Saturday, May 30, 2009

About Letter 65

Bill tells "Mudder" that he would answer more of her questions if he knew what was going on but "they really keep us in the dark as much as possible". He says the result is a "strained relationship between the enlisted man and officer." He reassures Dad that he won't fall for any "Victory Girls" because " most of the girls in Bend "look like the girls one sees from the old country."

Letter 65- January 23, 1944

January 23, 1944
(Camp Abbot, Oregon)

Dear Mudder & Dad,

Well, I’ve just got back from making a phone call to you. I guess you told me, Mother. Well, I had it coming, but really I did think I wasn’t s’posed to call until today. Time flies so fast here that it makes my head spin.

When I said that I didn’t answer a lot of your questions because I didn’t know anything more than you about them I wasn’t kidding. Really—in spite of the bull one hears over the radio about ours being an informed army. We just don’t know what’s going on. They really keep us in the dark as much as possible. As a result there is a strained relationship between the enlisted man and the officer. When it comes right to bare facts the half assed way things are run around here in the whole army as far as that’s concerned is causing a lot of the trouble. Most the men in this barracks feel as if the higher ups are afraid to let them know what’s going on. At an orientation lecture the other day an officer after making a simple statement said he would go over it again so we wouldn’t be confused. It was so simple that a moron could understand it. Of course everybody was sore then.

We sure caught the Germans flat footed there below Rome. Imagine 6 hours before a single Nazi plane showed up.

Dad, this part of the letter is especially for you. I hope it answers all the questions in your letter of the 18th. I just can’t see why in the devil the War Dept. finds it necessary to send boogie overseas. I think they’re trying to sabotage the war effort.

By the way I’m going to write a dirty letter to school if they let those kids get away with what I couldn’t get away with last year.

Don’t worry about me falling for any (ahem) Victory Girls. Most the girls one sees in Bend look like the girls one sees from the old country.

Now to get down to the questions. You asked if anyone fell in the drink on the debarkation tower. No, but a lot of equipment did. That’s what I was afraid of. I had over $100.00 slung loosely on me when I went over. The 51st. did all right on their bivouac but the weather’s been unusually mild here lately. We had rain yesterday.

About getting mail on the bivouac I don’t know but I’ll only be able to write when in over weekends. The casual company, which is just around the corner, is just a place for us to hang our coats and sleep while we’re waiting for furlough and shipping. You asked if I’ve decided what I’d like to go in for. I’d like special weapons or camouflage but in true democratic manner the Army is going to decide for me.

I’m afraid that the film situation here is no better than it is at home. We’re supposed to get them but don’t. If I could get the film I’d be taking pictures constantly. I know how you’d enjoy them.

As I told you I’ve finally got my medal after all this time. As far as firing over again is concerned I don’t know. One must fire for record at least once a year but no one can tell when I can shoot again if I wish.

Bestus Love,

P.S. The S.M.R.L.H on the envelope stands for Service Mail Rush Like HELL.

P.P.S. Sure am homesick today, Love, Bill

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

About Letter 64

The men run the obstacle course with gas masks on. Next week is the 23 mile hike which Bill notes includes "other horrors too numerous to mention." The one consolation he says is "we've only 2 weeks basic left." Bill say the army has got him "snookered" and any transfer from the Engineers is out as of January 1.

Letter 64- January 21, 1944

January 21, 1944
(Camp Abbot, Oregon)

Dear Folks,

I will have probably called you before you get this letter, but as funny as it may seem I didn’t call last Sunday because I thought only a week had past (sic) (how do you like that) passed since my last call. Imagine! It must be the altitude. I probably couldn’t tell you what day it is if you were to ask me. Oh hell! who cares what day it is in this army anyway.

This last week has been pretty hectic but next week is really going to be a dilly. Oh groan! 23 miles hike--, 10 miles reconnaissance trip—a `pied, heavy rigging, heavy fixed bridges and other horrors too numerous to mention. Today we ran the obstacle course with gas masks on. The only consolation is that we’ve only 2 weeks basic left. The bivouac is more like (maneuvers?) war games.

In about 2 hours I go on guard duty so I’ll have to cut this letter short and get some sleep, but first I want to answer some of the questions you’ve asked in your latest letters.

