AS OF 8/11/99
Robert W. Hill
My interest in the 723rd Railway Operating Battalion (723rd ROB) started in 1996. I have a hobby that is military model railroading and in an attempt to create more realism I decided to contact a former Military Railway Organization. I contacted one of the two Railway Operating Battalions still active in the U.S. Army Reserves, the 757th ROB, in Milwaukee, WI and discussed what I was looking for. I talked to a Sergeant Jackson and he told me that my best bet would be with a veterans group. I obtained a copy of a recent Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW) magazine and used a telephone contact system that allowed me to get a point of contact for a railroad veteran unit. The ironic thing is that I asked for the 732nd ROB address and was given the 723rd's by mistake.
I corresponded with a gentleman named Ray Stevens from Ohio. He was at the time the Commander of the 723rd Railway operating Battalion Association, (723rd ROB ASSN). He sent me an original copy of THE SAGA, a book that was printed in Germany prior to the unit being sent home. I marveled at the stories in it and decided to call him personally and thank him. One thing led to another and I ended up being invited to the unit's 51st Reunion in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, (PA).
My wife and I enjoyed the reunion and I made twelve friends that I will never forget. I got a lot of information on the railway service during World War Two, WWII. There were good times and bad times during the reunion. The gentleman that introduced me to the 723rd, Ray Stevens, died of a heart attack during the unit's annual meeting. The reunion carried on, they were Army Veterans after all. What I found amazing was the way that they remembered him during the rest of the reunion. The last happy memory of Ray that I still have is the happiness that showed on his face as the reunion group rode the steam train at Strasbourg, PA, mainly because Ray was an Engineer in the 723rd ROB.
I was welcomed into the 723rd ROB ASSN as an associate member. The group has supported me during the following years. I spent 14 months in South Korea and I got a variety of cards, letters and even homemade cookies. Due to the friendship of these twelve original men, and their wives, and a host of others later, the reason for this survey took on a special meaning. The unit's 54th reunion is in September and through the surveys that I sent out and their personal remembrances that I hope to obtain will result in a historical study of the 723rd ROB. History cannot be rewritten and there are a lot of questions that will never be answered, but what is known can be recorded accurately.
The goal of this initial study is to determine if their military experience influenced the place where they retired. During the Spring Term I talked to Dr Berg and Dr Napton of the Geography Department at South Dakota State University (SDSU) about the upcoming reunion of the WWII unit. One recommended a historical type of study and the other recommended that I search for a certain item that could be quantified for a study. I bounced a couple of ideas around and came up with eight questions for the survey. I mailed out nine surveys to the remaining living members that I had personally met. I received back eight surveys completed for an initial rate of 89%. One item that impressed me was the fact that one man filled in the remarks block that the GI Bill had assisted him after the war. I then added an additional question into the remaining surveys and then mailed out 100 more. I used a mailing list that is put out by the secretary of the 723rd ROB ASSN, William Olive, Jr. This gentleman was the Administrative Officer for Company A, 723rd ROB during the war. He was not a railroader, but has done a remarkable job in keeping a newsletter published for the 723rd ROB ASSN. He was a Lieutenant during the war and retired from the army as a Major. I have always had a certain bond with Mr. Olive, myself being a twenty-year man in the Army.
I have received 48 responses as of August 8th, 1999 for a return rate of 43%. Two widows returned the survey, partially completed, with a note that their husbands had passed away. I have used the two surveys due to the non-military nature of the questions that they answered. Forty-five members answered the GI BILL question after I had called two members and e-mailed one other with the question for a 42% return rate.
The question as to whether or their Army experience had any influence on the place they worked or retired was answered with an 81% reply with the answer no, 17% said yes and there was one reply of maybe. The underlying reason may be because of why they retired at a certain location. Forty-seven men responded to this question and they answered and 47% stated that they were Raised in the Area along with 26% saying that Family was the reason. The reason that these two were not grouped as one is that with families spreading out today, a son or daughter could move away from the original home area and the parent may retire near their new location. A split occurred with Job related and Climate with 13% answering for both. There was one response of Other and one with no answer, which was not counted in the results. The use of the GI Bill was split almost down the middle. Forty-nine percent answered that they used the education assistance and fifty-one percent did not use it. I talked to one individual and he told me that he didn't use it because he already had a family to feed and had a skill, so he didn't use it.
I designed the survey as carefully as I could. I had mailed a limited questionnaire to five men in 1996 and I didn't want to replicate the questions. A copy of that survey is attached. The 723rd ROB ASSN is an organization that demands privacy. I did not want to pry into personal matters and tried to stay focused on the generic items. At no time did I request pictures or any other souvenir from any of the recipients. I did correspond with five members via the Internet and three over the telephone. I also received photographs from two different individuals along with two dollars from another one. The money was not a bribe, it was for a completed copy of the project, or a beer, my choice.
The final report will include the other information from the surveys and information obtained from The SAGA and others places. It includes an enlisted roster from the unit at its finest moment, after the defeat of Nazi Germany. I plan to group the unit into four regions, Central, Eastern, Southern and Western. I believe that this will provide a more realistic look at where they came from and retired.
This report is only the beginning of the study. I have intentions to prepare a poster presentation and a short verbal presentation in March, 2000 and present it during the 31st Geography Conference held in Brookings, SD.
The web-site that is associated with this project is located at the following URLS:
More information will be added to the pages in the upcoming days.