Walter N. Pruiksma World War II Oral History interview
Date: April 10, 2006
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Walter N. Pruiksma was born in September 1923. Following graduation from high school, he pitched for a softball team and was then hired by the company that sponsored the team. He also attended night classes at Fairleigh Dickinson College prior to entering military service.
Pruiksma was drafted into the United States Army in September 1943 and sent to Fort Dix for basic training. His first job in the army was to unload the equipment and personal effects of soldiers who had been killed in North Africa. He was subsequently transferred to Fort Niagara, New York and then to Fort Custer, Michigan, in December for training as a military policeman. Pruiksma recalled that training exercises in the cold Michigan winter were good preparation for the Battle of the Bulge.
Following completion of his training at Fort Custer in February, 1944, Pruiksma’s unit, Company D of the 783rd Military Police (MP) Battalion, moved to Camp Shanks, New York, a processing camp for overseas deployment. On February 9, the 783rd boarded the British passenger liner Queen Mary, which had been converted to a troop transport ship, and sailed to Great Britain. The battalion landed at the Firth of Clyde in Scotland and then moved to Dorchester, England, where its companies were assigned to training exercises, as well as MP duties including traffic control, relevant to the forthcoming invasion of France.
On June 3, 1944, Company D of the 783rd was attached to the First Engineer Special Brigade, and left Britain for France, along with Company C, on June 8. The two companies landed on June 10 - Company C on Omaha Beach and Company D on Utah Beach, as the first MP units to go ashore in Normandy, four days after D-Day. The MPs of the 783rd had never rehearsed amphibious landings, and Pruiksma recalled that some men drowned after falling into shell holes as they disembarked from landing craft. Company D was assigned to support the Utah Beach beachhead, control traffic, guard supply dumps and process prisoners of war. Pruiksma took a sick local woman to the hospital, a task that the other men deemed him “crazy” for doing, considering the chaotic nature of the fighting that surrounded them. On July 4, the remainder of the 783rd arrived in France.
On August 29, the 783rd Battalion was assigned to establish the “Red Ball Highway” re-supply route, a task completed on September 7. As the armies moved forward, the battalion advanced with them. Company D arrived in Charleroi, Belgium on October 9, where the men were quartered with local families. The battalion remained in Belgium and Holland, conducting standard military police tasks, including convoy escort, traffic control, prisoner of war processing and law enforcement, through May, 1945.
Pruiksma recalled that the majority of his duty time in the conflict’s final months was with traffic control, and he was reassigned from the “advanced communication zone” to an area further to the rear. In June, the 783rd MP Battalion was sent to Camp Brooklyn in France, where Company D was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government for its participation in the Normandy invasion.
Pruiksma remained at Camp Brooklyn, following the end of the war in Europe, as the 783rd prepared for direct redeployment to the Pacific Theater of Operations. Following the atomic bombing of Japan and the end of the war, however, that future assignment was cancelled. On September 2, 1945, 783rd departed for the United States from Marseilles, France on the USS General Callan. The Callan arrived in Boston harbor on September 12, and the battalion moved to Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts and then to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where the men were given thirty day passes, before moving by rail to Fort Polk, Louisiana, from where the 783rd was finally demobilized in November, 1945.
Pruiksma, who noted in concluding that he was a lifetime member of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, recalled that, while he was serving in Europe, his brother was serving at General MacArthur’s headquarters in the Pacific.