Posted by: notsofancynancy | October 8, 2014

The Suitcase, chapter 9, In the Army Now

The Suitcase

Chapter 9

You’re in the Army Now

(The California Military Museum)

January 1942 finds my father still at Fort Ord (for more info click here) in northern California where he was sent to help guard the coast and transport solders and supplies. This will be interesting changes in not only my father’s life but also my mother’s and it will be interesting to see how these changes will affect their relationship. There are a total of 28 letters in 1942.

Dad writes on 16 January 1942 that his regiment is hauling soldiers out to the woods. He does not say why but I have to assume they are having training exercises. He had the kitchen on his truck so he drives back to the base once a week to stock up on supplies.  He is sleeping in his truck at night which is where he spends the first hours of 1942. The first night was the coldest because of the lack of heavy blankets. Can you imagine spending the whole night wondering if you will freeze to death along with the fearing of being attacked by the Japanese and killed that night? It must have been hard for all the men and women.

Then he writes to my grandma,

We sure had a bad News Years. We were in the woods both eve and night. I can’t see why but that made somebody happy so I guess it was OK. Boy it was cold. I just about froze. The first night I slept alone and that didn’t work so the next night we doubled up and that didn’t work any better. I had the kitchen on my truck so to be smart the Kid [Sic] who was sleeping with me and I decided to light a stove. While working on the project we split [Sic] some gas on the floor of the truck. We somehow or other it got lit and did we ever do some fast moving. I had twenty gallons of gas besides three stoves and a lot of other supplies. If that had ever got going someone would have thought sure the Japs had landed. Anyway we got the stove going but it didn’t do much good. It warmed the top of the truck and the rest was like an ice bag.

Oh my goodness! I am really glad that fire did not go any further. But I probably would have tried to do the same if I had a stove and was freezing.

Marvin Cain wrote "Breakers at Fort Ord" Courtesy of the Cain Family

Marvin Cain wrote “Breakers at Fort Ord” Courtesy of the Cain Family

He goes on to say that he is enjoying the food. They had oysters, of all things, two nights and fried chicken. They have had fried chicken only once in the whole year he has been in the Army.

On the 14th still in Fort Ord he writes,

Well you asked for it. You couldn’t get rid of me even if you wanted too. And I don’t think you will have to do any chasing. If anything you’ll be running to get away. One good way to stop either would be to join the Ambulance Corps. That would be about the only thing that would make me mad enough to end it. There will be plenty of things to do without doing that, they have woman working in Canteens and Service Clubs out here and also in Robinson. I really don’t think I could have anyone I know take what they have to. Soldiers aren’t humans and you would probably be around a lot of them. I can see your point of view about some of the people in this old world. The only thing I can see is why do we have to take this old s_ _ _ anyway. There isn’t many here that would take action in stride. But having to do this and stay here too. That’s bad. Someone has to pay and I am sure it won’t be the enlisted men.

Well he certainly has a strong opinion about the Ambulance Corps. The mention of working in the canteen or service club surprises me though.  There are a lot of happier soldiers there. I wonder if he is afraid that if she is in the Ambulance Corps. She would have to work in the war zones.

Marvin Cain wrote "Fort Ord" Courtesy of the Cain Family

Marvin Cain wrote “Fort Ord” Courtesy of the Cain Family

He then goes on to talk about their Colonel trying to take bets on where they will be when their next check comes. The colonel bets they will be back in Arkansas. It seems Dad also got inoculated, he explains,

We had a physical examination Sat. They also gave us shots for Typhoid and Smallpox. I took them both in my left arm. (He is left- handed)And they both took. God I can hardly move it yet today (Tues) Was I ever sick Sat night and Sunday. I guess I am going a live though.

He goes on to explain that they are having good weather during the day and it is still cold at night. He also tells that he has not unpacked his clothes since he arrived in camp, not being sure where or when they will move again.

