Morris A. Maddox of Bryan spent 18 months in the “tree army” before he was drafted into the Army during World War II and that time of service helped him in many ways in the “real army.”
Life for Maddox began on Christmas Day, 1922, in Madison County. According to Maddox, “I was born on a farm in Madison County and attended Oak Grove and Willow Hole Schools before attending and graduating from North Zulch High School in 1939. I couldn’t find any work so I signed up for an 18-month obligation with the CCC or what everyone referred to as the “tree army”. The tree army was a lot like being in the army because we wore old World War I uniforms and learned close order drill. Our officers were also officers from the regular army.”
“I was first sent to Lufkin and then to Alto, Texas, where we built another camp. We worked in a tree nursery, built roads or did whatever was needed in the area. When my time was up with the tree army, I returned to Bryan, where I got a job with Hillier Funeral Home. I did pretty much everything from driving the ambulance, working a funeral, whatever was needed except embalming bodies.
“After Pearl Harbor was bombed, I knew I only had a short time before my number would be called. I received my draft notice and left with 26 other boys from Bryan on Feb. 22, 1943. We thought we might be able to stay together but, when I was sent to California, I never saw any of them again until we were back at Fort Sam (Houston) after the war, being discharged.
“I don’t remember all the boys who made up the twenty seven but I do remember that Luke Ruffino was one of them. Why I remember Luke is the first night in the barracks he said something he shouldn’t have said to one of the soldiers who outranked us. His comment got all of us assigned to KP duty and dish washing for our first three days in the Army.
“At Fort Sam Houston, I was the only one sent to California for my training. I received my basic training at Camp Roberts in the field artillery. I had done a lot of drilling in the tree army before the war so close order drill for me was easy. Because of that experience, I was selected for a platoon drill competition for Camp Roberts, which I won.
“From there it was on to Tarzana, Calif., just outside Hollywood, where I was in the coast artillery. We would use searchlights at night searching for planes that might be flying in from the ocean. We were then sent to Camp Hahn for artillery training in the Mojave Desert.
In the desert we had to sleep in pup tents. One morning a friend awoke to a 3 to 4 foot rattlesnake on top of his sleeping bag. The army had been asking for volunteers for the infantry to go directly to Europe. After that snake incident, I volunteered because I hated snakes. Even though I volunteered for the infantry, the army sent me to the 1288 Combat Engineer Unit in Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi.
“We loaded our equipment and headed by train to New York where we boarded ship for England. The next 10 days were the worst of my life. We were down in the bottom of the ship the whole time and we all were so sea sick. I was so sick that everything came up except my shoe laces. When we were allowed on deck on the 10th day, that fresh air was the best I ever smelled in my life.
“We traveled by train to Chipping Norton, England, and from there across the Channel, on barges, to France. We landed in France in February 1945. Our first duty assignment was at Aachen, Germany, for the push into Germany. My last duty before the war ended was on the Rhine River at Cologne, Germany.
“We were building a 1,506 foot long Bailey bridge across the Rhine outside Cologne. While we were building the bridge one sight you saw all the time were bodies floating by in the river. We didn’t know most of the time if they were American or German. It was something that I never got used to. When we just about had the bridge completed, the Germans sent a large barge floating down the river, cutting our bridge in half. We had to start over and by the time we had it completed and ready for use, the war in Europe was over.
“I was sent to Marseilles, France, where we boarded ship for the invasion of Japan. While on the way, the bomb was dropped and the war was over. We almost tore up that ship celebrating, officers included. We changed course for Boston Harbor and from there back to Fort Sam by train where I, again, was with some of the original 27 who had left Bryan together.
“I was discharged on Oct. 28, 1945, and came straight home to Bryan. I worked at Lilly Ice Cream, but I had an application in at A&M. I was hired by A&M to work at the University Police Department, basically doing night security duty. That job led to a patrolman’s job and eventually to the Chief of Police of the University Police Department. I retired from UPD in 1985.”
When Maddox was asked what his time in service to his country meant, he said, “I wouldn’t take anything for my experience and I would do it again without any hesitation if asked. I guess that is easy to say when you’re my age and know you’re not going to be asked again. I am very proud of what we did.”
Maddox's story originally ran in The Eagle in August 2009.
If you know a World War II, Korean, or Vietnam War veteran whose story should be told, contact the Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial at www.bvvm.org or Bill Youngkin at 979-776-1325.