Airborne Training of the 84th
Infantry Division at Camp Claiborne, LA
by James E. Mrazek
In late July 1944, I was ordered to conduct the airborne training of the 84th Infantry Division at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. I was told to choose a cadre of some 40 officers and men from the 88th Glider Infantry Regiment who were experts in the subject to accompany me.
I arrived at Camp Claiborne about the 25th of July. I found that the last of the training area construction under way. There I found ready for me a vast training area. On either side of one half of the area were two rows of CG-4A glider mockups. These mockups were wooden frames resembling the fuselages of gliders. A nose frame could be opened and raised for loading as would a glider's. A photographs of one is on page 113 in my book FIGHTING GLIDERS. Each contained four removable benches comparable to those found in a glider. As I recall, there were about 100 mockups, comparable to the number of gliders it would take to carry one battalion of infantry.
The other half contained several rows of C-46 and C-47 mockups.. Between these two areas was a tall structure from which to control the training, and several loading and lashing platforms with tie down rings on which we used to tie artillery pieces, jeeps and other demonstration equipment in the manner in which such equipment would be tied in gliders or airplanes. Somewhere in the area there were fence-like structures on which men were to practice knots and lashings.
Adjacent to this area an air strip had been constructed that was to be used for glider landings. Adjacent to the strip were long bleachers from which those being trained could listen to the instructor explain the structure of the CG-4A glider. We did not have a "whole" glider, unfortunately. We did have a "stripped" down, rather battered frame without wings. According to plan I was to have a real glider which could be used to show those being trained, and occasionally have it towed off in demonstration flights. When the pilots flew it in, they were unable to brake it sufficiently, and over ran the airstrip, or, better, missed it, as I recall, and plowed into a lightly wooded area where the trees tore off the wings and most of the fuselage fabric. In a way, this "glider" served a good purpose in that I had it placed in front of the bleachers where it became an excellent training aid since those in the bleachers could look right through the metal framework into the interior of the glider as it was being described by one of my instructors.
In coordination with, and with the heartiest cooperation of General Alexander Bolling, commander of the 84th Division and his staff, I began an airlanding training program for the whole division, and as I recall, some of its supporting units. Battalions, and improvised battalion size units, consisting of separate companies and the like, battalion by battalion appeared at 8:00 AM each morning and went through the training program, until after a month we had processed perhaps more than 25 battalions, a heretofore unrecorded, but rather prodigious feat, as I see it.
On days prior to their appearing at the site, each battalion had orientation lectures and training films in the post theater presented by my instructors.
I thought that the month went well except for one somewhat embarrassing incident. I arranged for the Army Air Force to put on a glider landing demonstration for the whole division. General Bolling had the division some 15,000 or more men assemble close to the landing strip. It took quite a bit of time and effort get them into position. The plane with the glider in tow appeared overhead. I was at the microphone describing the event. At the time prescribed, the plane did not release the glider. I had the Air Force liaison officer radio the pilot to quit circling and release the glider. I could hear the conversation between them. No amount of cajoling convinced the pilot to release. They flew off, and the division left, not having the opportunity to witness what was to be the main event.
Although disappointed, I was not surprised. I had constant difficulty getting the Air Force to cooperate in common ventures. This part of the Air Force was unreliable. Frequently, an operation was ordered, and I was told to load in aircraft that would be at the field ready at a certain time. Invariably the gliders, airplanes, or both, were not ready for loading on time, and usually, I did not have the number promised. It meant hours of waiting until the aircraft and pilots appeared, or cancellation of the operation. This affected the morale of my troops. I wish that I could say something better for that branch of our armed forces' performance for me, but I cannot. I think that the failure of the pilot to release the glider was his fear of having to land on what may have appeared from the air as an inadequate landing strip, or a lack of discipline, or both. From what I know of the capabilities of what good pilots can do, and what I know of what they had to do when towing and releasing gliders in combat, the pilot in this case should have released. To me there was no excuse that this did not happen.
Colonel Dalby, then the Chief of Staff of the Airborne Command, appeared unannounced at the site briefly one afternoon. I did not know him from Adam, and had to ask who he was and who he represented. He was the only person from the command to appear during the month of airborne training.
General Bolling and his Chief of Staff, Colonel Louis Truman, treated me well and met every request with amazing energy and speed. When the training was nearing its close, Colonel Truman asked me if General Bolling could have me transferred to the 84th Division. Colonel Truman told me that if I came to the 84th, General Bolling would give me a command. I turned down the offer since the 13th was then about to go overseas, and I wanted to be with it when it did. General Bolling wrote a letter of commendation to General Chapman concerning the training and my performance.
James E. Mrazek
Colonel, USA (Ret.)
Colonel Mrazek commanded a battalion in the 326th Glider Infantry Regiment in the 13th during World War II and towards the end of the war commanded the regiment for several months. He then took command of the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division for several months after it had returned to the United States. PKO
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Copyright © 1997 Patrick O'Donnell