PRIVATE POND Chapter I TORCH
Celebrating James Bryant Pond, Jr. May 12, 1915 - Oct 24 1992
War Log in which Pvt. Pond recorded his odyssey
Map: Mediterranean war Theater
Father, JBP Sr.
Father, Light Inf. Blues 1920s
For James Bryant Pond, Jr.
May 12, 1915 to Oct. 24, 1992
Private “Jimmie” Pond
Code message: “Allo, Robert, Franklin arrivé.”
Watchword: “Hi ho, Silver” Response: “Away”
Objective at Oran Algeria, North Africa, 2 Beach Red,
Known as Operation “TORCH” It began four days after the fall of Alemain on the 8th of November, 1942 at 1 AM.
As in any battle the terrain is often one of the combatants. The desert fights with sand driving wind, yo-yoing temperatures, and flies.
If you're not prepared for hell, you are not prepared for the desert. Sand will defeat you faster than any foe.
The original text of this story consists of thirty pages (type written, 59 hand written) plus a hundred or so photos, illustrations, and articles of memorabilia.
The troopship, Riena del Pacifico, lay long and gray, shrouded in mist and mystery at its mooring in the Firth of Clyde. All things took on tones of gray.
Only here and there an indiscernible object glistened brightly from the moisture. Individuals in shiny raincoats stood about on the ship. On the pier bustled
the several men who were concerned with loading the vessel. It looked like the masterpiece of secrecy which it turned out to be, but that meant no one
could tell us good-bye. No one waving to us so that we could wave back. Only a few foolish gulls sailed over and around us making English gull noises.
As far as I could see in back of me and in front were columns of weighted soldiers. Most of us traded a remark now and then either about the weather,
the “chow” on shipboard or perhaps about some night we’d had in Glasgow. We talked very low and avoided the subject of the ship and where it might
be going. Some men stood with all their equipment, shifting from one leg to the other. Some others leaned against girders or walls of the pier. Most of
us squatted in groups or sat upon our packs.
At a signal from the front of the column, we got to our feet, straightened our equipment and our backs, if possible, and began moving toward the steep gangplank that we would have to pass to board the somber hulk of the mystery ship. We moved slowly and the boys clambering onto the troopship relieved
the monotonous grayness of the scene with the stream of their olive drab uniforms and the ruddiness of their faces. I tried not to think about the enormity of
what I was doing as we progressed down through the numerous hatchways and steps, or ladders as they are called by the Navy. The staggering amount of
battle equipment impeded us somewhat, as the men of our company were guided into the warm, but uncomfortable closeness of a large compartment
below deck. I dropped, as did most of the others, to a welcome, sprawling rest and loosened the straps and belts of my battle gear.
From that moment on there were twenty-six days and nights set in, what I might call, a continuous nightmare of deck wandering, sleepless sleeping and
anticipating guard duty and strenuous calisthenics. The latter I didn’t particularly mind, except the times when I had to climb a rope and swing out over an
open hatchway when sometimes the deep blue was directly under me. I wondered often where I got all the energy with the food being what it was. The
inevitable porridge or oatmeal every morning was usually inhabited, and the rabbit that appeared so often at mid-day or night, or the herring which was
a close runner to it, were certainly strong enough to have taken over the ship.
The pleasanter occupations, albeit, the least painful, were occasional periods of sea-gazing, reminiscing, which went beyond the gray-green depths topped
with billows and their white caps, remembering the pale water color horizon of turquoise and emerald and a white cottage by the bay where too, splashed
smaller waves that swirled and patterned the little beach with seaweed and shells. We the kids were playing in the sand. There, as well, someone wasn’t
quite as gay* as in other summers, because I wasn’t there with her.
For days I felt an intense loneliness and nostalgia. Around me, segregated from the mass of men, I saw that there were others feeling the same thing perhaps more acutely than I. I found them on isolated parts of upper decks leaning sadly against the bulkhead, or at the rail staring outwardly at nothing and yet at something. The small chapel was constantly attended. The unaccompanied voices of the soldiers, raised grandly in a fervent hymn, told the story and the heart’s condition. I was there as often as I was able, though duty sometimes kept me away. I had a friend who used to go with me and we would sing and join in prayers and come away feeling less tragic about things.
It must have been from those days that it occurred to me that as anguished as I was at times, it seemed that I could take it better than some of my fellows. I began making conversation with some of them who appeared to be more disconsolate. Occasionally I drew them out of themselves and now and then they would come to where I was sitting or standing on deck and ask me something about life, love, religion, or whatever might have been on their minds. I wrote many letters for them. I found that there were among men some who could not express themselves, but perhaps by singing a hymn in church, or being coaxed in talking about the big and the little things in life, or maybe just being helped to shape a letter to someone, they improved and walked about with a quicker step and even laughed at times. They nearly always wanted to show you their snapshots, carried so sacredly in their bulging wallets. I was a perfect foil for that since my interest in photos and people is limitless. From this shortly there grew another pastime for them and for me when I started drawing pencil portraits of them while they sat shyly or awkwardly by the large electric light at the end of our mess table. It began with a corporal who was going to send the sketch to his girl. I made one of her too, from a small picture he carried of her. I suppose that by the time the last days of our trip approached, I had made for many some kind of souvenir drawing.
