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Gerald R. Rees Papers: Transcripts - MS 1007
April 1st, 1944
This problem is turning out very easy. Instead of walking around looking for the enemy we just dug fox holes and waited for them to come to us. So I have slept most of the day. Your letter and Johnnie's came this noon and I have written to him already; it was good to hear from him. Everyone else seems to have decided that I was lost and gone forever when I left N.Y. because I haven't heard from anyone since then. if it weren't for you I would be mail-less, and that's bad.
Actually I've written more letters down here than I did at N.Y., because although the work is hard there are a lot of periods of waiting while the officers decide what to do next, and there's nothing to do but sleep and write.
There is quite an art to digging a fox hole, I find. Ordinarily when you dig a hole, the sides slope in, but in a fox hole they have to be perfectly straight, so the bottom is as large as the top. The last couple of feet are pretty tough, because there is hardly room to swing the shovel. One fellow here is an expert-he was a professional well-digger before he came in the army.
Your Sundays sound pretty lonely lately with Pop working all day. I'd like the chance to read "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." Our Brooklyn boys at school took a lot of ribbing about it.
This place is thick with mosquitos, but their bite doesn't itch very much. We have to put up netting in our pup tents every night, so that keeps them off pretty good. Although the days are very hot here, sometimes we wake up and find frost on the tents in the morning, and it's really hard to roll out of those blankets.
How much does it cost to have the Blade mailed for one month? it would be good to see the Toledo paper again, and I could mail them the money. Haven't seen a paper for three weeks-is anything exciting happening?
I'm writing this by firelight somewhere in the wilds of Texas or Louisiana-I don't know which. Our division is on maneuvers and moves around so we don't know where we are. We're due to be back in a garrison somewhere in a couple of weeks; in the meantime, sleeping on the ground, no baths, etc.
The rest of them have been out for two months already, and will be plenty glad to get back. The division has been formed since last April, so the fellows haven't been in much longer than I have, but they are a little more used to living in the field than we are. Some of my former A.S.T. buddies are pretty unhappy about going into the infantry; I should be, I guess, but can't seem to get very worked up about it. With a war going on and me physically able, it would be foolish to expect to stay out of it. At least I won't be lugging a rifle on the front line; I am in a mortar squad. A mortar is a large gun which throws a 81 mm (3 inch) shell about a mile. All I got to do is carry the shell.
The trip down was one of strange contrasts. Coming across Canada, the trees and ground were covered with ice and it was extremely cold. Along about Kansas City it began to be warmer, and here it is late spring. The trees are all out, wheat is coming up, dogwood and wisteria all over the place. The traditional Spanish moss is here, but I think it's very ugly. There are lots of very long-needled evergreens which are all right. Yesterday we crossed the Sabine River by pontoon bridge, so I guess we are actually in Texas, right next to the border. Most long moves are by truck and jeep, although we'll do a fair amount of hiking.
The mail always follows us from this same address, so be sure and write, even though sometimes it will be pretty hard for me to write, till we get to civilization again.
The nights are pretty chilly, and this fire feels good. it seems funny to be sleeping in a pup tent again. Ready to hit the hay now.
This has to be brief; I don't know anything about what's going on, but I'm leaving the 75th as of now. Don't send any more mail here; there are just a few of us ex-A.S.T.'s leaving the company this afternoon. Some of them have been told where they're going-some back to their old outfit, some to new ones, but not infantry.
I just got your Friday letter, and think it's pretty swell how I get mail from you always just before I ship someplace; it makes me feel a lot better about it. Sorry to miss that Easter pkg.!
Maybe this'll go airmail-anyhow I had the stamp and will use it.
April 6, 1944
Things are taking shape a little better now; I can't say where I'm going just now, but it's not the infantry, and it sounds pretty good so far. Right now there are a bunch of us-about twenty-tented in a field just outside of Camp Polk, doing absolutely nothing while we wait to be shipped out. Every now and then a Lt. Colonel comes out and asks if we need anything, but otherwise we are ignored. We eat at a field kitchen down the road. Almost all of the division has left for Kentucky, so they don't much care what happens to us. We get up about 9 A.M., loaf around till noon, eat, take a shower at a portable bath unit down the road-my first bath in three weeks-and then loaf till suppertime. After the work we've been through lately this is heaven. That was a good experience but I wouldn't want it again.
