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Training for a War
Dad has been training at Camp Robinson since January 1941. Most of the early training for the soldiers was behind a desk. What they found when they got all these young men drafted was that a lot of them were farm boys. They were not just from Nebraska but from all over the United States. The education level of the men was not up to the standards of Army training. So first they went through basic school subjects and educated the men as best they could in what little time they had. They would then start to train in the field. It was 3400 square miles of Tennessee swampland in the humid heat of summer. In July we find the 110th Quartermaster getting ready for the upcoming field maneuvers.
26 July 1941
Our captain missed a cleaning detail last night and he had to get up at 4:30 this morning and do it and instead of getting the men who were suppose to do it he called us. Boy we sure have been telling him all day. Boy I darn near got busted down to $21 a month the other day. We had a field inspection and 9 from this company forgot their waist belts. The inspection was by General Lear (you know the old boy that made the men walk from Memphis) He was pretty mad at us anyway. One Sergeant and one Corporal was busted just for that. Darn I held my breath for a while. We had the best company there though. There is a chance that Company C will be stationed here during the Ark. maneuvers and haul loaded supplies to Southern Arkansas. Boy I sure hope so. Three weeks will be long enough without having to have to do the other three out in the field. We are supposed to get 27 more trucks next week. As far as I know I keep the one I have. I hope so it is a pretty good one. You said you have troubles. I worked on my truck all last Sat. and Sun. we had an inspection on. On Monday the darn thing was dirty. Boy was I mad I guess I’ll have to start driving again. My assistant went to the hospital today. I don’t even know what for. Say there is a good chance of getting out of here in a year. I hope so. I am getting tired of it. Want more freedom I guess. We have a division review tomorrow for General Lear. All the troops will be there. Have been practicing for it all week
Notice that Dad is still thinking he will get out of the Army in a year. If things go as planned he will be out in December. The reality now as we look back on it is so much more but I do not want to get ahead of myself.
2 August 1941, he writes to my grandma.
It seems like 10 years since I was up there. I had such a swell time and then had to come back to this dryed up old hole. On that inspections that I forgot my belt. I was on guard the night before and had breakfast at 6:30. I just changed into fatigues and didn’t put my belt in my bag to take along. I just wish the Army would make up its mind and keep It that way. They change it so much I can’t keep up with them. I have the handles of about 162 pick axes and shovels to paint and they can’t make up their minds how to paint them. A kid over in the 110th Engrs. got struck by lightning this afternoon. I don’t know how bad it hurt him. He was out cold and they took him to the hospital. We got five more trucks. We are suppose to get 21 more before maneuvers. Well I guess this is all I can think of tonight. Love, Lefty.
The man who was hit by lightening is actually listed as one of the causalities of the Louisiana maneuvers. 21 men were killed in an accident on one of the rivers.
Here is a little insight about my grandma. Susie, as she was called, was very supportive of our troops. My grandfather served in World War I and I know he was proud of his country. She was a dreamer and was good at making others feel they mattered. There were always a lot of fun times and thanks to grandma’s imagination it did not cost much around her. She could make people feel like the old brick mill they grew up in was a castle. My grandfather, his brother, brother-in –law, and two friends all went down and volunteered to fight on the same day. I do not know much about his time in service. I do know that all five of them came home though. I am not sure if it had anything to do with that or not, but once they moved to California they would invite many young servicemen to spend weekends with them. They would entertain them and make them feel like family. One day I got a message from a lady who asked if I was THE Nancy Woodside that her uncle talked about all the time when she was growing up. The one who was a daughter of my parents, she knew their names. She went on to tell me she could remember this uncle talking about me when he was in the service. I went on to contact that uncle. He was so thankful for my parents and grandparents. He was in the Air Force and was stationed in near my family home in California. My parents and grandparents would take turns hosting him and his friends on the weekends. He went on to say how thankful he was as the Air Force pay was not much and he did not know anyone in California and if not for my family they would have had nothing to do and nowhere to go. My family made him feel like he was family and he was in contact with them until they all passed away. The interesting thing is this man was here for eight months in 1958. I was only a year old when he left and yet now in 2012, 54 years later this man still remembers me, my parents, and my grandparents. It makes me very proud to find someone who thought so fondly of my family.
Pop and Susie at the Brownstone Castle, Kansas 1930’s
5 August, 1941 he writes to Mom again.
Guess we leave for Birmingham, Alabama tomorrow or Wednesday. I don’t know how long we will be gone, I guess we will be back about Sunday. That will add two more states to my list. Mississippi and Alabama. I guess we will take all the trucks we have.
He goes on to talk about sending a picture album to her to hang onto so it does not get lost. He is afraid it will with all the moving around he will be doing. He ends with “tell Mom and Pop Hi. Love Lefty.”
