At 90 years old, Bob Boliere of Stillwater Villas in Englewood, Fla. may be the last of the U.S. Army’s horse cavalry.
“I graduated from Grand Rapids, Mich. High School in 1938. The Great Depression was still on. There were no jobs, no funds for college and the Army would pay me $21 a month,” he said. “I was 18 so I hitchhiked to Fort Sheridan, Ill., 30 miles north of Chicago, and signed up. This was a regular Army post for cavalry, infantry and field artillery.
“After six weeks of training on a horse I was able to graduate from horsemanship. I got my spurs. Then I tried walking down stairs wearing them and found out you couldn’t do that with spurs on,” the old soldier said.
“We had A-Troop and B-Troop. There were 120 horses and riders in each troop. They taught us how to shoot a 1903 Springfield rifle, which we carried, and shoot our Colt .45 pistols,” Boliere said.
“Horses are crazy; they’ll do the damnedest things. I’ve had ‘em bite me, fall on me and stand on my foot. We had to look after our horse. We fed them, provided them with straw to sleep on and took care of them,” he said.
“Once a month we’d have a review. Troop A with 120 horses and soldiers and Troop-B with another 120 horses and cavalrymen would ride at a trot 20 in a line with our rifles at the ready. Then we’d come around again at a dead gallop our .45s in hand as the band played cavalry songs,” Boliere said.
After two years of the horse cavalry, Boliere decided there was little future for him in the troop.
“All the non-coms were from World War I. They stayed in the Army and so there was no advancement for anybody,” he said. “I joined the Signal Corps and got a transfer to Fort McClellan, Ala. I was discharged in September 1941.
“Three months later, when war was declared against the Japanese, I decided it was going to be a naval war and joined the Navy. Because of my three years in the Army I was given a petty officer’s rating,” he explained.
“I was sent aboard an Italian passenger liner we confiscated and turned into a troop transport. We renamed it the USS Hermitage (AP-54),” Boliere said. “It was fast and we could transport 6,000 troops on a single voyage. We had a crew of 700.
“Our first trip across the Atlantic was to Casablanca during the invasion of North Africa in 1942. It took us 11 days to make the trip because we had to sail very slowly in convoy.
“I made 18 Atlantic crossings to England, Ireland, France, and North Africa from 1942 to 1945. We transported Army troops, Air Force pilots, German prisoners and on our last trip war brides to Boston,” Boliere said.
“We ended up in the Pacific making trips by ourselves to Australia and India. It took us three months to make the round trip from San Francisco to Bombay, India,” he said. “We would sail to Australia and on to Tasmania, which is down almost to Antarctica. We’d sail through the Indian Ocean and on to Bombay.
On one of these trips we were attacked by an enemy sub. A torpedo was fired at us, but missed,” Boliere said. “On another occasion we were off the coast of Tahiti when we were chased for three days by a German raider, but we outran it.”
His job aboard ship was Electrician 1st Class. It was Boliere’s duty to maintain the PA system, the phone system, search lights and degaussing system that protected the Hermitage from magnetic underwater mines.
There was always something going on aboard ship. “In India a sailor who was a college graduate and liked snakes, came aboard with a sack of fruit. He told the officer of the deck he was going to give the fruit to his shipmates. In addition to the fruit he took a woven basked out of his sack, opened the top and out popped the head of a cobra. Fortunately I had the top bunk. I don’t know what happened to the cobra.
“We had another sailor who got drunk in Casablanca and wanted to bring a camel he just bought aboard ship. The officer of the deck thought otherwise.
What does Boliere most remember about the war?
“What I remember mostly is what a wonderful country Australia was. The people in Australia loved us. All their young men had been sent to Europe to fight. The Japs were about to invade Australia when we showed up,” he said.
“After the war the liner we had taken was given back to the Italian government and was reconverted to a luxury liner once again. It sailed the South American route,” he said. “When the liner Andrea Doria sunk in 1956 our ship took its place.”
Boliere went to work for Michigan Bell after the Second World War. He worked for the firm for 31 years until he retired as a staff supervisor at 55. Then he and his wife, Marjorie, spent their time touring the country in a motor home finally locating in Colorado. Three years ago they moved to Englewood to be closer to their daughter, Janet, who lives locally.
Name: Robert Clayton Boliere
D.O.B: 27 Nov. 1919
Hometown: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 19 Sept. 1938
Discharged: 20 Sept. 1945
Rank: Electrician’s Mate 1st Class
Unit: USS Hermitage
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2010 and is republished with permission.
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