Friday, March 20, 2009

Letter 38- December 5, 1943

December 5, 1943
(Camp Abbot, Oregon)

Dear Mother and Dad,

In case you get 2 letters at the same time, this is number 2. I decided to sell my special delivery stamps or to be more exact part of them, but nobody wants them so I guess I’ll have to use them. It seems awfully plutocratic to send all my mail by special delivery air mail at 16 cents a letter, but there’s no use letting (them) sit around until they get lost or sumpin’. However, I am going to save some of them for emergencies.

It’s now 5:30 in the evening or 1730 as we are supposed to call it in the army-but don’t. Since I wrote this morning’s letter I’ve heard quite a bit more about the camp closing up. The inspectors evidently are doing everything possible to keep the camp here but things are so bad they aren’t getting anywhere. The night before last the 52nd. went out on an all night problem and after they came in the next morning 150 men went to the hospital. That’s almost 1/5 the personnel of that battalion gone in just one day. I don’t remember whether or not I told or not but almost ¼ of the 7000 or so men here are now in the hospital. It seems to be some sort of nasal infection which rapidly develops into pneumonia. Nobody is dying or anything like that but there are a hell of a lot of sick fellows around here.

Hamilton, the fellow who sleeps next to me, said one of the doctors at the hospital said he didn’t know what the War Dept. was thinking about. He says what’s really wrong with the men here is exhaustion. First, they bring men up to this ungodly climate, exercise them as if they were trained athletes, inject them with all sorts of deadly germs without giving them much needed rest, and then wonder why the hell they don’t take it. Quote-There’s two ways to do a thing-the right way and the Army way-unquote. Ne’er a truer word was spoken. Oh well! They been doin’ this sort of thing for years and I guess they’ll keep on doing it for years no matter how dumb it is.

I went over to the P.X. recreation room today and fixed their radio for them. Someone had pulled some wiring loose and even an amateur like me could handle it easily. Then I sat down for a short return to civilization. I listened to Andre Kostolanis (or whatever his name is), the Prudential Hour, the news, and several other things. You can’t imagine what a treat it was for me.

After those minor setbacks last week the war news seems to be pretty good again. Everyone here still thinks the war will be over pretty quick in Europe. I’m not as optimistic as some but it really doesn’t look as if it can last much longer.

Hamilton, who’s relatives all live in England, says that war weariness is so bad in England that all everyone speaks about is peace. I guess they’re pretty miserable. He says that they want the blackout lifted right now despite the chance of attack, and that the present govt. is about as popular as Hitler with the British people. If the Germans with all the raids, defeats, blockade, and losses don’t feel a “hellova” lot worse, they must be “supermen”.

Talking about “supermen” if I get through all this training with no nervous breakdown or physical collapse, you’ll know damn well I’m a “superman”. I’m damn proud of myself already. As one of the corporals told us, “If you can get through combat engineer training you’ll be among the toughest men in the world, and if you can’t, it’ll be no disgrace”. That’s sumpin’ in my opinion.

I’ve a lot more to write about what’s going on here, but I guess it’ll have to be later on.

Bestus Love,

“Rookie Billy”


  1. The one thing the Army got right was physical training. Stephen Ambrose writes in Citizen Soldiers that although nothing could prepare the American soldier for the realities of combat, he was in excellent shape.

  2. Eight months will elapse between the time Bill leaves Camp Abbot and the time his regiment, the 399th. Infantry enters combat at St. Remy in southern France. Part of that time will be spent training in an area of specialization that requires Bill to sit on his duff for endless hours. It will be interesting to see what is done to keep Bill in physical condition and prepare him for combat.

  3. This is a wonderful blog and site to visit. I found similar letters from my grandfather, Robert May Spahr, who served as a POW in WWII. I also found letters to his mother from strangers who alerted her when he was captured. I was so moved by them I wrote a book about it. The power of these letters is to never be underestimated. Thank you.

  4. Lisa, thank you for your kind words. I feel that I would be remiss if I were not to share these great letters with the world at large. Thank goodness with modern technology I can make them available to literally billions of people through the miracle of "cyberspace".

    I am truly humbled to read about the ordinary Americans who served our country during World War II, both in the armed forces and as civilians. That they are described as "the Greatest Generation" seems entirely appropriate to me.

    I have visited you website and will be getting your book about your grandfather and the radio operators who helped communicate with the families of American POW's in Germany. It looks to be a great story.

  5. Thank YOU Greg. My life hast changed for the better since discovering these letters. I speak to our Greatest Generation audiences at least once a week to share this story- and I could easily write 10 more books on the stories that people share with me. If I were to go tomorrow, I'd still have lived a very wealthy life having heard all of them! Thank you for your fabulous blogs and sharing of letters!

  6. Please keep up your good work Lisa. I know you will. These Americans are in the late phase of their lives and unfortunately leaving all too fast. I believe it is important for us, the generations that have followed them and benefited from their sacrifices, to keep their legacy alive. I am grateful that I am in a position to do that through my father's letters.


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