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Veteran Oral History - Lachlan Cameron

  • War/Conflict: World War II
  • Veteran: Lachlan Cameron
  • Organization: US Army, 192nd Signal Repair Company
  • Date: January 17, 2007
  • Interviewer: Carol Fowler
  • Summarizer: Sarah Rose
  • Editor: Professor Melissa Ziobro, Monmouth University

Lachlan Cameron was born to Scottish immigrant parents in Kearny, New Jersey, in October, 1925. He grew up in nearby North Arlington, except for a period during the Great Depression, when he lived in Greenock, Scotland. Cameron was sixteen years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. During his high school years, his family sheltered crewmen who had survived when their oil tankers were torpedoed by German submarines in American waters. Hearing the tales these young sailors told while they awaited transportation back to their home stations inspired Cameron during his teenage years; and, after graduating from high school in 1943, he decided he wanted to defend America and fight the Germans.

Cameron engaged in a bit of subterfuge, claiming that his birthday was June 2, rather than October 2, to make himself eligible for the draft, and then he attempted to join the navy. Because he had lost sight in his right eye from to an accident when he was eight years old, the navy rejected Cameron for actual military service, but offered him a civilian job loading oil on tankers in Connecticut. He declined the offer, because working as a laborer was not how he envisioned participating in the war. Cameron subsequently went to the army recruiting center in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, to volunteer. The army made him undergo the same physical exam as the navy, but when the man conducting the eye test was distracted, Cameron covered his right eye twice, and he was classified as having 20/20 vision, which qualified him for service.

In September, 1943, Lachlan Cameron began basic training at Fort Lee, Virginia. He remembered that, as an athletic young man, he enjoyed the rigorous drills and training. Cameron specifically recalled climbing up and down rope nets, but thinking that the exercise was kind of silly because he would never need that skill. The following year, however, as he climbed down a net ladder off his transport ship at Normandy, he recognized its value. While at Fort Lee, Cameron was also awarded a Marksmanship Badge for his skill with the M-1 rifle, despite his eyesight problems.

Troop Transport Ship, the Billy Mitchell

Troop Transport Ship, the Billy Mitchell

Following basic training, Cameron was transferred to Camp Shenango in Pennsylvania, where he received instruction in army clerical duties. From there, he moved on to Camp Shanks, New York, from where his ad hoc “replacement unit” boarded a troop transport ship called the Billy Mitchell which had been launched at the Kearny, New Jersey shipyard. Cameron recalled that there were 7,500 men on board the ship, but only 3,500 bunks, and that the men slept in shifts. He said that there was not much to do on the voyage, although some soldiers started drinking “Lucky Tiger” after-shave lotion, which had an 80% alcohol content, which made them “happy.” The Billy Mitchell docked in Scotland, where the men boarded another, smaller, ship and sailed to Liverpool.

Cameron recalled England as being quite crowded with soldiers at the time, as the American army had landed over one million men, along with vehicles, aircraft and other equipment, in preparation for the invasion of Europe. His camp was near an artillery range, and he remembered hearing shells fly overhead, day and night, and hoped there would be no “short rounds.” His replacement company moved on to Southampton, where Cameron witnessed a few air raids. He remembered jumping into a four-foot-deep trench as a 500-pound bomb landed in the area, but fortunately did not detonate. A British EOD team deactivated it.

Cameron recalled the events surrounding D-Day, on June 6, 1944, as a “sight to see.” He remembered watching planes pulling gliders, and large formations of C-47 cargo aircraft passing over his head every twenty minutes or so. Later that month, Cameron and his fellow replacements boarded the Prince Edward for a five-day trip to Normandy, where they landed on Omaha Beach on June 21. As the unit began to leave the ship, there was an unsettling incident. A man in another platoon shot and killed himself, and the bullet wounded a soldier standing next to him.

The enemy had been driven inland, and Cameron recalled that he landed with no problem but “wet feet,” although he was very careful to stay within taped off paths on the beach to avoid German land mines. He and his comrades walked off the shore and up a hill into the “hedgerow country” beyond the beach, where they dug foxholes to sleep in. Their commanding officer ordered them to shoot at anything suspicious that passed in the sky, as a German plane, nicknamed “Bed Check Charlie,” would occasionally raid the beachhead in the evening. Cameron recalled hearing and seeing rockets and explosions each night. Eventually his unit was attached to a Fifth Corps 155 mm artillery battery, where he worked unloading supplies. He recalled seeing a number of German prisoners of war being marched to the rear. There was a German latrine area nearby, and he was impressed by its geometric layout, remarking “they must have gone in formation.”

Near St. Lo, France, in August of 1944, Cameron noticed a First Infantry Division soldier lying in a ditch. The soldier looked familiar and turned out to be his grammar school friend from North Arlington, NJ, John Coleman, who was serving as an artillery forward observer. The old schoolmates had a brief but pleasant reunion.

Cameron’s next move was to the outskirts of Paris, where, having some free time, he and a buddy spent three or four days wandering around the recently liberated French capital. Leaving Paris, the itinerant replacement unit bivouacked in a Belgian forest, bordering a series of open fields that extended for several miles to another forest, where Cameron believed German soldiers were deployed. A B-17 bomber that ran out of fuel after a mission over Germany made an emergency landing in the field near the camp, and Cameron’s company was detailed to guard the plane until it could be refueled. He recalled that, on another occasion in Belgium, his company was camped alongside a river that was being used by German troops upstream as a latrine. The entire unit came down with dysentery and were treated with paregoric and bismuth.

A member of a Signal Repair company,
repairing a radio during WWII

On December 13, Cameron and several other soldiers were detailed to an assignment at Compiegne, France, just in time to avoid being caught up in the Battle of the Bulge. Many of the men in his replacement unit were killed or captured in the ensuing fight. After a month in Compiegne, Cameron was assigned to the headquarters detachment of the 192nd Signal Repair Company, which deployed communication repair teams across the First Army’s area. During his time with the 192nd, he worked at fixing radios and searching through supply depots to find needed parts.

Following the end of the war, Cameron’s company was assigned to Nuremburg, Germany, to provide signal support for the Nuremburg War Crime Trials. He recalled that his convoy, on the way to Nuremburg, was halted due to the traffic accident that ultimately took the life of General George Patton. Cameron’s time at Nuremburg was mostly spent on guard duty, until he received orders to return to America for discharge. Declining a promotion offered him by his company commander if he stayed, Cameron decided to go home. The trip began with a ten-day train ride to the German port of Bremerhaven. The train was stocked with plenty of provisions, including steaks, bread and beer, and women hopped aboard at each stop. Although there were no toilets, the train would halt for fifteen minutes every couple of hours for the soldiers to relieve themselves alongside the tracks.

Cameron’s sea voyage home was uneventful, aside from the fact that he managed to win $5,600 playing poker. After landing in New York, he was shipped to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, and then on to Fort Dix, where he was mustered out of the army. Cameron was awarded the European-African-Middle Eastern service medal, the Good Conduct Medal and the World War II Victory Medal for his service. At the time of his interview, he recalled enjoying his time in the Army, although he joked that he did not realize how much he liked it until he was out. Cameron said that he made many friends in the service, some of whom he kept in contact with. In the years after the war, he returned to visit many of the places where he had served.

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