In Grandma’s letter he writes,

The order just came that we were to pack everything so we would be ready to go. And have what we don’t take ready to go so someone else can take it if we don’t come back. Fine stuff. I still don’t think we are going to leave. The only thing I can see we are moving Inf. and looking for a move in between times. I am going to close this now and get things ready. Where the next one comes from God only knows.

He ends my mother’s letter with:

I am sure I can’t write as long and swell a letter as you did so I’ll quit by saying. If everyone has someone like you and your mother back home we have no reason worrying about the war.

Pop and Viola

Mom and her family have sent him a package for Christmas which included cookies and a new wallet. Knowing my dad he shared them with his buddy’s. I know if my mom would have cooked them he might not have wanted to eat them. She was not a good cook. Knowing grandma though she would not have let mom send them if they were bad so I am sure she helped.

The letter on the 16th finds him still in Fort Or and writing to Mom,

I hope you heard the same newscast I did. It was about a German in Russia. He was scarcely dressed and he said he was glad the U.S. was in the war. Because as in (19)18 it wouldn’t be long now. I wonder how right he is. I hope I can live up to the Reputation that is waiting for me. I ‘m not worth it though. No soldier is. If there is one I have not seen him

That sure made my heart sad. I wonder why he is so down on the soldiers. Is it because he has been living among them for over a year, or is he just mad at the situation he is in.

18 January 1942 – QM arrived at Camp San Luis Obispo, California

The letter from the 18th has three separate letters in it. The first one reads,

Well we finally got moved. We are now at Camp Luis Obispo, Cali. so that will be my address for a while. The last group that were here 2 days. So we don’t know where or how long we will be here. We moved last night about 130 miles south of where we were at Fort. Ord. Boy is it warm here. We are right in a valley between four mountains. Some fun getting up every morning and looking them in the face. We are about nine miles from the ocean now. You can see it from here if you get high enough. That means some good walking. Another kid and I tried it today. We went quite a ways but still did not get to the top. Our next move will probably be a boat ride. We are only about 200 miles from L.A. now.

(Visit The California Military Museum here)

This trip to California had to be the first time my father has been off the plains of Nebraska.  He may have come west once before but he had never been away this long or this far. They are having below zero temperatures in Nebraska about this time and they also have record- breaking snow. Dad tells Grandma that he would gladly be shoveling snow than be at camp.

Oh dear, in the next letter dad writes,

Sorry I haven’t written. Have been too disgusted. I probably would have written the wrong thing and that wouldn’t have been nice. Say why don’t you call me sucker everyone out here does. So you think I am too serious Huh? Perhaps! If you only knew. Anyway I thought that you wanted it that way. Anyway a man isn’t too old to change at 22. From now on I am just your loving correspondent as you say. Beside the pickle I am in now calls for a change anyway.

Again I am left wondering what exactly she wrote in the letter. He seems crushed.

A little southeast of Morrow Bay lies Camp Merrian (read more by clicking here.) Given the name Camp Merrian in the late 1800’s it was renamed Camp San Luis Obispo in 1940.  It was comprised of approximately 10,000 acres including 4,200 acres near the mouth of the Salinas River located about 20 miles away. A dam was built there and it was used to help supply water to the Camp. It was equipped to house about 12,000 men.

I have been past Camp San Luis Obispo a few times. My sister lives not too far from there and when I visited I saw it from in the car on the highway. When I look at pictures of the camps these days, whether it is of Camp Robinson or San Luis Obispo it is quiet, it is just too quiet now. I have had the opportunity to visit many of the training camps Patton ran out in our desert and I feel the same thing looking at pictures of these camps or what is left of them. I feel like it is sacred ground. I walk lightly, respectfully, and speak in hushed tones. I have even been known to shed a tear. These camps were in the middle of the desert.  I cannot imagine what it would have been like to see these camps bustling with soldiers in them.  Although the camps that Dad has been to have more to them, such as permanent buildings they still command the same quiet respect as the ones I have visited in the desert.