Hereafter I'm never going to say where I think I'm going next; I've learned by lesson. Ever since we have been here they've been telling us there was no chance at all of getting out of the infantry, so we might as well learn to like it. So that's what I was trying to do, when all of a sudden they said "Rees, pile all your equipment together and get up here to headquarters, you're shipping out." The other A.S.T. fellows were looking on enviously-it was quite a sensation. I'll be a bit further away from home than Kentucky would have been, but the division isn't going to stay there long, anyhow.
Hope you all have, or had, a pleasant Easter and wish I could have been there, but that's asking too much.
Are Jane and Jim McGee still in Dallas? Hope so.
United States Army
I am now officially in a Field Artillery Observation Battalion, whatever that is. I haven't been assigned to any unit in the bn. yet, so the mailing address isn't complete. Tomorrow we will be classified and placed in some specific job. I don't want to be overly optimistic, but I think this is a very good break. The idea seems to be to observe enemy artillery by its sound and the flash it makes, and plot its position so our artillery can wipe it out. Every man in the outfit will be a specialist of some kind-surveyor, map-maker, radio man, meteorologist, etc. That's why I think it's such a good break, because everyone here except the fifteen of us from Louisiana is coming straight from reception center. They will have to take their basic training and learn their jobs from the beginning, and look up to us as old veterans. If I can't get a stripe or two on my sleeve there's something radically wrong. Since so much of the work involves trigonometry and surveying, I think it will be darned interesting. The best thing is that we are completely motorized-no more heavy packs and long hikes, except probably a few here to keep us in condition. The new recruits will get a 13-week basic, during which I don't think I'll have to work very hard.
Camp Bowie is a fine camp; better than the others I've seen. It is right on the edge of town-Brownwood, pop. 20,000-and we don't even need passes to go into town. There is a lake and summer resort on the edge of town, they say. We are about 80 miles south of Barkeley, 147 miles from Ft. Worth. Living in a camp again after maneuvers seems like heaven-I couldn't sleep very good last night because the bed was so soft. We left the maneuver area Friday noon and stopped at Shreveport for several hours, so I went to the Y.M.C.A and got cleaned up. There was a Baptist church right across the street and services were just starting, so I went in. We dignified and proper Northern Baptists should sit in on a good old southern service now and then; it would do us good. They really go to town. it was a large and fairly rich-looking church, but it seemed like a revival meeting, although it was just a regular Good Friday service. Shreveport is a beautiful town, and very friendly. We went through Dallas and Ft. Worth, but didn't have much time there.
We're just waiting in our barracks for something to happen; there's nothing to do, but we couldn't leave. It's the first Easter I've missed going to church in a long time, I guess. The weather is as near perfect as I've seen it in Texas. It won't start getting too hot till June. We start wearing khakis next week, which will end the cleaning and pressing problem.
Letters to this address will reach me all right, although there will be more to it later. I'll be glad to have mail coming in again-and maybe that Easter box you mentioned.
United States Army
Apr. 11, 1944
They have finally assigned us so I have my full mailing address. They gave us a lot more consideration than we expected; I even had an interview by the colonel who commands the battalion, and he's a swell guy. He said that the army must have slipped up when they sent me here. Most of the A.S.T.'s were sent to places completely unrelated to anything they had studied. I am in a surveying squad and can use all of the stuff I learned in school. The others have to start from scratch, so I'll have it pretty easy for a while. There are no stripes handed out during their basic training, but just wait! After all this shifting around-medics to A.S.T. to infantry, I have finally hit something that looks like a fairly permanent and interesting job. The atmosphere and general attitude is completely different here from any army outfit I've seen. The reason is that the average age in the battalion is 34, and 90% are married and have children. They are farmers, storekeepers, salesmen-entirely bewildered and a little resentful about having to leave their families. They aren't nearly as willing or able to learn all the new things that a recruit has to learn, and I begin to see why they say that the average age in the army is much too high. It will be a long time, if ever, before these fellows go overseas. Probably when they finish training, they will stay here as instructors and the younger ones will go across as replacements.
This kind of unit is called the eyes and ears of the artillery. There are instruments for determining how much the wind and air pressure will effect the flight of the shells; there are 120 miles of telephone wire for communications between units; there are seismographs which tell how far away enemy guns are by the earth vibrations. My end of it is in measuring angles and distances and plotting positions on the maps so they can tell where to aim their guns. Artillary is generally well behind the front lines, which is a comforting thought. All in all, it seems like a good thing to be in.