As I already wrote I think the bracelet is wonderful. No one I’ve seen has one anywhere as nice. I always wear it so everyone can see it. The fellow in the middle of the picture is named Johnny Melonas—it was his camera. Speaking of Blair Hamilton, he’s been in the hospital for almost 3 weeks and it looks as if he may get a medical discharge. I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with him.

As far as A.S.T.P. is concerned I don’t know any more than I did before but it seems the army is reaching its peak and there are no openings anywhere. It seems I got in the army at the wrong time. As for as the transfer is concerned it’s out. No one can obtain a transfer from the Eng. as of Jan. 1—so there. I’m afraid they’ve got me “schnookered”. Yes I got my medal. I think it’s made of lead. I’m afraid to fool with it for fear of breaking the damn thing. It looks nice though. Ain’t that sumpin’ about Boogums Ciary though. I think we had better make peace now.

Best Love,

Sunday, May 24, 2009

10 Things Americans Should Know About WWII

Sunday Forum: They died for you
Author RICK ATKINSON tells us 10 things Americans should know about World War II
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Stacy Innerst / Post-Gazette

The first thing to know about World War II is that it was a big war, a war that lasted 2,174 days and claimed an average of 27,600 lives every day, or 1,150 an hour, or 19 a minute, or one death every three seconds. One, two, three, snap. One, two, three, snap.
In an effort to get our arms around this greatest calamity in human history, let's examine 10 things every American ought to know about the role of the U.S. Army in WWII.

1) The U.S. Army was a weakling when the European war began in earnest on Sept. 1, 1939, with the German invasion of Poland. The U.S. Army ranked 17th among armies in size and combat power, just behind Romania. It numbered 190,000 soldiers. It would grow to nearly 8.5 million by 1945.
When mobilization began in 1940, the Army had only 14,000 professional officers. The senior ranks were dominated by political hacks of certifiable military incompetence. Not a single officer on duty in 1941 had commanded a unit as large as a division in World War I. The Army's cavalry chief assured Congress that four well-spaced horsemen could charge and destroy an enemy machine-gun nest without sustaining a scratch.

2) The war affected all Americans. A total of 16 million served in uniform; virtually every family had someone in harm's way; virtually every American had an emotional investment in our Army. That WWII army of 8.5 million existed in a country of about 130 million; today we have an army of roughly 500,000 in a country of 307 million.
Still, the U.S. Army mobilized only 90 divisions by the end of the war. That compares to about 300 for Germany; 400 for the Soviet Union, and 100 for Japan.
One reason was the gradual recognition that the Soviet Union was fighting most of the German army. Another was the recognition that the United States could provide industrial muscle unlike any nation on earth, to build tanks, airplanes, and trucks, to make things like penicillin and synthetic rubber, not only for us but for our Allies. That meant keeping a fair amount of manpower in factories and other industrial jobs, while getting women into the workforce as never before.

3) The U.S. Army did not win World War II by itself. We can be proud of our role, but we must not be delusional, chauvinistic or so besotted with American exceptionalism that we falsify history.
The war began 27 months before America joined the fray. It was fought on six continents, a global conflagration unlike any seen before or since. The British had done a great deal in those 27 months to keep alive the hopes of the western democracies. Russia lost an estimated 26 million people in the war, and its military did most of the bleeding for the Allied cause. By the end of the war, there were about 60 nations on the Allied side. In Italy alone, Brazilians, Poles, Nepalese, New Zealanders, French, Italians and a number of other nationalities fought beside us.

4) The U.S. Army's role in the liberation of Europe didn't start at Normandy. It started in North Africa.
President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill agreed that the first task was to defeat Germany, but they didn't agree on where to begin. U.S. military leaders wanted to cross the English channel and head straight for Berlin. Britain wanted to start by attacking the periphery of the Axis empire in North Africa. Roosevelt eventually sided with the British.
The initial landings occurred on Nov. 8, 1942, in Morocco and Algeria. Over the next two months, the Allies gained air supremacy and almost complete control of the seas, strangling the Axis supply line from Europe. After Africa came Sicily, then the campaign in Italy. Then came Normandy.

