Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Letter 67- January 28, 1944

January 28, 1944
(Camp Abbot, Oregon)

Dear Mother & Dad,
Well this is the letter I promised last night, but here I am late again. I told you I had something interesting to tell you. It’s something I’ve wanted to tell you for the last 13 weeks but haven’t because I knew it would worry you unnecessarily. Yesterday I went under machine gun fire for the fourth time since I’ve been in Camp Abbot. Yesterday it was the Blitz Course, our worst and last live ammunition run. We had to crawl about 75 yards across snow and ice and under barbed wire with .30 cal. machine gun bullets humming overhead and land mines blowing up all around us—very distracting. I wasn’t afraid going through the course but we were all pretty pensive while waiting to start. It teaches one a “hellova” lot even when the military end of it is not considered. The other courses were not as bad since the fire was about 8 feet above the ground. However, the explosive charges were so big at times that they’d damn near knock one down. But it’s all over now, thank God.

Today we went on our 23 mile hike, Oh groan!!—four miles per hour (Engineer cadence-the Infantry marches from 2 ½ to 3 m.p.h.) I thought I was getting tough but that changed my mind. I guess I’m still just a human being after all—not a superman yet. I feel paralyzed from the hips down. All we had to eat was “C” rations—cold of course. A “C” ration is a corny version of a “K” ration (Phooey on ‘em both).
I don’t want to close so abruptly but the fellow below me is pretty sick from the hike and is asking for me to turn out the light. No interesting news anyway.

Best Love,

P.S. Have put in for bivouac clothing and equipment.


  1. I didn't think C rations were so bad. Back in the 50s, Dad brought home C rations from the National Guard summer camp. The food was left over from World War II ("Lucky Strike green has gone to war"). In addition to a tin of beef stew or beany-weenie they had crackers and jam and a chocolate bar. Even Chicklets.

  2. We had rations just like that in the Guard 20 years later. Some things never change.

  3. You only had to dig through the top half inch layer of grease to get to the meat....

  4. I've never eaten a C ration so I do not have an informed opinion about them. I hope that Bill will develop a taste for them because he will be spending 175 consecutive days on the battle lines of France and Germany, much of the time in foxholes. I imagine that C rations are the standard fare there.

  5. The photo of the Blitz course was scanned directly from the Camp Abbot Panoram. I think the photo of the course with the men crawling through while the explosions are going off is quite dramatic, but the photo of Col. Besson, the Camp Commander crawling through it, while smoking his pipe is laughable. I wonder what the recruits had to say about that photo.

  6. The infiltration course with the exploding shell holes and the machine guns remained a fixture of Army basic training through the 1960s. I remember waiting in a trench for the machine guns to begin firing. Then we were commanded to go over the top. We crawled on our bellies with the rifle muzzles cradled in the crooks of our elbows. We had to be careful not to get too close to the fenced-off shell holes where the explosions went off lest you get a face full of dirt or damage your hearing.

    When we got to the machine guns, set up on permanent platforms, we got to your feet, fixed bayonets (ROTC cadets were not issued bayonets) and then engaged a wood wall with bayonet drill (butt stroke, thrust, parry).

    All I remember was being exhausted from the crawl.

  7. Greg: I recommend Rich Atkinson's books on the U.S. Army in World War II. The first in the series is An Army At Dawn covering the Africa campaign. Then he wrote Day Of Battle about Italy. He is currently at work on the third volume of his liberation trilogy. Considering the density of coverage of the first two, the third one should be 1,000 pages or more.

    Atkinson does a good job taking apart U.S. Army leadership and doctrines which should illuminate Bill's experiences.

    Stephen Ambrose also does a good job although he earned a lot of criticism later for running a history company and not doing the research himself. He had students and assistants collect information. The result was some distance from the quality of his work and some errors fell into the text. But there is a lot of good info there.

  8. After reading Atkinson's "10 Things Every American Should Know About WWII" I definitely want to read his work. I am scheduled for cataract surgery in 2 weeks and I have quite a reading backlog due to my impaired vision. With my "new and improved" vision I should eat into the backlog and also increase the pace of my blog postings.


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