BY ANNIE CRENSHAW
There aren’t many local folks who can say that they ended up living today 1,100 miles from the town where they were born – but a boy from White Plains, New York, who now lives in Greenville, Alabama, can say just that.
And, he not only traveled a lot of miles between his birthplace and his home today, but he also traveled 33,651 miles during his military service in 1945-1946.
John Edward Ackerman was born in White Plains, Westchester County, New York, in 1927, to Clifford Ackerman and Hazel LeDuke.
The Ackermans were early Dutch who came to New Amsterdam in 1645, “just before the English got here,” John says with a laugh. His mother’s ancestors were French Canadian.
The English renamed the Dutch town on the southern tip of Manhattan Island, “New York,” and what was once “New Amsterdam” became downtown New York City.
John’s father, Clifford, served in the New York National Guard, 1916-1918, then transferred into the Army during World War I and served in France, 1918-1919.
John recalls his childhood days in White Plains being very different from today’s lifestyle.
“The A&P grocery store had ‘groceries,’ and just that,” he says.
“The grocery store had canned foods and dry foods like sugar and flour, and coffee and tea. We went to the butcher shop for meat, the green grocer for vegetables, and the bakery for bread. Dairy products were delivered to your door: milk and butter and things like that. There weren’t any supermarkets, and definitely nothing like Walmart!”
“Where was I when Pearl Harbor happened?” John recalls without hesitation: “I was just a teenager. Several friends and I had been to the movies, and we came home and turned on the radio. The announcer was telling the news and saying ‘All military personnel immediately report to your bases!’ and ‘This is not a hoax!’ People could hardly believe it. It was such a shock to be attacked like that.”
“A few years later, it was the first semester of my senior year in 1943; I was 16. The military had programs that you tested for, to get into the Army or Navy. I took the Army test for Specialized Training.”
“I passed the test, and I turned 17 in January 1944. I enlisted as a private in the Army Reserves on May 10, 1944, when I was still in high school.”
“They sent me to military training school at Princeton, along with 3 buddies, on July 1st. But we flunked out! The school was strict, and we didn’t know how to discipline ourselves. We were just teenagers, having a good time.”
With student numbers dwindling as young men joined the military during World War II, Princeton University had opened its doors to military training programs. Thousands of trainees flooded the campus to take part in programs including the Army Specialized Training program for engineering and languages, and several Navy and Marine programs.
“Then I turned 18 in January 1945, and the military called me up for active duty in February 1945,” John continues.
“I reported for duty at Fort Dix in New Jersey, and then went to Camp Wheeler in Macon, Georgia. I was in Company C, 9th Battalion. I was there training in the infantry when the war ended in Europe. That was May 8, 1945.”
World War II wasn’t completely over yet, of course. Germany had surrendered, but Japan was still fighting. Japan didn’t formally surrender until September 2, 1945.
“In September 1945, I was still in Georgia,” recalls John. “After I’d finished basic training, I had stayed on as ‘cadre’ – that’s the unit doing instruction and training – in the 14th Battalion in Macon. I was promoted to corporal on September 21.”
Macon, Georgia, isn’t very far for a young man to travel in 1945, but John had more mileage ahead of him. MUCH more mileage.
“I went to the Persian Gulf and Iran. I was stationed in Egypt, Morocco and all over Northern Africa. I saw Cairo, Casablanca and Alexandria, went to Liberia and Algeria, the Suez and Senegal.”
“We were in so many places, the Army didn’t know what to do with us! We toured half the world. In a year’s time, I traveled over 30,000 miles,” he recalls.
We’ll tell you more about John Ackerman’s adventures in the next article in this series, “Honoring Our Military Veterans.”