Dad talks about playing ping pong but they have a limited numbers of balls and when they all break he seems to write more letters. Then the Colonel decided the men were making too much noise playing it and he made them move the table out. Then the men started playing craps and that was ok because the “Big Kicks” liked to play.

Marvin Cain donning his Fort Ord t-shirt, January 1942, courtesy of the Cain Family

Marvin Cain donning his Fort Ord t-shirt, January 1942, courtesy of the Cain Family

He has to drive back to Fort Ord to transport another group of men down the coast.  On the way back I guess they decided to see just how “much” their trucks could take.

I bet we drove them 2/3 of the way in a ditch. We sure got the devil too. I don’t think there were any of us that didn’t get called down by a civilian cop somewhere along the way. The best though a Coke Wagon started to pass us. We soon changed the tide and started to pass it when we would go by we would reach out and grab a bottle and then go on. I’ll bet he lost at least 2 cases. Then he stopped.

I am laughing out loud at my Father  for being such a hoodlum.

We are still looking for a move. I really don’t know how soon. The more I am around here the better I like it and this is sure no country for a working man. So you moved. Are you glad or sorry. I’ll bet you miss the old place. I even miss Arkansas and was only there a year.

Up until now my grandparents lived on a part of my great-grandparents‘homestead in Kansas. Although he does not say it, my grandfather loses his farm. I was told by my oldest sister that he was a corn farmer and the government wanted him to sell wheat. My grandfather was extremely allergic to wheat and could not be around it so it seems at this time they have moved. The address remains the same, Brookville Kansas.

In the last letter in this envelope he writes,

Well the big change has taken place and we are all very unhappy. At least we don’t like the new Co. Commander about the brake ups [Sic] we don’t feel bad about that that although I am the only one left that was in the tent. They sure took our fun away from us. We can’t take a truck to town anymore. We can but it has to come right back. Before we could take one almost anywhere within 25 miles and be in before 11:00.

I know that he was upset about them breaking up his regiment. He had been with most of these men over a year now and I know that after the war they had a special bond. One of the men’s daughters recently told me that she remembered Vi and Lefty (my parents) and they had received Christmas cards from my mother until she got sick which would have been as late as 1996, which was 55 years later. It amazes me that it has been that long.

My father goes on in this letter about the confusion about their relationship. He wants to know where they stand. He is serious about her and wants to know if she is as serious. He is so uncertain about how they should proceed.  He goes on to explain that he is writing the letter in the truck and I hope he is not doing it while driving. Then he goes on,

We drove out into the country and camouflaged our trucks. Then next we hauled the Inf. out. And today I am here. Maybe sometime I will have a day off. All I did today was haul bread. About 50 loaves and had a two and a half ton truck to do that. Took me about an hour. The rest of the time I just sat around. Am here an hour too early.

That last sentence “Am here an hour too early” would be a natural thing to my father after the war. He was a milk man for many years. It was a great day when my brother and I got to go with my father on his route. We always got there at least an hour early. It was always dark out. He would sleep in his truck in the parking lot until they got there. My brother and I were always so excited to get going because we would get special treats from the shopkeepers, so I never slept. I just pretended to sleep but I always kept one eye open watching for the headlights of the owner’s car. I knew the treats I would be given were just a locked store away.

Foothill Dairy early 50’s

The last letter in January was written on the 22nd. He talks about the weather and being sick because they have been giving him typhoid shots. Dad had spent two days in bed and that night he had to stand guard.  The he goes on to say,

Too bad about Carol Lombard getting killed. She was such a nice girl too. There was a kid here today that graduated with me. Boy it was sure good to see him. He has been up here 18 months and is making around $125 dollars a month. It takes about that much to live out here. 2 cokes and 2 hamburgers came to about $1.00. So see you would not eat much here.