I am seeing a pattern here. It seems as though Dad sent a lot of letters to Mom and Grandma in the same envelope. I am sure Grandma is writing him by the way he talks in his letters. He is answering her questions in most of the letters. When I first started this journey I thought these were only letters to mom but I am finding a lot that have letters to both. With my dad not having a Mom it seems like Grandma is taking him under her wings. I remember Dad talking about her sending him care packages. Grandma “Susie” was so loving to all she came in contact with it would only make sense he would gravitate towards her nurturing personality.
14 August 1941 – QM departed for Louisiana Maneuvers.
14 August 1941 He has found a typewriter and types.
We got started yesterday on those long waited for maneuvers. They took us down about 100 miles and dumped us out in the middle of a forest. Well the first thing we had to do was to make a road to get out of the damn hole. After I worked all day doing that they called me to come back to camp and bring a load of inf. We got back here about 2:00 last night and had to get up again at 3:00 and ate breakfast. So I didn’t get much sleep since 3:00 yesterday. We really have quite a place down there though. Right in the middle of a forest. The darn thing is sure a good place to hide the trucks though. I guess we will only be there 4 days and then we are to leave. I don’t know where we go. Right now I am in camp. We came back after another load of troups. Leave again at 3 in the morning. The kid I run with is on guard at the regt. Hgt. and I am working there now. Or I am writing this there.
From here the letter is hand written.
Well I got so darn sleepy that I couldn’t even hold my eyes open. Maybe I can write so you can read it. Gosh here it is 3:00 Thursday and we have eaten breakfast and all ready to load. We got one more night’s sleep on our bunks. I guess the 6 Div. is moving in sometime soon. They will be here 10 days while we have our Ark. Maneuvers then they move to Louisiana with us. I have never seen so darn many trucks. That is about all you can see along the way. Well I will write more next time Uncle Bulgy wants his pen and mine is parched.
In the same envelope is this note to Grandma. He addresses her as Mom in all the letters now.
Just like camp here, There you could look and only see hills, Here you turn around and run into a tree. Hot here there isn’t a breath of air. Plenty of snakes too. Otherwise it isn’t so bad, we have a fairly good place to go swimming only it is kind of muddy too. We move tomorrow night so maybe we will get something better. I am glad you liked the scarf. As for coming up Thanksgiving and Christmas I sure hope I can. I am in doubt now though. We don’t know where we will be then. I guess there is a chance of leaving Robinson. I hope we don’t if we have to go farther from home. Or even to some camp closer to home. That isn’t such a bad camp after all. Must go to work in a little while I guess. Lost my truck yesterday I am glad it sure is a wreck now. It was a good one until my assistant wrecked it.
On 23 August, 1941 he writes at the top of the letter he is “Somewhere in hills. Don’t know where that is.” The letter is postmarked Prescott Arkansas.
Thanks for the card it was sure swell. Well we got moved again. Three times in all now. I can’t keep up with them. If I get out of sight of my bunk I am lost. We are still in the woods. The second we were at is by far the best. I don’t think we will be here long. I hear the reds have captured the 35 Division Hqts. Now. I suppose we will move out tonight or tomorrow. We have until the 28 then we will move into Louisiana the 28th of next month we start for home. We are supposed to get 26 new trucks before maneuvers are over. But then we were supposed to have had them 6 months ago. I doubt whether we will get them I hope I don’t. There isn’t so much work to do. I have only had one night’s sleep in the last week anyway. Well sweet I can assure no snake will get near enough to bite me, but as for getting lost I don’t know about that. We went on a convoy at 12 the other night and got lost twice. The next night I was on guard and couldn’t find my way back to my own bed. Tell Mom and all hello. All my love. Lefty
29 August 1941 to Grandma he writes
Your answer to whether we got new trucks. We got the ones we lost a while back. We thought at first we got some new ones in the Q.M. No Luck. We got the old ones back. It sure is good to be here in camp again. A good clean shower and some good water to drink. I said good water it is just good compared to what we have out there. They put a purification plant out and pump it out of a river, because it is so darn dirty, what is the difference we have everything else that way. It isn’t so darn bad though. We get lots of sleep. That is the ones who doesn’t have trucks do. I have some painting to do. I think I could keep busy doing that. I really hope I don’t get a truck until after maneuvers. They are pretty hard to take care of out there. Then they are pretty particular in a way. We have been eating this canned rations, C Rations they call them. Really they are better than some of the cooks put out. We have some darn good cooks but the stuff they get to cook is what is bad. We have vegetable stew, hash, beans, and meat in the cans. Then in the other ones are coffee, sugar, a piece of chocolate candy and some cookies, they are in about a no 1 can. The coffee is so you can mix it and that is all there is too it. I really hope we don’t get moved further from home. I wouldn’t mind staying here as long as we have to stay. They are trying to make a triangular Division out of this, If they do there are two places we can go Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Which is about 190 miles closer and Ft. Murray, Washington. That is a considerable distance further. They have a lot of heat stroke in Louisiana and they might cut maneuvers 2 weeks short. Several have died from it down there.
