In 1943, just a month after his 19th birthday, Dad boarded a train to “somewhere” with a toothbrush and a change of underwear. He had joined the army. In one of his first letters home, I discover both his early sense of humor and his sheltered naiveté:
“To begin with we rode on a Boston and Maine day coach that saw its prime 75 years ago. Nothing but the best for the army, you know. However, the other cars were all more modern and it was better than walking. Leaving Mass., we hit the corner of Vermont, then thru New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, then Texas. I might have missed one or two states, but it doesn’t matter. We hit snow in every state except Texas, which I think is God’s country. (It might be a little of the devil’s too, for it is so hot down here!) We passed under the Appalachian Mts. by way of the Hoosac tunnel, and crossed the Mississippi river. After viewing the country all the way down here, except for Texas, I was thankful that I lived in Massachusetts, for you don’t realize the poverty that most of the people live in. Most all shacks we passed were inhabited by colored people, and a few whites. Yet they seemed to be happy and waved to us as we passed by.”
The train’s destination: Camp Swift, Texas. He describes his new daily routine:
“We get up at 6:30; fall out for revile at 6:45, and eat at 7:00. About 7:30 we fall out again and have about an hour of physical exercise, and I do mean exercise. We do all kinds of body bends and twists. Then we form in a circle, walk then run, then do all kinds of torture movements such as squatting down and walking, or walking on our hands and toes. After this we have classes on various things such as courtesy and customs, motors, hygiene, the artillery guns, and other army methods. We eat dinner at 12:00. After dinner we usually have a few more classes, or a training film on different things. Then we usually go for a little walk about 4:00. It’s not so easy to keep step marching in sand. Monday, we did a bit of wood marching. First of all we had to leap across a pretty wide ditch. I didn’t realize it was so deep or wide until I was half way over. I made it all right but some fellows just aren’t jumpers. Poor fellows! Then we do double time running up and down hills, over rocks, and over a log, which is a bridge over a ditch. After going through that I think I’ll give up cigarettes. Boy! was I winded.”
Torture movements! I know Dad played tennis back in his high school days . . . I’ll have to ask if that was the extent of his physical activity before his army days. At least he wasn’t one of the “poor fellows” who couldn’t jump; perhaps he should have played basketball!
I suddenly realize how difficult it will be to find the focus of this memoir writing. So many letters, so much information, so much still to ask . . .