We are right across the street from the P.X. and a block from a theatre and a fine service club, and a few minutes' bus ride from Brownwood, so I'd call it an ideal setup. After the strict hours of A.S.T. this seems like a picnic. I'm writing to the extension bureau at the U. of Michigan tonight to see about taking some correspondence courses in the subjects I might need after the war. The army has an arrangement whereby they pay half the cost, and give full college credit for the work.
Now that I have an address I've got a lot of people to write to, and that's going to be a tedious job. Better start now.
Btry = Battery; same as a company in the rest of the army, but called a battery in the artillery.
FA = Field Artillary
Obsn. Bn = Observation Battalion.
United States Army
Sunday, Apr. 16 '44
I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that your letter was postmarked 5:30 P.M. the 14th and reached me at 5:30 P.M. the 15th. Either a mistake on the postmark or it just caught a plane. That's as fast as a telegram. Some of your letters to Louisiana also came yesterday, and the whole thing made me a lot happier than I had been with no mail coming in.
Your paragraphs describing spring and about Johnny & Jennie Wren, etc. was a fine piece of writing. You should go in the business. That pie-plant makes my mouth water, too. Down here the ground is covered with blue-bonnets, but there's nothing special about them. The weather is perfect though. This morning I went into Brownwood to church. I got there a little early, so wandered around the town. Of all the Texas towns I've been in, this is the only one I have a real desire to live in. It's a beautiful place. Lot's of trees, and homes that would do Ottawa Hills credit. The business section can be walked around in ten minutes, and from a week-ending soldier's viewpoint there is nothing spectacular, but it's just a good, medium sized town. There is a Baptist college here that I never heard of-Howard Payne College-and a lot of fine churches. The Baptist service was evangelistic, as all Southern Baptist services seem to be, but the choir is all right and it's a fairly friendly place. After church and dinner I boarded a bus for Lake Brownwood, where I am now. It is about 45 minutes on a very rickety bus, and I doubt if I'll come often. There is a nice park and boats for rent, but now beach-mostly rocks like at Marblehead. I was hoping for a sandy bathing beach. The lake is the size of some in Michigan-Wampler's, etc.
We are off from noon Saturday till 11:00 P.M. Sunday, and evenings, so it seems like loafing after A.S.T.P. I may get to go to Dallas or Mingus-don't know for sure. Be sure and keep me posted on Jane & Jim's activities. Part of the stuff they are teaching the recruits is also new to me, so I have to go to some of the classes and drill a little. The rest of the time I tinker around the motor area, washing and painting jeeps and trucks. Pretty soon we'll start the technical part of the training and it will be a little more interesting.
I have a hard time keeping track of people. Last I heard, Fred and Margeret Jean were heading for Camp Barkeley. Now you say they are in Indiana, heading f or Kentucky. And Rees Klop is in Hawaii-small world, isn't it?
News of Bernie Mast being missing in Italy was a shock to me. I didn't know he was in the service at all. He's the one who got me into the operas in Cleveland-remember?
Congrats to Pop on his sparkler. It must be pretty nice to sport a diamond on his lapel.
That folder with a picture of you and Pop would be the best thing you could ever send me. I wish you weren't so quick to decide that a picture is no good-let me decide-maybe I'd like it. Those pictures of Jack that the photographers made must be cute. He seems to be a photogenic kid. By the way, I see that Eleanor finally got Jack's furniture finished. But where is she going to put it? Maybe my room could become a nursery.
You asked about the Ashland news letter-I haven't had one since Christmas. Thought Anderson was going to be drafted. Maybe this new ruling affects him, about not drafting anyone over 26. It should remove any doubt about Reyn, too, shouldn't it? Speaking of peeling potatoes for a church dinner last week reminds me that I have escaped K.P. for six months now, which is pretty good for a buck private. We'll get it here, though.
Thanks for the very good letter; may your ink, paper, and eyesight hold out for more of them.
United States Army
April 19, 1944
The first sergeant had good news for me today. Next week-April 27th-I'm going to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, for a 30-day surveying course. That will get me out of part of this business of repeating basic training, and when I get back I'll be in line for a good job here in the battery. It is supposed to be a stiff course for someone starting from scratch, but the work at C.C. N.Y. should help out considerably. According to the map, Ft. Sill is only about 70 miles from Altus, so I've asked for a 3-day extension on my shipping orders, but doubt if I'll get it. Also will be 105 miles from Oklahoma City, but that probably won't do me any good. You might send me the addresses of any relatives that might have drifted into Oklahoma, though, just in case.