5) The U.S. Army for a long time after we entered the war was not very good. Part of the WWII mythology is that all the brothers were valiant and all the sisters were virtuous. War is the most human of enterprises, and it reveals every human foible and frailty, as well as human virtues: cowardice and tomfoolery, as well as courage and sacrifice. The Greatest Generation appellation is nonsense.
In the first couple years of American involvement the Army was burdened with clearly inferior equipment and commanders. Those first couple years of war required a sifting out, an evaluation at all levels within the Army of the competent from the incompetent, the physically fit from the unfit.
It has sometimes been argued that in an even fight, when you matched one American battalion or regiment against a German battalion or regiment, the Germans tended to be superior, the better fighters. But who said anything about an even fight? Global war is a clash of systems. What matters is which system can generate the combat power needed to prevail, whether it's in the form of the 13,000 Allied warplanes available on D-day; the 10:1 American advantage in artillery ammunition often enjoyed against the Germans; or the ability to design, build and detonate an atomic bomb. What matters is which system can produce the men capable of organizing the shipping, the rail and truck transportation, the stupendous logistical demands of global war.
Germany could not cross the English Channel, which is only 21 miles wide, to invade Britain. The United States projected power across the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Pacific and into Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Power-projection, adaptability, versatility, ingenuity, preponderance -- these are salient characteristics of the U.S. Army in WWII.

6) The U.S. Army in WWII comprised much more than riflemen. It included, for example, the Army Air Forces, which in turn embodied the single greatest military disparity between us and our enemies: the ability to flatten 50 German cities, to firebomb Tokyo, to reduce Hiroshima and Nagasaki to ashes.
Those fleets of airplanes -- a thousand bombers at a time attacking enemy targets -- are perhaps the most vivid emblem of the "arsenal of democracy" that outfitted our military and our allies. The United States built 3.5 million private cars in 1941; for the rest of the war, we built 139. Instead, in 1943 alone, we built 86,000 planes, 45,000 tanks and 648,000 trucks.
All of this gave the U.S. Army a mobility that permitted the rapid movement and concentration of firepower. The German army relied on hundreds of thousands of horses to pull their artillery and to haul supplies.

7) The Army remained under civilian control throughout the war. When the president made the decision to invade North Africa contrary to the advice of virtually all of his military advisers, he signed the order: "Franklin D. Roosevelt, commander in chief." Harry S. Truman, not the military, made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

8) The U.S. Army in WWII was perhaps the greatest agent of social change in the country during the 20th century. This is ironic given the inherent conservatism of the institution.
In 1939, fewer than 4,000 blacks served in the Army. By early 1944, that number exceeded 750,000, and the disparity between the avowed principles for which the nation fought and the stark, hypocritical reality of American life in the 1940s gave impetus and legitimacy to the civil rights movement. Many African Americans endorsed what they called the "Double V" campaign: a righteous struggle for victory over both enemies abroad and racism at home.
Restrictions on combat roles for black troops gradually eased; a group of fighter pilots known as the Tuskeegee airmen demonstrated the inanity of those restrictions, including assertions that black pilots lacked the reflexes to be good fighter pilots. It's hard to imagine Barack Obama elected as president of the United States in 2008 without the accelerated social change of WWII.
The Army in WWII was also an overwhelmingly male institution, and exclusively male in senior leadership roles. But the extraordinary demand for military manpower meant that women were drawn into the national workplace in exceptional numbers; it's hard to put that genie back in the bottle.
The Army was a democratizing institution, too, even though it was and remains relentlessly hierarchical. Of 683 graduates from Princeton University's Class of '42, 84 percent were in uniform by 1945, and those serving as enlisted men included the valedictorian and salutatorian; 25 classmates would die during the war, including 19 killed in combat.

9) The history of the U.S. Army in WWII is among the greatest stories of the 20th century. It ought to be taught and learned as a story, with character, plot, conflict and denouement.
John Updike wrote that WWII was the 20th century's central myth, "a vast imagining of a primal time when good and evil contended for the planet, a tale of Troy whose angles are infinite and whose central figures never fail to amaze us with their size, their theatricality, their sweep."
Two cautionary notes: first, as the British historian Sir Michael Howard warns, military history has "all too often been written to create and embellish a national myth, and to promote deeds of derring-do." Triumphalism is not the point.
Second, we should not view the present and the future through the distorting lens of the past. One residue of WWII is a tendency to narrowly define power in military terms, and to define threats in terms of traditional human enemies bent on doing ill. Climate change and our addiction to foreign oil have the potential to do more damage to American sovereignty and our way of life than anything al-Qaida can pull off.

