Interview with Carl F. Baswell

From the interview with Colonel Carl F. Baswell of Heber Springs, AR conducted by Tim Caldwell at  the Sheraton Hotel in Seattle on May 28, 2003.  Col. Baswell served for three years at Fort Worden as commander of Company B of the 532nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment.  Col. Baswell’s service to the United States took him to Panama and Korea, as well as many European destinations in World War II. He received the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart Medal, the Legion of Merit Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Air Force Commendation Medal.  The student union building of his alma mater, Arkansas Tech, bears his name. Here he discussed his role in rebuilding the Autobahn in Germany after World War II and how he got promoted to Captain:

“After my R&R I went back to Europe and commanded F company of the 333rd Engineers Special Service Regiment as a lieutenant.  My company rebuilt five large bridges on the Autobahn, at Karlsruhe, Pforzheim and the Stuttgart area.  They had all been blown out, not by the American Air Force, but blown out by the Germans to keep us from advancing.  As it turned out, there was only one man in the company younger than I, and that was the company clerk.  Generally, the company commander is normally “The Old Man”. I was known as “The Young Man”. The bridge near Karlsruhe was a big structure, 674 feet long, about 200 and some feet high.  We furnished the heavy equipment and transportation, the labor was all done by the Germans.  They had an old German construction firm, Gruen and Belfinger, that provided our engineering, but I provided them with all the equipment and the gasoline, the heavy equipment operators, and what have you.  It took 14 months, we ended up putting a steel structure in and putting a concrete deck on it.    In the middle of this, the Constabulary Commander came down to my job site one day in September of 1946 with a Russian general from Berlin.  The Russians wanted to see what we were doing over there and the American brass thought they’d go down and show them where we were constructing.  I got to ride around in a car with the two generals, and I was just a lieutenant. … They checked my job site and left. Apparently, the general went back to his headquarters in Heidelberg and turned to his aide and said, ‘Why isn’t that young lieutenant a captain, he is a company commander, apparently doing a good job and working hard, and the job’s getting done on time?’  They picked up the telephone and called my regiment, the 333rd up in Pforzheim, and asked why I wasn’t a captain. You had to have time in grade at that time, so they said ‘He’s not eligible.  He won’t be eligible for promotion until the 30th of November 1946.’  The commanding general said, ‘Well, you go back and tell them that on the day that he is eligible, I want him promoted.’ …I didn’t know anything about this until the paperwork went in. On the 30th of November that year, I got a telephone call from Personnel.  He said, ‘You’re not supposed to tell anybody, but I want to tell you you’re a captain.’  I said, ‘Get off my back. Leave me alone. I’ve got enough to worry about.’  And I didn’t believe it….At the end of December in 1946, all promotions for officers in all services were frozen by the Secretary of Defense….This was just a case of being in the right place at the right time, and I was real fortunate.  Had it not been for the general and the situation, I probably would not have made captain until three or four years, probably in the Korean War.”

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