November 22, 1942
Camp White, Oregon
Dear Aunty Clara:
This is about the upteenth time I have begun this letter and each time it was interrupted for some reason or another.
Anyhow, here I am all the way across the United States on the Pacific Coast far far away from Cicero but (curse the luck) still far far away from Los Angeles.
As you have probably noted, we are in Camp White, Oregon and I have been assigned, as have all those who came from Camp Grant, to the Engineers Corps. At Camp Grant I was classified as a skilled clerk & typist --- then bang --- I am an engineer. Perhaps the high mechanical aptitude test, the college math, and my mechanical drawing had something to do with it.
At some previous time, I would have been happy and proud to have been selected for the Engineers. Now I am not, although, it has its good points. For instance, an infantryman or an artilleryman or some other form of combatant must almost necessarily kill the enemy. An engineer, on the other hand, must almost necessarily be killed by the enemy since he constructs and builds the advance passage for troops. The engineer is an armed combatant but while at work usually does not carry his firearms. Therefore, you see, from the standpoint of a conscientious objector I have a good spot. O well, that is still far in the future. At least 12 weeks basic training must be covered first and that would take a fellow into the second week of February.
I would like to tell you a little bit about the location and climate of this camp. The camp is located near the city of Medford, Oregon about 8 miles away. Medford itself is only about 25 miles from the California state line although about a 100 miles from the coast. So you see we are about as close to California as we could come without being in it. But the trouble is that California is almost 1000 miles long and Uncle Jack happens to be at the wrong end. It is as far from Medford to Los Angeles as Chicago is to New Orleans. Isn't that the way it always turns out? Had I gone almost any other place in the United States I would have had someone I know within traveling distance. Here it is a million miles to nowhere. The climate is a break though, even if you wouldn't think so. The camp is in a valley! There are small sized mountains encircling it on every side. The valley itself is reminiscent of the Illinois countryside --- plain and without hills
The mountains break up any cold wind coming towards the valley; therefore, it is never really cold. The temperature has never been known to go below zero. When it snows (which is seldom), the fall hardly covers the ground or turns to sleet. One thing we must get used to is the rain. It rains practically every day with the result of making it a damp and humid place. This excessive moisture is strange. For instance, today, November 22, was warm enough to go out in shirtsleeves yet one could see his breath vaporize in the air. When standing still, the sun would become hot on the cheek. Camp White is just about in the same zone as Chicago.
As I told you in the short letter I sent earlier, this is not a permanent address. We will be split into companies, platoons, squadrons, etc within the next few days and will move into new barracks at that time.
The entire camp is comparatively new and the 353rd Engineers is brand new. We are the very first troops in the 353rd Regiment. The barracks, mess hall, recreation room and streets are also brand new and also unfinished. The entire camp, streets, and sidewalks are made of mud about 3 inches thick. I can't wait until I can get out and wallow in it. Ugh!!!
That is about as much as I know of the camp at the present time. I might add that two fellows I met on the train and I all bunk in a row in single cots on the second floor of our barracks. The mess hall is next door and not quite as good as those at Camp Grant as far as food is concerned, the method of distributing the food, and sanitation. Here again it has an advantage over Camp Grant in that it allows more room per man to eat and there is not that rush to get finished. Its proximity to the barracks is also good.
And now I would like to go back to the beginning; i.e., since my last letter from Camp Grant.
[Incidentally, we can not wear our garrison hats either in camp or on leave nor are we allowed to take pictures in camp. The reason we can take no pictures is that the background may contain some military information and that's taboo. You may expect both my hat and camera in the mail someday.]
When I do get a permanent address and you can write to me, here are some of the things I would like to know outside of the regular news from home: Did you get the four pictures? What did you and everyone think of them? Did you get my letter from Miles City?
Und now ve vill continue vitt mine narrative as uv Tuesday night 11:00 P.M.
I got into bed past eleven that Tuesday night and did not get to sleep until twelve. Then, along about 1 or 2 in the morning, I woke up --- ice cold --- with the fog streaming thru the windows. I did not have sense enough to put on an extra cover so continued to freeze the remainder of the night. At 4 A.M. the lights went on --- the fellows leaving at 5:30 were getting up and they would make it impossible for anyone to get anymore sleep.
We got dressed in our O.D.'s, went to eat, swept out the barracks, put our barracks bags on our backs and out we marched. At 7:30 A.M. we boarded a C.B&Q day coach which started due South and then turned along the tracks that eventually would go past 26th at 56th. But when we got into Aurora we all got off. We waited at the station for about 1hr until a Pullman came in. We boarded that one. From then on it was anyone's guess as to where we were headed. We knew we were going to reach St. Paul by 9:30 that night but did not know which direction we would take after that.
The general conjecture at the time was that we were destined to work on the Alaskan highway since there were many technical and skilled men among us. I was already beginning to curse George Hutchison who said that is where I would eventually land.
About 2:00 P.M. we hit the Mississippi River and man alive what a river. We were still following it north when night fell. That river is something to see. It's wider than wide. In fact, at times it looks like a lake. Besides being a tremendous body of water it is also just about the ugliest river you could ever want to see. There are all types of islands in the river. The majority of them are about 30 or 40 ft wide and continue on for miles and miles. At times the river is divided into three or four separate streams by these islands. At other times the railroad runs right in the river with water on both sides of the tracks. There are (at intervals) veritable forests of trees growing right in the river from the banks to 40 ft. out. Another interesting sight is the ridge about ¼ mile east of the river all thru Wisconsin. It is as if Wisconsin is on a hill which rises on the Mississippi and ends in the bluffs on Lake Michigan.
