38BG Stories From The Front

How to Be a Finance Officer Without Really Trying

This article may generate a few chuckles but the author saw little humor in it.

Commissioned a 2nd Lt. upon graduating from Aviation Cadet (Engineering) Class 41-4 at Chanute Field in January, 1942, my immediate assignment (with 5 others) was to the 38th Bomb Group, Jackson, MS. Upon arriving we were told to separate belongins into "hold baggage" and "what you will need to travel for a few weeks."

In January 1942, several of us were rotating assignments at the Presidio in San Francisco as Group Staff Duty Officer. One morning the Group Commander told me to report to the Army Finance downtown along with two armed escorts waiting in a car outside. He also advised I was to be the "Disbursing Officer" on the S. S. Boschfontein on which we would be sailing.  This did not seem to relate to my Chanute training, but a new Lieutenant does not argue with a Colonel so off we went to to the Finance Office.

Upon presenting my credentials, we were ushered into a highly secured vault area and the first difficulty arose  - the escorts armed only with 45's, were sent back to the base for sub-machine guns while I went to the counting area to receive the funds. The Major behind the counter started counting- I had never seen so much money in my life, he stopped at $90,000, put it in a satchel and put me in an ajacent cubicle to recount it. I was handed a receipt to sign, told what the funds were to be used for, given a pad of receipts, a list of those to be paid once underway and a lock for the satchel. The final instruction was to go immediately to the S.S. Boschfontein, and have the purser put the satchel in the ship's vault. An MP escorted us to the dock, and I returned to the Presidio, a thoroughly impressed, somewhat worried Lieutenant.

Several days later at sea, payment to the troops was at hand - $20.00 per man. The pay area was set up with two volunteers to oversee the signing of the pay sheet. It wasn't all that simple since satchel contents had to be verified when drawn from the vault and upon return. My only concern was to get rid of that satchel as soon as possible when we hit Australia.

Upon docking in Brisbane, I arranged to meet with the purser to retrieve the satchel. After getting in the Group area in Ascot Park, I had a staff car and two escorts with sub-machine guns assigned to me. We went to the dock, retrieved the satchel with verification of the contents and exchange of receipts, then headed to the Finance Office. I approached the counter with outward calm and confidence, plopped the satchel and keys down, gave my name to the officer behind the counter and expected to go through the same procedure as in San Francisco. Instead he asked me if I had made an en route payment, if the pay sheet was in the satchel, and if there had been any other expenditures., then wrote out a receipt, tossed the bag in the bin without opening it. With a grateful sigh of relief, we hastily headed back - I was again a happy maintenence officer.

My happiness was short lived. Based on my shipboard finance experience, I was assigned as Finance Agent to pay the troops the rest of their month's pay - so back we went to the Finance Office with properly arm escorts. After the security check I was given a pay sheet showing the amount due each of the personnel. The big difference this time was the pay was in Australian currency - 5, 10 and 1 pound notes - thankfully no coins. After going through the counting routine to assure the proper amount in each denomination, I signed a receipt and the Finance Officer gave me a thorough briefing on the value of the pound versus the U. S. dollar, and also pointed out forcefully the signatures had to match exactly with those on the pay sheet. Armed with this information and the funds we departed. I found out later an important omission of information.

Upon returning to the Group, we had no secure area in which to hold funds, so arranged for immediate disbursement. About a third of the way through, I realized I had a problem in that when an individual requested 1's for 10's or 5's, I obliged him - and I was running out of 1 pound notes. Fortunately most of those paid were still in the area and we called them back to exchange their 1's for the larger notes, although it did result in a number of disgruntled troops, but the pay sheet was properly signed and returned the next day - that, thank goodness, was the end of my career in finance.