Hope you got the letter I wrote Sunday. I mailed it in an out-of-the-way box which they may not even open very often. The last couple of nights they have been showing training films which we have to attend, so I haven't done much letter writing.
It's a good thing they didn't leave me in the infantry. Today we practiced sighting and aiming the carbine, a sort of half-sized rifle which artillarymen carry, and I find I can't even see the bulls-eye with my right eye. So now I'll have to learn to shoot left-handed.
A fellow here in the hut from Toledo was telling me about a small edition of the Blade for servicemen. Do you know anything about it? Maybe they'd send it to me.
Can't think of anything important-or unimportant-to say, so good night.
United States Army
Just received my first Blade tonight, and thought I'd let you know. Thanks very much for taking the trouble, and let me know how much they want, so I can reimburse you when the pay situation gets straightened out-probably the tenth of next month. Don't worry about the change of address next week; I'll write to them as soon as I get to Ft. Sill. Anyhow, it's only for about four weeks.
Today I heard from Lee, and he says Ft. Sill is only 45 miles from Altus, and he can come over some Sunday. Pretty good, huh?
This Texas sun is really potent, even in April. My nose has peeled three times, and my face is about the color of the bricks in the walls of Fulton School. Speaking of Fulton, how is Miss Godfrey? And Mrs. Gunn, Mrs. Holley, etc., etc.?
Tues., April 25 
The cookies you sent came this noon in good condition. A few toll-houses broke, but the good thing about that is that even the crumbs are delicious. Most of the time they don't serve dessert, so it's good to have some cookies around.
The battery commander said it would be all right to report back from Ft. Sill three days late, but I'm going to see what kind of condition Lee's in before I say anything about it. Maybe I could go up to Oklahoma City for a while, or something. I suspect that Lee and Anita are in pretty limited quarters and may not welcome protracted visits.
This time through basic training I'm learning some of the army red tape pretty thoroughly-from necessity rather than choice. Quite often I have to take charge of a platoon for drill or something, and I find it's a lot different to be out in front giving the orders than it is to stand in ranks and carry them out. It's a good cure for stage-fright, the consolation being that if I foozle it up the rookies won't know the difference anyhow.
Fort Worth Service Men's Centers
Welcome Service Men
A little gaudy, huh?
April 29, 1944
Whenever we stop over in a station with a service men's center and free stationery, I get the urge to write a letter. We'll be here a couple of hours before heading for Ft. Sill.
We had a good break last night. There was a Pullman troop sleeper waiting on a siding for us at Brownwood; all we had to do was climb aboard and go to sleep, although the train wasn't due for another hour. It finally left at about 1:00 A.M. but I was dead to the world. On a short trip like this, sleepers are very unusual. We had a fine breakfast at a restaurant here in Ft. Worth. These troop sleepers are really the berries. Built along the lines of a box car, but they are very comfortable and roomier than a regular Pullman. The beds are three high, and cross-ways instead of along the sides of the car; somewhat like an English coach, with the aisle down one side. There was even a porter to make up the beds.
We cruised about Ft. Worth after breakfast for a while; discovered an ultra-modern City Hall, a new library just like Toledo's, several good stores.
The slight change in title in front of my name is worth four bucks a month, and, I hope, will lead to better things to come. My bugling must have impressed the captain; there were very few stripes handed out this month.
Your letter came Thursday; I don't have it handy, so I'll answer it in full later. Thanx for the airmail stamp; I'll use it when I arrive at Sill.
Field Artillery School
Fort Sill, Oklahoma
Sat., April 29 
This letter coming air-mail will probably beat the one I mailed at Ft. worth, so the sequence won't make sense, but just disregard it.
The mess of abbreviations in the return address stands for Enlisted Survey Class #12, 4th Battalion, Student Regiment. There are a lot of schools all groups together in this part of camp, plus the Artillery Officer Candidate School. So this is more or less the center of the Artillery branch of the army. Ft. Sill is an old, permanent camp like Camp Perry, only about ten times as big, with a lot of new additions. The buildings are very nice and there are quite a few trees and shrubs around.
Coming across southern Oklahoma today we saw quite a few Indians in blankets just like the pictures. This seems to be in the middle of the Indian territory.
Camp Bowie officially changed to summer uniforms two weeks ago, so we left all our winter clothes there. But when we got off the train everyone had on woolens, so we are very much out of uniform. There's nothing much they can do about it, though
I've been counting up, and this is my ninth move in eleven months. So you were right about me being hard to keep track of. Maybe after June 1st I'll stay at Bowie for a while. I hope so.
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