We ate all our meals on the train. The first two meals with a CB&Q diner and the last three meals on the Northern Pacific were swell. The other meals we had across the continent on the Milwaukee Road were not so exceptional. One thing I must say is that only twice in all those days did I have to drink coffee. I had milk or cream the rest of the time. Incidentally, the colored waiters received 10¢ tips from us "dough" boys at every meal. We also got a pot together for our porter at 25¢ per. We had ice cream quite often. The trouble was that they didn't feed us enough and we were continually buying candy bars at robbery rates of 10¢ per bar. I guess I ate close to 7 bars on the trip.
We pulled into St. Paul at night after we were asleep. When we awoke in the dark of morning, at 6:30 we were all trying to find out what direction we were going and where we were. I finally got the direction by finding the Big Dipper, and by that, the North Star which showed us we were going West. Shortly afterwards we stopped at Aberdeen. South Dakota.
The entire trainload of troops (approx. 150 men) was in charge of a first lieutenant and a first class private. We were not allowed off the train. In the car, we sat 3 men to every double seat. I fellow slept in the upper and 2 fellows in the lower. We tossed up for the upper. I lost but in a way I won. I lost the pleasure of sleeping alone but at least had the better of the two for a sleeping partner. His name is Walter Moeller, about 20 years old, worked as a stenographer for Northwestern and used to work at Chicago Title & Trust Company. We picked another young lad for company; his name is William (Bill) Meier.
Nevertheless, during the day, we traveled thru South Dakota, North Dakota and well into Montana. Everything was dead thru that country --- getting worse the further west you went. The Dakotas were very flat at first but finally became very rolling. These rolling hills went on into Montana. We could almost imagine a tribe of Indians lurking behind a hill ready to swoop down upon the train. In fact it was just like the movies. As we went deeper into Montana the scene grew more dismal and much bleaker and much colder. We began to see the hills rise abruptly out of the ground instead of rolling. The hills became higher, more strange in shape, and at times looked like small mesas and miniature mountains. The vegetation was all dead and the cattle were grazing upon it. Night fell with that same weird, cold, dead Montana landscape in view. (Incidentally, it was in Miles City, Montana where we were first given the opportunity to stretch our legs).
During the night we entered the Rocky Mountains and all night long we could feel the lurching, rolling & turning of the train. We almost missed the best part of the Rockies but we woke up exceptionally early, turned out the car lights, and in the first dim light of dawn saw the yawning depths and the snow capped heights. We saw the mountain streams, forests, cascades, etc. At breakfast time we stopped at Avery, Idaho and a person couldn't wish to see a better and more scenic mountain setting than that town high in the Rockies. I imagine it survives mainly on tourist trade.
A few hours later we were well into Washington and out of the Rockies. It was surprising how quickly the scene became one of flat rolling plains. The snow at some points had reached 5 inches. Then in late morning we entered Spokane where we stretched our legs on the platform once more. We crossed a trestle in Spokane that was at least ½ mile high. By afternoon we had entered the second chain of mountains. I believe these are called the Sierra Nevada. There was quite a bit of evidence of lumbering activity in these mountains. At times an entire face of a mountain had been logged with the logs strewn around like match sticks awaiting the Spring thaw. Many pools were frozen solid. The scenic grandeur & majesty of these mountains is beyond my power to describe and, if I recall correctly, you have been thru them twice or more so you know just the effect they have upon a person.
After dark that night, we pulled into Seattle. Incidentally, we saw a wreck of a Union Pacific Pullman train outside of Cle Elum in the mountains. Three cars were half way down the slope from the tracks to the river.
That was Friday night we pulled into Seattle. By noon the next day we were to be there or almost there (it was rumored). But we didn't get out of Seattle until 12 and back and forth, back and forth, stop, go, lurch ahead, lurch back all night long. Half the time we seemed to be stationary. When morning came, we had not even reached Portland 180 miles from Seattle. Then as we stood on the car platform, and the train crawled slowly along, we discovered the reason for the delay. At least twenty freight cars were pushed together and strewn across the tracks like an accordion. They were on the next rail over and it seemed to take a minute or more to crawl passed the entire wreck. That was a sight to see in the black of the morning. We saw the bright flares for the repair crew and then the repair trains with the giant crane to remove the cars. It was headlines in the Portland paper. The other line will not be open to traffic for days.
As a result of our delay, we were without a diner and had such difficulty obtaining one that it wasn't until 3 or 4 o'clock Saturday afternoon that we had our first meal. We were in Portland practically all day. We went to the USO and got some stationary and an apple. I also mailed that letter from there.
After an uneventful night we woke up Sunday morning, had our breakfast, and were told to prepare to get off the train for camp. At this point we were in the mountain-like hills. As we wound around the hills following the riverbed below we watched what was probably the prettiest and most pleasant view of the entire trip. Everything is still green in these mountains. A road follows the mountain river through all its windings and it is covered with fallen leaves of the less sturdy trees. The trees in these mountains seem to be like trees in parks. Well taken care of and well groomed. Occasionally we would see a pleasant Oregon farmhouse with its little plot of ground and a few cattle grazing. The clouds and mists would be seen strung thru the hills like that fluffy stuff on a Christmas tree. As we entered the valley, we saw miles of orchard. Then we pulled into camp. Miles & miles of barracks --- you can't see the end of them. All on a flat, muddy plain. We were driven to our barracks in trucks just like going up to the front. And as Clarence told Mrs. Boyer 2nd Louies are a dime a dozen out here in camp.
I imagine I could keep on writing forever but we are in quarantine for two days so when lights go out at 9:00 P.M. I will have to stop writing. I have just a few minutes left to organize and wash.