I never was the type to make many friends easily, but I learned something on that voyage that stuck with me through all of the bitter days and nights to come and assisted me, namely, the fellowship of those men with whom I came in contact despite the regimented routine of the army, the field of battle, and the strange and wordless unreality of the compound, a world of the living dead—the prisoner of war camp.
We were a part of the greatest convoy of ships and craft since the historical armada of Philip of Spain and we were tremendously important. It was sometimes exciting to think about, but we seldom had time to do more than the full training and preparedness program. As the last days drew near, a tenseness was in the now balmy air, and where there had been before only wild, and sometimes extravagant, conjecture as to where we were headed, everything changed quite suddenly in one afternoon. We learned from an announcement made by our C.O. that we were to study for the next few days the detailed maps and photos of North Africa, displayed in the Officer's Lounge.
We were issued with tropical kit, salt tablets, mosquito bars and repellant, malaria pills, and little booklets on how to get along with the natives. I read the booklets which were sometimes amusing and studied the maps religiously, but in spite of my previous training in topography and experience with aerial photos, only vaguely understood them.
Then as the last days had become the last hours, we feverishly donned ourselves with every conceivable piece of equipment of old and those newly allotted us. One had become accustomed more or less to the blanket roll and. overcoat with the rations and pack under it, but now with the rolled gas cape on top, gas mask snug on one side, the life preservers around the middle and. to carry the usual M-1 and side arm besides, it was even a bit of a maneuver to stand up. Finally, after having been faced with the incredible menu that sent us each day crowding to the ship’s canteen, there were a lot of wise cracks when we were each given a steak sandwich to squeeze into our mess tins. "Fattening the turkey", they laughed.
We still had hours to wait. It was after midnight then. The men were showing some kind of nervous reaction whether it was singing joking, arguing or manifesting bravado. It seemed more stuffy than ever below. Fully equipped, a few drowsed in awkward positions on mess tables and under them. A few were eating their sandwiches. I was going through my wallet looking at my few snapshots when a signal came from above board to move to our pre-arranged positions and posts. Our daily practice within the ship’s great hatchways, climbing and lowering ourselves, fully armed, up and down wide rope ladders, had been the most rigorous of our training. With much lightless and fumbling, we sought each other and our places along the moist, cool rail of the upper deck. I breathed deeply or as much as my heaviness permitted me. We were waiting again for something, some sign, in blackness. Out there somewhere was the African shore. When my eyes had become used to the opaque liquid night, I saw it looming vaguely. We were immediately off of Arzew which was more or less centrally located between Algiers and Casablanca. The Mediterranean sea was no longer blue and smiling, but black and sinister. Two distant, colored lights glowed small and coldly, but significantly from what must have been the beach where we were to make the invasion landing.
How little we knew of what we facing or what might lay waiting for us there. I could not see the faces of the men beside me, but I knew that some of those boys with whom I had become acquainted during the trip were near me and I had a feeling that perhaps some of them might have become stronger and more prepared to face this moment than before; just as I felt I had become through my contact with them.
*gay - My uncle used the word interchangeably between lifestyle and happy. I never could tell which or if he meant both. Also he could as easily have meant his
mom, sister or friend Dot.
capture, Tunisia - Dec. 942
Escape from Servignon, Serigliano, On the run in Italy
Remembering Servigliano - Highlights of P. O. W. life
Drama Camp, Aquila, bombed by allies, 1 day before opening night
March from Aquila to Germany
Road to Teramo
POWs allowed to keep pictures but not writing
Pirach - POW work camp, Northern Germany
photos, paintings, used for 'growing up with uncle at D'ville'
home after 1946 (some 50s)
D'ville Recollections of Europe
1946? 1947? 80s or 90s "Mail Call" Vet's Day Flowers / Weeds 1990
Page 1, chap 1, struggle to compose Titled Cover, First Sketch
A stage actor friend helped Uncle and may have left a critique in the margin.
Uncle helped the men on Riena del Pacifico out of a similar desperation to communicate. I don't know if anyone was
prepared to explore my uncle's depth of compassion and concern. When I began to unravel all the sensitivity issues
along with his personal symbolism I realized just how unprepared I was to take on this memorial edit. I too needed help.
His first sketch of a titled cover for his manuscript shows a German soldier in the dominant upper left and a floor seated
prisoner in the lower right. His problems were always troubling to me. Perhaps too many cooks involved, it was
suggested to me that a better symbol was a conflict between the American soldiers captured and the ones not captured.
But, this idea makes the story into wallpaper background for a parlor drama, or worse a deflection from a psycho-drama.
The best advice I heard was to bring uncle home compassion and all, sensitivities intact. The hero in American writing
has qualities and life choices alien to most people prone to ordinary discourse. There are no words.