His 22 September 1941 letter finds Dad back driving the truck and he is in Louisiana at this point. They have to get the troops back to Camp Robinson and are planning on letting some of the men travel by train so the drivers do not have as much driving. He tells that a kid named Glen Mullins and he were the only drivers in the convoy of 21 trucks that did not have assistants to help them drive. The lieutenant finally got another man to take Dad’s place because he was afraid of his driving because he was so tired. He goes on to explain;
We had 65 miles of blackout one night. The worst I have ever been on. Down through a road that went through some swamps. I guess we had more luck than (the) service unit. We were hitting bridges that were only about a foot wider than the trucks. If you want to have some fun just try that sometime. Because you have trees about 200 feet high to keep what light there is restricted. Co. D upset one truck with 23 men in it. No one got hurt luckily.
On the 27th of September he writes,
Well according to all the rumors we are about ready to go back to camp. First load is supposed to be there by Sat. At least I hope so. You talk about it raining up there. You should see it here. By gosh I didn’t think it could be so wet. It started raining at about 4 yesterday afternoon and is still raining today. We were on a convoy lost night and didn’t know half of the time whether we were going to be the ditch or not .I guess we were pretty lucky. Co C only had one in and that was either the ditch or hit another truck. About washing you can’t wash when you aren’t around water. And you can’t have water when you aren’t around the Co. There is awful shortage of water. The Inf. regts. Have orders to use water only for drinking purposes. Well darling I know one place I would rather be than on this line waiting for the order to pull out in this damn mud. I believe it is as bad as that night up there. We had four A Co. trucks buried in the mud. I watched the wrecker pull one out. The first wheel was just buried. You know that hurricane that was in Texas? Well it was supposed to hit here at 12 noon 45 mile wind. The wind was blowing but not that hard. Looks like it might get here yet sure is cloudy.
This is kind of scaring me. First there are snakes, then heat stroke, not to count all the accidents, and now they are having problems with the water? All the time they have to drive under adverse conditions AND while trying to keep their trucks on the road? Now they have enough rain to make big mud puddles in the roads, and there is a hurricane headed their way. It sounds like these men are not catching a break.
2 October 1941
Well I guess maybe we are through for now but there is still a rumor that we go to South Carolina for six weeks more. Dog-goned. I hope we don’t have to. I am very insulted at you calling us a bunch of soldiers. Dopes wasn’t so bad but soldiers is out. If anything we are a bunch of prisoners. I saw action on the front day before yesterday. More fun. I sure got the shity shot out of me. Four machine gun firing on me. We had quite an argument about whether I was to be put out. Finally they decided that it was all mixed up and the other should not have been there so they were sent back where they came from and I kept retreating with a load of men. People sure crowded around to see the fighting. I really got in a good spot one place. Right by a filing station. Wow! I guess they want to see how much I could take. I drove over 1800 miles in the last two weeks and had an assistant two day and one day I had her we only drove about 8 miles. Oh well who cares. I would rather be driving than be around this damn company. The company is ok it is just the commanding officers. Our 2nd Lt. took us out for 2 hours close order drill this morning and we raised so much hell he gave up and we came back and for into one of the damnest football games ever. Maybe I forgot to tell you we finally got moved out of the trees into a pasture where it is pretty nice. We sure had a game anyway. That is about the first recreation we have had since the maneuvers started. I thought the Captain was going to stop it but I think he enjoyed it. It’s lucky we didn’t get hurt. I’ll bet we feel it in the morning. The 110 QM and the 110 Engineers were highly complemented by General Lear for their actions during maneuvers.
Does that mean that Yoo Hoo Lear finally made peace with the 110th? Sounds like it to me. The next letter was written 21 October 1941 and was sent from Lexington Nebraska. Apparently Dad got an unexpected furlough. I hope nothing has happened. It may be just because his birthday would be the following day, the 22. Dad would be 23 years old. Let’s read in.
Darling Vi, Well here goes nothing. Sorry I haven’t written before this. You know me. When I joined the Army I quit drinking and started eating. When I came home it was just appropriate. Up until Thursday Roy and I had bought 5 cases of beer. Besides what we drank at the bar. Not bad. Damnit you can’t have any fun around here unless you are feeling so good you don’t know what you are doing or don’t care. I was ready to leave about 3 days after I got here, would have been down if I had the money to fix my car. I just couldn’t spare it night now. So I am hoping to see you Christmas. That is if you still want me.
