Tag Archives: Texas

March 5, 1943 . . . to Texas!

Dear Folks,

Well I’ve finally been shipped out way down here deep in the heart of Texas. We left Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 P.M. and arrived here this morning at 10:00 A.M., with a swell military reception. About 500 boys came down with me, and the shipment was claimed to be the largest out of Ft. Devens. There’s so much to tell that I’ll probably have to wait until after the war to tell you; but I’ll do my best now.

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.

Among some of the things of interest we saw were the oil wells of Oklahoma; also the biggest factory I’ve ever seen, later found out to be a Douglas aircraft plant; also oil refineries, brick kilns, miles and miles of flat land, and finally real cactus.

Camp Swift is one of the newest army camps in the country and is very nice. It is a camp for specialists and practically everyone is a sergeant or a commissioned officer. We’re the second group in here and pretty near all of us will have stripes (arm stripes) shortly. We were started on our basic training, that is, some of the most important commands.

I guess I’ll turn in now and continue tomorrow, March 6, 1943.  Here’s my new address. This is permanent, so please write as I am anxious to hear the news from back home.

Pvt. C.M. Bernier U.S.A.

A. Battery, 922 F.A. Btn.

A.P.O. 445

Camp Swift, Texas

The F.A. stands for Field Artillery, the Btn. stands for Battalion, the A.P.O. stands for Army Post Office

I don’t know why I didn’t make the Signal Corps, but I’ll do my best here. The Field Artillery are the boys who man the big guns behind the lines. I will probably be assigned to a gun crew but I’ll have to wait to find out.

I just got back from supper, and had some ice water. What a treat that is! I’d give a dollar for a quart of Boston water. Down here it’s awfully flat and you don’t seem to satisfy your thirst.

By the way, please send me my Polaroid sun glasses, my ring if you have it, an extra bath towel, and about ten coat hangers. Try and send them as soon as you can. Tell all the fellows my address, and that I’ll write as soon as I get enough to tell about.

We’re confined to our barracks for two weeks, because of measles, colds, etc. They do this to every new group in camp. Of course that doesn’t apply to us while we’re training.

If there’s any news you’d like to know ask me in your letter and I’ll answer them. I guess I’ll sign off now with love, because I miss you all.

Murray.

Flowers for Mother

I try to imagine the changing expression on the face of this young man as he enters the dance hall in May of ’43:

“We finally had our dance Friday nite and although it was nice, it wasn’t quite as nice as I had expected it to be. At any rate it was nice to get out of camp . . . The girls were nice but kind of old for us young squirts. It seems that the young girls are either away at school or are employed in defense work.”

Looking for love. I wonder how old is “kind of old.” Cougars? I shudder.

For his next letter, he clearly went out of his way to find something special for Mother’s Day. 

“Here’s a few more flowers for you on Mother’s Day. I hope you had a nice one. I said some extra prayers for you at Mass this morning. We went to Austin over the weekend and it was the first time I’ve been in a civilian church since leaving home. It was small but nice and reminded me a little of home.”   Touches of homesickness become a common thread. The frequency of his letter writing–often daily–reminds me of my own daily Facebook time. I, too, feel a longing to be . . . to stay connected with the people who mean the most to me.

Boston boy in for an eye-opener

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 . . .