Times Past

Dan Krieger: A long trip home for a war-weary WWII veteran

“It sure beat nothing.” Peter Andre’s thoughts about slow, crowded trains, sleeping on a hotel fire escape and a late Christmas dinner at his homecoming at the end of the Second World War tell us a lot about sacrifice in wartime.

The holidays are always a difficult time for members of the armed forces and their families.

Peter, a San Luis Obispo native and future attorney, had been overseas for nearly two years. He had been through the “D-day” landings on the beaches of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. Now it was December 1945 and he was coming home to see his family, and future wife, Carol, who was serving as a nurse in Portland, Ore.

“The trip back over the Atlantic seemed like forever. We landed in Hampton Roads, Virginia and then waited some more for a troop train to take us to Fort McArthur in San Pedro, California. When we got on the train we seemed to stop for all freight trains and cattle cars to pass us while we were on the sidings.

“I know it took a long time because we ran out of cooked food and were given K-rations on Christmas day in Indio, California.... I was so disgusted that I dropped off the train about noon on Christmas day. I had not realized that there was gasoline rationing and that there weren't many cars on the road. I would have gotten to Los Angeles sooner if I had stayed on the train.

“After several hours, I finally caught a Greyhound bus. When I got to the Greyhound depot in downtown Los Angeles, I called the only people I could get in touch with. These were [my sister’s in-laws] the wonderful Wall family, Bill’s dad and mother. It was about 8 p.m. or later.

“Mr. Wall drove downtown and picked me up while Mrs. Wall made up some of their Christmas ham dinner. That ham dinner late on Christmas night really was a great and memorable Christmas repast. The next day Mr. Wall took me down to Fort McArthur where I got my final checkout. Since all my leaves during the four years in the Army were canceled before I received much time off, I received almost 4 months of leave time, and actually was paid until April, 1946. “I even got the use of free mail.... I guess I wrote at least one letter per day in Marseilles while waiting for my ‘ship to come in.’

“Finally, however, I was back in California. Telephone calls to Carol in Portland, Oregon were made. We agreed that we would meet together for New Year's Eve at the Top of the Mark in San Francisco, two instead of one year after the originally intended date. It was a very special day and although I don't recall many of the events, I do remember buying her a beautiful gardenia corsage.

“Carol had come down to the peninsula, and took a nursing job at Mills Memorial Hospital in San Mateo. Many a trip I made to San Mateo courting her. In those days, hotel accommodations were scarce. I managed to get a room always at the famous old downtown hotel in San Mateo. However, my accommodations sometimes consisted of a roll-away bed in a fire escape corridor. It sure beat nothing.”