10) They died for you. We've talked about the WWII Army as both an organism and a machine, an institution that grew stupendously, that demonstrated flexibility and adaptability. But we ought never forget that at the core of this story is suffering. The U.S. military sustained almost 300,000 battle deaths during the war, and about 100,000 others from accidents, disease, suicide. Many of those deaths were horrible, premature and unspeakably sad. One, two, three, snap.
War is a clinic in mass killing, yet there's a miracle of singularity; each death is as unique as a snowflake or a fingerprint. The most critical lesson for every American is to understand, viscerally, that this vast host died one by one by one; to understand in your bones that they died for you.

Rick Atkinson, the author of "The Army at Dawn" and "The Day of Battle," is working on the third volume in his trilogy on the role of the U.S. military in the liberation of Europe in World War II. This article is based on a talk he gave at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia earlier this month ( (C) Copyright Foreign Policy Research Institute 2009
First published on May 24, 2009 at 12:00 am
Read more:

Friday, May 15, 2009

About Letter 63

Today the men finish building floating bridges. Bill complains about not knowing what the army has planned for him and says in frustration "there's a couple of noses I'd sure like to punch." He sends mother a list of food he'd like her to send, but adds "for gosh sakes don't use a lot of ration points to make stuff for me."

Letter 63- January 20, 1944

January 20, 1944
(Camp Abbot, Oregon)

Dear Mother & Dad,

Boy! Does time fly in this bloomin’ army. It seems that the weeks are flying by like rabbits lately. Only 5 more weeks to go including bivouac. I wish the first 6 weeks had gone by like that. Oh well! That’s past history.

This is the damnedest country around here. This morning it was so bitter cold I almost froze in spite of a mountain of clothes, but by afternoon the temperature was up to 70°. It’s the first time I’ve seen warm weather since I left good old California.

Today we finished floating bridges. About all we have left in our course is one 23 mile hike, fixed bridges and rigging—that’s not counting the bivouac which is really not part of our regular basic.
I tried again to see whether or not I could get those pictures for you but they seem pretty damned unconcerned down at the studio. Talking about pictures I’m having a “hellofa” time getting my film. Another thing, I noticed was my camera doesn’t have a spool in it so I won’t be able to reset the films even after I get them.

I sure wish I could find out what my future is in this army. They do everything in such a highhanded manner that it burns me up. When the war’s over and I’ve got my discharge there’s a couple of noses I’d sure like to punch. By the way, you should hear some of the sentiments expressed by the boys around here on how the country’s being regimented. No wonder Roosey doesn’t want the soldiers to vote.

That orange bread sure sounds good. In fact anything you can send—even white bread or a bottle of pickles I’d really appreciate. One kid’s folks even sent him a loaf of rye bread and a little jar of peanut butter. Don’t bother to go to a lot of trouble to get candy, however. That situation is much improved and now I can probably get it easier than you. And for gosh sakes don’t you use a lot of ration points to make stuff for me.

I’ll write again for sure tomorrow night. We’ve got Guard Duty and can’t leave the Company area.

All my love,

About Letter 62

Bill finally receives his long awaited bracelet. The men protest getting a steady diet of cold cut from the mess by eating at the Service Club. Bill tells "Mudder" that he would send her a couple of poems making the rounds of Camp Abbot, but "I won't dirty up the mail."

Letter 62- January 16, 1944

January 16, 1944
(Camp Abbot, Oregon)

Dear Mudder and Dad,

Well, here it is Sunday again and I’m all excited about the bracelet. I really should get it today if it was supposed to be here by Friday or yesterday. Of course, one must take into consideration the damned way in which the lousy Post Office here works.

I damned near laughed myself to death when I read about the Higgenses in your letter, Mother. Isn’t it just like those knotheads. When I got to the part where she said maybe the good Lord would reach down and get them all I nearly had a fit. I can just see the old gal.