He goes on to explain that they guy invited him over to his house for dinner but he can only get a pass to be gone 6 hours and “what can one do in that time. Not me I think I will stay in camp.”

Carol Lombard was a beautiful quirky comedian born in 1908 (for more info click here) She was one of the highest paid stars working in Hollywood at the time. On 16 December 1941 she was involved in a plane crash traveling home from a World War II Bond tour in her home state of Indiana. The last words she spoke to the fans was, “Before I say goodbye to you all come on and join me in a big cheer, V for Victory!” Flying back to Hollywood after the event and 23 minutes into the flight they ran in to a peak outside of Las Vegas. Everyone aboard the flight including her mother and 20 others were reported to have died instantly in this tragic event. She was married to Clark Gable at the time and he was devastated by the loss. Flying immediately to the scene he began helping to make decisions on the rescue efforts. Interestingly enough shortly after the crash he joined the Army Air Forces and headed a small unit attached to a bomber. He filmed the B-15’s in flight, completing five missions himself. There would never be an answer to why the plane crashed. There are plenty of stories out there though. One being that all but one of the airplane beacons in the area were turned off or ‘blacked out” as a matter of precaution.  There is a lot of speculation and little concrete evidence.

There is about to be a big change in my mother’s life. It will change everything my mother knows about small town life and will play a key role in my parent’s lives.

© Copyright 1012 notsofancynancy


  1. It’s great to read this letters, I always ponder about so many things after reading your post (what kind of cookies he got on christmas and about the pains in his arm after the shots). Many thanks again for sharing :o)

    • Someone just did a post on Facebook and it shows a bench overlooking the ocean and asks “If there was one person who is no longer here that you could spend an hour with who would it be?” I always think of dad. His letters have brought so many questions. Yep over anyone else I would choose him.

  2. Hi Nancy; My father was at Fort Ord same time as yours.  It is great seeing your photos.  You can see my father’s at: let me know any comments about the photos.  I like the ones of the beach, Carmel and Pebble Beach.  My father was a golfer.  As kids, we liked the ones of the multi hammocks tied to the trees.  They were sent to sleep up in the woods because of fear of Japanese attack on Fort Ord.  Like Pearl Harbor, they did not want to be sitting ducks.Thanks for sharing your information.  There is only 1 man left who I know with my father’s group – I am going to send him copies.Nan

    • The link did not work Nan, Interesting they were there at the same time. If I remember correctly your father was from Kansas? I wonder how they decided who went where. I do know dad talked about how cold it was in those woods. I love how it is a part of both of our father’s story.

  3. The Cain family photos add so much to the story. There were a lot of issues these guys dealt with before deployment. GI’s didn’t cut each other any slack, either. I can’t even imagine the pressure during wartime.

    • How lucky am I that so many families have shared their memories and how awesome is it that I now have pictures from each place they all trained. It does add a lot to the story. Thanks to all of MY soldiers families from the 110th/35th QM!

  4. While he does not describe the truck he was driving/riding in, they were likely back breakers as you know. Definitely not built for creature comfort. And when he mentioned spilling some gas on the floor, thank goodness it was his military truck – no carpeting!

    • That is one thing dad did talk about, the trucks beating him up. Yes thank goodness no carpet!

  5. Hi Nancy – pls try the link again – it does work:

    you can also just go to:

    and then scroll to the bottom of the page where there is a link:
    Click here to View Photo Album of the 161st Field Artillery Band

    I was told by Robert Mott who was with the unit that they were all put on trains leaving Camp Robinson, not knowing where they were going. The trains all took separate routes and ended up at the same place – Fort Ord.

    Robert lives in San Diego.

    • Sorry I have been out of town. Got home late yesterday. I was able to see the pictures on your link. I am going to bookmark them and when I have more time take a stroll. From what I see they look a lot like the 110th/35th QM pictures! I am always amazed when we talk how our soldiers had very much the same journey.


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