp. Informing "the Rock" of the situation, permission was requested by Capt. Lorio to run ahead and get the band out. Permission was granted. So, he did and then ran back to join the column.
Route step changed on command to in cadence, as W/O Bergland’s band played Col. Haugen’s favorite, Washington Post March, continuing to the 3rd Battalion, led by Lt. Col. Edward Lahti, then playing his favorite, The Thunderer (Sousa, 1889). As for the movie theater that night, the joint was almost empty.
In mid-May, 1944, the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 2020 strong, was ordered to board the SS Sea Pike, docked at Pittsburgh, CA. This Liberty Ship was built in San Francisco by the Western Pipe and Steel Corp. and launched in Feb., 1943. She was 492 feet in length with a 70 foot beam, drawing 29 feet of water. Her steam turbines pushed her at 17 knots, just under 20 mph. Her weight was 8000 tons. Cruise radius was 24,000 miles. She was manned by the Merchant Marine, plus Navy gunners to serve bow and aft gun platforms.
About three weeks later, we debarked at Oro Bay, New Guinea. Then the SS Sea Pike went on duty in the Atlantic out of LaHarve, France, thence returning to the Pacific via the Panama Canal. Her war time service was uneventful. She was operated by the War Shipping Administration In Nov. 1945, her name was changed to Mormac Wave, with accommodations for 12 passengers, owned by Moore-McCormack Steamship Line. The history is from Deane E. Marks, (Hq. Co., 2nd Bn-511), Milwaukee, WI, Jan., 1988.

In Mar., 1997, my attorney, James L. Dendy, on the Internet contacted Bob Jeffery, Waldorf, MD. He reported that in 1955, she was renamed Lone Star State.  In 1970 she was scrapped at Koahsuing, Taiwan. Sea Pike was a C3 hull, not a Liberty Ship, which was a smaller size C2 hull. Thanks Bob.


Source: THE STATIC LINE, August, 1997, Don Lassen, Editor, Box 87518, College Park, GA. 30337-0518. SS Sea Pike by Deane E. Marks, (Hq. Co., 2nd Bn., -511), WINDS ALOFT, quarterly Newsletter 511th Parachute Infantry Association, Issue No. 4, January, 1988, James W. Lorio, M.D., Editor. Reproduced: James L. Dendy, Esq., and Mrs. Rhonda Graham, Baton Rouge, LA, March 16, 1999.

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