Private First Class – U.S. Army,
103rd Infantry Division, Field Artillery
World War II (1943-1945)
Wendall McWhinney was born in Los Angeles, California, on October, 23, 1923, and grew up in Montana. His father was an advertising salesman, and his mother was a housewife. He spent his prewar years focusing on his education and was taking his first semester of civil engineering at University of California, Berkeley. Knowing that he would be drafted into World War II sometime soon, he decided to join the war in 1943 in Oakland, California. McWhinney did not want to “sit around waiting for it” and thought he would be able to have some choice if he enlisted himself.
However, his inability to swim prevented him from joining the navy, and there was no availabilty in the air force. McWhinney therefore ended up joining the infantry in World War II. His family had a resigned reaction to his enlistment since it was such a common happening at the time.
Thus, McWhinney began his boot camp training in Camp Roberts, California, in March of 1943. Upon his arrival, he took an intelligence test, and due to his high scores, he was sent to Stanford. Shortly after, he began his first assignment in Stillwater, Oklahoma, for a nine-month accelerated university education in engineering. McWhinney was pleased with the conditions of the school and was living in an evacuated girls’ dormitory room. Therefore, the beginning of his war experience was more academic than warlike. He recalls that the food was decent, but the education was rigorous, leaving no time for entertainment. He was motivated because the education he was receiving was fully acceptable by U.C. Berkeley. McWhinney enjoyed the overall college atmosphere and kept in touch with his family often.
After he finished his first assignment, McWhinney received a short leave where he came back home to reconnect with his family, friends, and girlfriend. He was then sent to Texas; there, he received specialized military training in the field artillery and was assigned to the 384th artillery battalion. He remained in the 384th artillery battalion for the rest of his military service. McWhinney served in the detail platoon, surveying guns for accurate fixation and orientation, and making map traces for his headquarters. However, his duties changed when his battalion was sent overseas to Europe, where the maps were advanced and his previous work was not needed. He was now a pathfinder in charge of moving his battalion to different locations throughout Europe. As a private first class, McWhinney helped lead his battalion to France, Switzerland, Germany, and finally Austria. The general living conditions of his unit were poor, as he and his troops slept in bombed out homes and mostly ate sea rations from a can.
McWhinney believed the general morale of his unit was high, and he had respect for his army captain who in turn took his efforts seriously. He considered his officers to be “quite competent,” even though he did not come into much contact with them. Regardless, he made many friends during his assignment, and he still keeps in touch with some today.
One of the most important events in Europe that McWhinney partook in was the Battle of the Bulge. They were south of the location and were called immediately to Russia when it began. There, they were stationed in a tank trap, which is basically a ditch with a bridge over it. He remembers the possibility of blowing up the bridge if the “wrong” people came across, which, thankfully, no one did.
In June of 1949, upon returning to America, McWhinney went on to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. After a couple of thirty-day leaves, he was released uninjured through the point system. He was glad to be released, although he did not despise his time in the war. Upon McWhinney’s arrival home, he felt he was received very warmly by his peers. He was even able to hitchhike a ride all the way home to Oakland from Fort Campbell by a professional baseball player. When he returned home, he disposed of his uniform and re-enrolled in University of California, Berkeley, to further his study of engineering. However, he decided he was not suited for engineering. Instead, he pursued a career in business administration and worked at a paper company until he retired.
Looking back on his service, McWhinney is able to reflect on certain experiences. The toughest part of his service was being overseas and the inconveniences of it. The scariest moment for him was when he ran into the German army. One day, he and his troops decided to go up and around a hill, when all of a sudden, they spotted the German army eating in a mess line. McWhinney noticed their guns and exchanged looks with a German soldier. “We looked at them, they looked at us, and we turned around and got out of there!” he proclaimed. Along with the personal encounter with the German army, McWhinney considers battery fire to be unpleasant. Another unusual event occurred when he and his fellow army men were getting into a small truck. The man next to McWhinney slammed his rifle on the floor. It went off through the seat and shot the driver. McWhinney remembers putting his hand over the hole where the blood was coming out, but the man died.
Despite all the horrific experiences he endured, McWhinney feels his service was justified. “It wasn’t much of a sacrifice,” he commented. “They needed me; I wanted to be there.” While it may not have been much of a sacrifice for him, he did comment, “I grew up in a hurry….I saw a lot of nasty things.” He describes these experiences as very sobering, and as a result, he matured greatly.
One of the most memorable experiences was when he, along with his fellow personnel, freed a prisoner camp while in Europe. “These walking skeletons in pajamas–just skin and bones, nothing!–they came out wandering and wanted things to eat,” he said, describing the sight of them. “These were human beings like something out of a bad movie with these rags hanging on them. They were so pleased to be free….That was a very touching thing.” He was overjoyed at the fact that he and his fellow personnel were able to save and release them.
Even though Mr. McWhinney served in World War II, he realizes that “there have been other wars since then–some of them nastier than the one I was in….It was, for me, relatively easy; I didn’t get hurt.” However, he does understand that World War II was a harsh war that impacted many countries and millions of people across the world. In conclusion, he believes that wars are altogether awful.
Because of his personal experience in war, Mr. McWhinney has some advice to pass on to those who wish to serve in the future. He believes that if a person wants to serve, he or she should pursue it and make a noble career out of it while serving his or her country at the same time, just like he did. He is grateful for the friendships he made and considers serving in a war to be “a very honorable profession.”
Interviewed by Gabriella Aversa and Kathryn Khalvati on Au