Well, we finally got the best of that bunch of bums in the kitchen today and are we happy. You know we’ve been getting cold cuts and damn near nothing (else) for the last couple of weeks. Well, today some fellows took some milk off an empty table so they’d have enough for cereal and coffee. The head cook got all burned up and said we’d have to eat out of our mess kits at dinner, so we just went to the Service Club for our meal. The Cap’t., who’s a really swell fellow heard about it and sent for a couple of men to go down and explain the situation to him. After that he gave the kitchen staff hell so maybe now we’ll get some decent food.

I liked your poem very much, Mudder. We’ve some here in camp that are pretty popular too but I won’t dirty up the mail. I’ll finish this later.

Well, it’s later now—a whole lot later—a whole day later. You probably think I’m a “hellava” pill, and I don’t blame you a bit if you do. When I was working like a dog and had hardly a minute to myself I still managed to write but now that I’ve got plenty of time I don’t.

Today the bracelet arrived. It’s really the nicest one I’ve ever seen. I’m so proud of it I’m about ready to burst my buttons. I showed it to my lootenent a little while ago and he just turned green with envy. I’ve still got the 45 bucks in the company safe but have been unable to get to the Post Office with it due to the funny hours the jernt has.

Bestus love,

P.S. Ain’t that a hellova way to end a letter.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

About Letter 61

Bill is off K.P. and he writes a short letter home announcing that his last day of training will be February 26, 1944 at which time he will transfer to the "Casual Company" to await further assignment. He tells "Mudder" he longs for home cooking, but says "Puleeze No Lamb" which he says they get "about 8 or 9 times a week."

Letter 61- January 13, 1944

January 13, 1944
(Camp Abbot, Oregon)

Dear Mudder and Dad,

I just got off K.P. a few minutes ago, and when I dragged myself into the barracks I found your letter of Jan. 9, Mudder. I really didn’t feel like writing but seeing how I’ve been shirking my writing lately I thought I’d better get at it. I’ve been getting mail as regularly as clockwork again now for several days. It’s been a lot better that way.

You were wondering when my basic would be up. I thought I’d already told you but evidently I didn’t. The last day of training is Feb. 26. After that we go to the “Casual Company” where we go on detail for an indefinite time—anytime from three days to three weeks.

They moved me out of headquarters barracks to the first platoon barracks just so everyone would be in the same place. That’s all.

Those meals you mentioned, Mudder, about the hamburgers and fried potatoes—rabbit, squash and moulded salad made my stomach do flip flops. I hardly remember what good food tastes like anymore—and one thing more when I get home, please! Puleeze! No lamb. I don’t think I could stand it. I bet we have lamb or goat as we call it about 8 or 9 times a week.

I got quite a laugh out of the “Sentinel” you sent—especially the protest over having to stay after school 45 minutes on Thursdays. The student in righteous indignation demanding his rights—when I read that I’d been working like a slave, for 16 hours straight. It’s funny how ones point of view can change in a few months. Last year I would have been just as sore about losing a little of my free time, but now I’m glad and thankful if I can get just 5 minutes to myself.

Bestus Love,

Saturday, May 9, 2009

About Letter 60

It's "lights out" at Camp Abbot, so Bill writes "just a note" from the latrine. He has a 17 hour shift on K.P. scheduled for tomorrow and does not expect to have time to write.

Letter 60- January 12, 1944

January 12, 1944
(Camp Abbot, Oregon)

Dear Folks,
I planned to write you a long letter and tell you how thrilled I am over the swell bracelet you’re sending me, but as usual I got involved in a bull session and now it’s past “lights out” and I’m writing just a note from the latrine. I sure am excited, however, about it. I bet it will really be beautiful. I think the way you’re having it engraved is much nicer than my idea.

I’ve got the $45 in the company safe and have been intending to send it home for a week now, but I’ve never been able to get to the post office. The damn place is hardly ever open.

Well, tomorrow I’ve got K.P. again so I won’t be able to write, probably seeing as I’ll be at work from 5:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. (GROAN) Let’s not think anymore about that gruesome thing.

