Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Letter 49- December 22, 1943

December 22, 1943
(Camp Abbot, Oregon)

Dear Mudder & Dad,

I’m writing this letter just after lunch. I’m barracks orderly again and therefore have the time to write a good letter. I probably won’t get this off until tonight, however, since I won’t have any airmail Special Delivery stamps until then.

Things are pretty much the same around here. The heavy snows are still holding off and the weather has been at least bearable. Work has been getting progressively easier, and in general things are pretty good.

As far as moving out of here is concerned, I guess I’ll be finishing my basic right here. Some of the newer outfits may move out but nearly everything we do from now on can, if necessary, be done indoors. That’s why I’d like to have those language books. Up until about a week ago it looked as if we might move out at any time, but they’ll keep putting it off until the winter is over. I wouldn’t doubt it a bit, however, that we have our 3 week problem somewhere else, but that’s a long way away.

Well, it’s almost Christmas and I can hardly wait to get my hooks into those Christmas packages. Oh boy! I think that every building in the Camp must have its own Christmas tree. There’s a huge one growing on Group Ave., the main street, and it’s beautifully lit up at night. It really makes me homesick. I guess you’ll have the lights out this year, huh? Nobody here is going to get passes on Christmas. It makes no difference to me but some of the fellows are sure broken up about it. As far as I can see there’s more fun to be had right here in camp than anywhere else except home. I don’t think, however, that any shows or such will get up here. The camp’s too small. I’ve only one fear and that’s that I might get K.P. over Christmas. It’s getting pretty close to my turn.

I received 3 letters from you yesterday which was pretty good. When I get mail like that I feel as if it were my birthday, er sumpin’!

Someone brought in a Portland paper this morning and I see by it that we’re pounding the hell out of Germany again. Four thousand tons in 24 hours. That’s really der stuff, ain’t it. I really don’t see how Germany can keep it up much longer. If they do the Germans must be even dumber than I thought. I guess the big battle in Russia that is going on right now will be over by the time you get this letter. Tank battles hardly ever last very long.

We had a lecture given under War Dept. auspices yesterday on the progress of the war. Of course most of it was designed for the stupid GI “Sad Sack” and was almost insulting to the average person with any intelligence but, nevertheless, some of it was very informative. For one thing it was very optimistic as far as the European situation is concerned. That’s unusual for anything put out by the war dept. Most of their movies and such are as gloomy as hell- predicting a long war and all that, but this was different. According to the lecturer Germany has suffered 3,000,000 casualties in Russia since last July and that 700,000 more are menaced at the present time. It seems that Russia’s grand strategy is to cut the German front in two driving part of the German armies back into the Balkans where supposedly they would collapse. According to intelligence reports Germany is having a “hellova” time of it. In fact, he talked as if we’d never see any action in Europe for sure. “Germany may make a go of it with a few last desperate haymakers but they won’t do her any good.”

Another thing he touched on was the “new Burma Road”. It’s that bloomin’ “highway” the engineers are building up through Northern Burma and Tibet. He said “This road is especially important to you engineers.” I don’t like the way he said that. Maybe I’m just imagining things ---I hope.

Yesterday I fired the .30 cal. machine gun. Wow! When you get behind one of those babies you feel like you control the world. While firing at the target I cut down a tree in the background.

Best Love
Merry Christmas

P.S. The Merry Christmas is just in case the mail’s fast.


  1. The Burma Road mentioned in Bill's training film was probably the Ledo Road. The Burma Road ran from Rangoon in Burma to Kunming in western China, but this was cut by the Japanese invasion in 1942. Allied forces managed to stop the Japanese advance into India via Assam and the Americans began building another road into China. The Ledo Road connected to the northern end of the Burma Road in late 1944. Although the thousand mile track allowed trucks to haul supplies into China to battle the Japanese, the monthly tonnage never equaled that supplied by air over "The Hump".

    According to Wikipedia some 1,100 Americans died building the road along with many more local workers.

    The number of Axis casualties mentioned in the training film, three million at that time, might be pretty accurate, maybe a bit low. By the end of the war the Axis nations tallied some five million dead and more wounded, missing, and captured for a total of ten million casualties. The Soviets, of course, lost as many as twenty-one million killed. The incomprehensible scope of the war in the east made precise statistics impossible. It is no wonder that Bill thought Germany was on the brink of collapse.

    The early training films were undoubtedly crafted to give Americans the sobering reality of a long and costly conflict. This transitioned into a more positive "we're winning" message to keep folks engaged in the war effort. The Allies had indeed seized the initiative against both Germany and Japan, but the Axis was far from out.

  2. David, thank you for this informative post. Bill certainly sets the stage for discussion with this excellent letter. His characterization of the War Department lecture as "designed for the stupid Sad Sack...yet informative" has to make me laugh. The War Dept. certainly seems to be sending the men mixed signals about the status of the war. It is no wonder that the lecturer's comment about the Burma Road set off warning alarms in Bill's head considering the 1100 Allied deaths reported building it.

  3. The thing not widely acknowledged was that most of those killed while building the Ledo Road were African Americans. The army was still segregated and blacks got some of the more dismal and even dangerous jobs, like building the Al-Can Highway, the Lego Road, and airfields, and driving trucks for the Red Ball Express in France.

    Building the Ledo Road was a backwater to a backwater. The China-Burma-India Theater sought to "keep China in the war" and was an even longer and more complex supply chain than the southwest Pacific. War correspondents preferred comfy billets in London and Hawaii to the more primitive conditions of India and China. As a consequence you saw more coverage of the Eighth Air Force than the CBI. In east Asia photos and stories of aircraft winging their way over The Hump or of the Fourteenth Air Force and its flying tiger insignia pleased editors more than moving dirt in the jungle.

    I will be interested to know if Bill formed any picture of his prospective duties in the engineers. The engineers did everything from mine clearance to building roads and bridges.

  4. It's interesting, but sad about the role given African-Americans during WWII. Things had not progressed all that far from the Civil War, when African American were entrusted with the spade more than the rifle.

    Despite the great engineering feat and loss of life that the Ledo Road entailed, it is noteworthy that at no time did the tonnage that went over the road come near to that that flew over The Hump.


If you receive an error message when posting a comment or preview please hit "Post Comment" or "Preview" a second time and it should go through.--Greg