Betwee April 4th and 8th of 1943, Dad experienced his first gas mask drills. The first came after some tragic news of an Engineering Lieutenant and several of his men who were killed when a faulty fuse failed to trigger at the right moment.
“The other night I was tired and went to bed early. Some of the fellows came back from the P.X. [post exchange…the army equivalent of a department store] crying and laughing at the same time. Somebody either planned or accidentally dropped a case of tear gas. Immediately the alarm was given to put on our masks. In my first experience with gas, where was I but in bed, reading a magazine with my gas mask on.”
I want to know what magazine he was reading! The second drill came after receiving the results of his IQ test; he explains that “If you get 110 you qualify for Officers candidate school,” and he earned a 122/150. “When we got back we were told to prepare for a tornado. We had to wear gas masks, rain coats and helmets.” Fortunately, the tornado did not manifest, and the drill was called off. I wonder how the masks would have helped had the storm struck!
In these letters I start to sense that this young soldier may be a bit of a perfectionist. After apologizing for the quality of his writing, “(This penmanship is very poor as I am writing in bed),” he makes a generous offer to his younger sister…but with conditions! “Tell Kay that if she gets the urge to play tennis, she can use my racket; but make sure she loans it to no one and always puts it in the press when not in use.” I wonder how this proclivity will affect his behavior as his time in the army passes. I recognize hints of this trait in my oldest son, now the age my Dad would have been.
Dad wraps up these letters with a true sign of the times: “Three out of six barracks in the company are quarantined on account of measles & mumps. Never a dull moment here,” and then throws in the bit of humor that I will continue to search out in his messages home. “They say you have to eat a ton of dirt before you die. I’m well on my way to my last few pounds.”