There’s a lot of things I should tell you now and a number of questions that I should answer but I’ll be damned if I can think of what they are.

Good night and best love,

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

About Letter 59

The A.S.T.P program is cancelled leaving Bill in limbo. The men start bridge building and climb an embarkation tower built on pontons in the middle of the Deschutes River. It's cold, "down to 0 degrees in the mornings", but this doesn't stop Bill from buying ice cream at the P.X.

Letter 59- January 10, 1944

January 10, 1944
(Camp Abbot, Oregon)

Dear Folks,
This’ll be a surprise to you—2 letters in two days. Maybe I’m getting back into the old routine. Anyway there was no good show tonight. Oh! Oh! Shouldn’t have said that that.

Today we went out for bridge building the first time. We learned the ground work for building a 25 ton ponton bridge. The work is pretty interesting, but I’m afraid I’ll never be any great shakes as a pick and shovel man. I ain’t got the talent.

After we did the bridge building we tried out the new embarkation tower. It’s set on pontons and looks exactly like a section of a ship with debarkation nets hung over the sides. We come up in assault boats and then climb up the nets about 3o feet to the deck. Then we climb down the other side into another boat which carries us to shore. All the time this is going on a speed-boat rushes around stirring up waves which rock the whole works violently. We went over it twice—once without equipment and once with rifle, pack and gas masks. I’m all bumps and bruises.

How did you like the picture. Lousy, huh? It was the only one that came out at all. At least I think that I look better than anyone else in the damn thing.

Well, A.S.T.P. is a thing of the past. Why I couldn’t get anywhere with it is “poifectly” clear. Yesterday night they posted a notice that stated that no more A.S.T.P. applications would be accepted in this camp and that those already appointed would have their A.S.T.P. cancelled—period. Ain’t it the craps.

My cold has completely broken although the temperature hangs around 20° even in the afternoon and is down to 0° in the mornings. We’re getting to the point where we walk around in shirt sleeves if the temperature gets above 10°--no foolin’.

I’m getting hungry. I think I’ll go over to the P.X. and get some ice cream.

Auf Wiedersehen

Friday, May 1, 2009

About Letter 58

Bill is in an upbeat mood. His nagging cold is finally gone and lately he's been "splurging and having a great time going to shows and eating at the Service Club." Even the training is fun. Bill gets a chance to fire a variety of special weapons and draws an amusing sketch of the action.

Letter 58- January 9, 1944

January 9, 1944
(Camp Abbot, Oregon)

Dear Mother and Dad,

You’re probably wondering right now why I’ve been so lax in my writing of late. I’ve had plenty of time so there’s no excuse I can give except that I’ve been having such a good time lately that I haven’t given it as much thought as I should. I’m not kidding. I’m really beginning to enjoy army life. Much of it is as disgusting as ever but since my cold has gone away and the work let down it’s been pretty good. As you said in your latest letter, Dad, I’m getting Esprit de Corps. In spite of my dislike for the “old army life” I can’t help but be proud of this Corps. No matter what anyone says the Combat Engineers is a slick outfit. We have to fight better than the infantry and have to build and destroy better than the Construction Engineers. We don’t think very highly of ourselves do we? Oh well, who will if we don’t?

This afternoon we had a broadcast from Camp Abbot. Right now I’m holding my nose. The only thing that saved the show was the Camp Abbot band which is damned good for a military band. They can make symphony music sound as if it isn’t being played by a band.

Last Friday we fired special weapons. That was really fun. I shot that new .30 carbine, the Thompson .45 cal. submachine gun, the .50 cal. light machine gun. Light they call it—128 lbs. The damn thing is really a small automatic cannon. That carbine and Thompson sub are really honeys, however.

Contrary to all belief none of those guns kick--not the least bit. They jump up but not back.

Lately as I as I said before I’ve been splurging and having a great time—going to shows—eating at the Service Club—and generally enjoying myself. Oh boy! This letter really differs from some of the old ones, huh?

One of the fellows that bunks near me is teaching all about stonecutting and gems. It’s really interesting. Also I’m having a swell time with those language books. At last I’m learning something of value in this army.

Bestus Love,

(sketches of Bill shooting various weapons described here)