November 17, 1942
Camp Grant, Illinois
Dear Aunty Clara:
This may be the last letter for a few days as I already told you over the phone.
Since I am leaving Camp Grant, I guess any conversation about it becomes past tense and not as interesting anymore. There is one more thing I can say in regard to the food. They have continued to serve up appetizing dishes and a lot of them. For instance, today we had spaghetti with meatball meat (not in the shape of meatballs, but broken up), sugar coated longjohns, and lemon meringue without the pie. Also apple slices. So you see I could ask for no better food at anytime.
Now about today's activities. We have finally lost individualities and are being treated as masses of soldiers. We got our first drill session. We have the usual kind of sergeant (acts tough but isn't). We learned how to execute such maneuvers as right face, left face, about face, dress right and give the hand salute. Now here comes a strange part which at first I was unable to explain then but now can. Right there on the drill field, facing the sergeant and with about 80 people around me --- I was seized with a fit of nostalgia (home sickness if you don't know, but I think you do). My philosophy of living each day and each minute as it comes failed me with the result that it was all I could do to keep back the flood of tears (!) which kept welling up in my eyes. I couldn't understand it. I was happy, had no worries, you were now taken care of in event of my death, and after all "life is just a passing thing and so insignificant" that I shouldn't have any reason to be homesick.
A while later, the full realization had occurred to me as to what happened. We were all dressed alike (in our fatigues), we could see Rockford (thus emphasizing our limited area, and we were being given orders, bawled out, etc. All these conditions brought forth emotions long since dormant. The situation was so similar at the moment to my childhood experience at St. Joseph Boarding School that my instinct got the better of me and over-rode my reasonable and logical mind.
However, when freed from those conditions, I returned to a normal state of mind. Whenever I am free to do what I wish, I am happy, but when I have to work, I am sad.
Incidentally, the sergeant is O.K. He has to go through all the drills he puts us thru and gets just as tired. He marched us thru camp to the Rockford River and then let us fall out for the remaining portion of the afternoon. After an hour or so, we came back. As we neared our barracks, he called us to attention and cautioned that it wasn't anybody else's business what we did or where we went. He said it wouldn't do any good to have others get wind of the way we "drill". Pretty soft, eh? Just like RH&R --- work 1 hr --- rest 2.
We had a game (to put us in prime physical condition and had exactly the opposite effect upon me) which consisted of running from a teams goal line to a man 50 yards away, saluting, hopping into the air 3 times, saluting once more & then running back to the goal line. Well, I was so fast that on the way back my feet were going like pistons and my toes barely digging into the ground. Then I just start flying thru the air and landed on my wrist, turning myself over and sliding on my hip, ankle and calf for the next ten feet. My hat flew off about 6 ft away. My brand new field jacket was all mudded up as well as my field pants. My shoes were also terribly scratched. On top of the damage to my fatigue uniform I personally suffered a nice skinned bruise on my leg & hip. The only reason my hands weren't scraped was because I had on my thick army gloves. What a life --- I don't even have to be in the army 4 days before I am wounded. That's just what I did down in Springfield. I was playing baseball and slid on the brick pavement for about 10 ft.
[Please forgive this sloppy penmanship but I must get something written in this letter besides hello & how are you. If I don't tell you these things now, I may forget them.]
My alarm over the possibility of becoming infected with various diseases from the army has abated. I read a bulletin today which says the germs die shortly if not in contact with a human body. The diseases are not contagious and must have close contact to be spread from one person to another.
My Daddy wrote me and I got the letter --- they laid it on my bunk while I was out. A while later the Sergeant came in, gathered all the fellows around and gave us a talking to. He said write home but tell them not to write back until you are permanently settled. He said, "if a letter comes after you are gone, how are we to know who you were or where you went?" He added that every four days a new set of guys come in & it is a job keeping track of all of them.
I still haven't told you about the uniform & equipment. We have the following articles:
1 Overcoat (mine is short)
2 Winter pants
2 Winter shirts
2 Summer pants
2 Summer shirts
2 Summer ties
2 suits of summer underwear
2 suits of winter underwear
1 bath towel
1 Raincoat (mine is not regulation but made of heavy oil stuff like fishermen have)
2 pair heavy shoes
2 pair heavy white socks
3 pair brown socks
1 Boy Scout mess kit (like Eugene Reed gave me)
1 shaving brush
1 tooth brush
(I didn't get the razor although everybody else found one packed in their barracks bag)
1 Winter overseas cap
1 Summer overseas cap
2 Working (Fatigue) pants
2 Working (Fatigue) shirts
1 Fatigue hat
1 Jacket (to be worn with fatigue uniform instead of blouse)
1 Blouse (really a sack coat of a suit)
And several other things I don't remember off hand.
I use the tops of the winter underwear (long sleeves) and my civilian underwear bottoms to sleep in.
You will see some of these outfits in the pictures. (Numbers on back of the Pics) (1) My fatigue uniform with jacket (2) In my fatigue shirt just 5 minutes from the barber shop (3) My O.D. (off duty) uniform with overseas cap (4) My O.D.'s and garrison hat.
Sunday, you know, I wasn't in uniform so "no pictures". Monday & today were so full that from 5:45 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. we were busy eating or working. So "no pictures" with my camera. I hope that this Sunday I will be free to take pictures in all my uniforms.
/s/ "General" Romeo
("General" account of the garrison hat)
P.S. Even if I can't wear the thing anymore, I've gotten $3.92 worth of fun out of having it already. Everybody asks about it, tries it on, etc.