Ok nothing major just lack of funds. If I remember correctly Dad sends money home to his dad each month. Of course twenty-one dollars a month is not much. He talked about getting drunk a few more times. Then there is this,
Lexington came through too. They gave us free show tickets, and tickets to the football game and traveling and gum. That really surprised me.
If I read that right the town of Lexington just paid for Dad to have some fun while he was home. Awesome support! Then he goes on to tell Mom if he got a furlough at Christmas he would come to Kansas to see her “if” she still wants him.
6 October 1941 – QM returned to Camp Robinson, Arkansas, from Louisiana Maneuvers.
The 28th of October finds Dad back at Camp Robinson. He talks about being eighteen hours late getting back there due to the weather. I would think those boys got in a bit of trouble for that. And he goes on,
We sure hit some high water in Okl. I drove about ¾ a mile in water that about run into the car. It sure looked funny. There were kids wading and picking up things. We couldn’t figure out what it was. We got curious and stopped to ask what it was. Nuts of all things. The water was just covered with them. They said they could sell them for 7 cents a pound. I am still disgusted from not coming up there. I told the fella’s in my tent that and they said I would probably have been married if I had. Two in this tent got married and one discharged. That leaves two and two. They bet me I would be a married man when I come back Christmas. I guess I had better stop before I get mushy.
The next two letters, 8 and 14 November 1941 he does not say much more than he is waiting for a letter from her. He is not sure if he has done something wrong. He asks please to tell him what he did wrong so he can apologize for it. Then on the 14 after he sends a letter questioning why he had not received a letter from her He sounds very relieved when he writes,
Boy you sure changed me. Was I ever glad I got your letter. Even the rest here noticed it. One of the fellows said “I think Lefty feels better since he got that letter.” Thanks for the pictures they sure are swell. I have been showing them to everyone I see. Boy I sure thought you were mad at me. Boy was I ever in a bad mood. I darn near went nuts. If we had not gone to Springfield I believe I would. You see that kinda took my mind off things. And then I thought I would have a letter when I got back. I sure had a lot of trouble going. Everything went well until we got about forty five miles from there, Then the truck got hot and I found I had a broken block and the water was running out about as fast as I could put it in. Of all things we put 2 eggs in the radiator and that stopped it until we got there, than the truck wouldn’t run until we started home. Everything went well until we got part of the way home. Then water in the gas, more luck. I guess Uncle Sam has something on his mind. Anyway they got us all in a huddle and told us to get out woolen clothes out so they could check for shortages. They told us there was a Division order to see if we were ready to move into a colder climate. I am sure going to raise ____ if they don’t wait until I get up there. Gosh darling I wish I could take all your love. Nothing in the world I would like better. Would you accept mine? It’s yours for the asking.
Wow the last of that letter made me cry. The words were heartfelt and she really scared him with not writing. I am glad he finally got the letter and the encouragement from her he needed.
Have you ever read of putting an egg in a radiator? That is a new one to me! I wonder how many soldiers it took to come up with that one.
The Louisiana Maneuvers, as they were called involved 250 thousand men, 19 divisions, and 35 hundred square miles of Louisiana. Twenty-six men died while there including the one that Dad mentions who got hit by lightening. Most of them were due to vehicle accidents. One soldier that was a mere 26 years old had a heart attack.
There are two more letters in 1941. In both letters he is bored because there is nothing really going on in camp other than the usual guard duty, inspections, and painting for my father. He writes Mom on Thanksgiving Day just because he wanted to wish her and her family well. Both letters are full of relief that she is not mad at him. He asks her to go ahead and send back his photo album now that he is done with training. Then he writes;
Well love, maybe I am in a little bit of a hurry. (I think he is talking about getting married!) But I don’t think so. I did promise to wait a year though. God that year is a hell of a long time. Seems it should have been over a long time ago. Couldn’t we just rush it a little, say 6 months. Just what is the matter with eggs in the radiator? I could have frosting at anytime if I had had some sugar. You know it is a long time until the 13th or the 31st I guess we won’t be leaving camp for a while. We were going to Pennsylvania to strike duty. Now they have gone back to work. Well darling here’s hoping you agree with me.
Wait! What did I miss here? They must have talked about marriage sometime. I do not believe that my grandparents had a phone out on the farm. If I had to guess I would say they did not. It must have been when dad visited mom. I do not think they know each other well enough to get married. Weird I am talking about my parents! I think that is how they did it in the old days. Meet and get married while you still like the guy. At this point he is still thinking he is going to be out of the Army in December. We all know that Pearl Harbor was bombed on 7 December 1941.
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