Monday, March 2, 2009

Letter 25- November 14, 1943

November 14, 1943
(Camp Abbot, Oregon)

Dear Mother and Dad,

Well, at last I’m getting another letter off. Don’t think that I don’t want to write everyday as I promised over the phone, but they’re running the very tails off us here right now. As a result I hardly have time to crap much less write. Nevertheless, I’m going to keep trying to write every night.

Today is Sunday and that’s one reason I’m able to get this off without undue and undeserved trouble. I didn’t get up this morning until 8:30—ah wonderful! I didn’t even bother to get up for chow. About 10:00, however, I did go down to the Service Club and bought myself a 60 cent breakfast. I had grapefruit juice, cereal, bacon, two fried eggs, and toast with butter and jam. I underlined the “fried” because those eggs were the first fried ones I’ve had since I’ve been in the Army. I wore the scarf and sweater this morning and they really are swell. I also received the box with the sox last night. They’re so warm that even in the cold this morning and with my low shoes my feet were perfectly warm.

Yesterday the 54th. had to keep score on the range for the 53rd. They were firing for the record. As usual, we had to get out there in the middle of the night and then wait for the blooming sun to come up.

There’s more talk all the time about this camp closing up for the winter. Yesterday we damn near froze on the range and the weather’s been pretty good lately. How’s it going to be later on? Even on a cold day now it’s impossible to get much done. God damn this lousy pen anyway! (ink spill here) Some officers were overheard by the fellow that sleeps next to me betting we’d move out of here by January first. It may be bull but it’s plausible.

How would you like some pictures of me for a Christmas present? We’ve got a portrait studio here and although they hold you up a little, you can get some pretty nice pictures.

Some of the fellows went into Bend today and I told one of them to get some of those pins. I hope he remembers.

I don’t think you’d recognize me now. I’ve lost almost 20 lbs. and I’m only now beginning to gain it back.

Talking about politics, it’s interesting to know how all the fellows here feel. Most of them are really down on the administration and would like to see Roosevelt get licked in the coming election. Up here it’s obvious that the army’s getting too damn big and that the draft is being continued only as a club over the public’s head. As Engineers we get more and better equipment than probably any other branch of the service excluding the Air Corps, but even then there is a terrific shortage, especially in food and such. It’s utterly ridiculous that we should be spending money training some of the men we have here. Some or rather most of them will never be worth a damn to the army- fellows with only one eye-bad feet-deformed backs. Hamilton- the fellow from “Cal” that sleeps next to me has 20/100 vision and even thick glasses can’t do much for him.

Well, better close here. May write more tonight.

All the Love in the World,



  1. I don't think that the Engineers got more or any better equipment than the other branches. That is probably just the rumor around the camp. I think everyone got the short end of some stick, including the Air Corps. Dad was a pilot and never had enough cold weather gear. And at the end of 1943, the wartime economy is just hitting it's overdrive. That year the U.S. produced something like 85,000 airplanes (Hitler refused to believe his spy who reported the U.S. projection of 50,000 aircraft). The year 1944 would be even better. Any shortages that Bill sees is the result of supply and procurement foulups (and not a little corruption). Bill's issue of warm clothing probably went to camps in Florida or Texas.

    All that doesn't help Bill if he's not getting the food he wants. I can only imagine the joy he felt by sleeping in until 8:30 then getting a bacon and eggs breakfast. Sixty cents was not an unusual hourly wage for a working man in 1943 (Dad earned 62 1/2 cents an hour in 1942). Compare the cost of that meal with the hourly wage of a worker in 2009. In construction camps of the 1920s and 1930s a breakfast might cost 25 cents.

    As for the quality of troops, Bill is seeing the men who didn't qualify for combat arms and might never even go overseas. I think the term was Limited Service and they ended up manning training camps. And as we will see, even Bill won't stay in the Engineers. By mid 1944, the Army will lower its induction standards further to fill the rifle battalions being consumed by the assault on Europe.

  2. Greg,

    As I read through Bill's training experiences in 1944, I'm struck by how similar they were to Ward Griffing's in 1918 at Camp Funston, Kansas. And for that matter, to your William B. Phillips experiences in camp way back in 1862. Keep plugging away at these letters, Greg. You're doing a marvelous job. -- wg

  3. Oops,David.Thanks for the correction. Bill was really in the thick of it on November 14,1944. On that date his regiment, the 399th.Infantry was slugging it out with the Germans along the winter line deep in the Vosges Mountains. But that's about 150 letters from now!

  4. Ward,
    Thanks for the compliment. We have a long way to go with Bill so I will try to keep the letters coming apace. It does seem that the private's lot is similar from war to war, especially camp life. Food, clothing and homesickness seem to be the most common threads. Also the rumor mill always seems to be at work.

  5. David,
    Excellent points about the equipment and quality of troops. Bill makes generous use of hyperbole when discussing such things. It is one of the things that makes the letters so readable IMO.


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