November 23, 1942
Camp White, Oregon
Dear Aunty Clara:
This is still one of those one-way letters which you will be unable to answer as we have not changed to our permanent companies as yet.
We learned more about the functions of the General Service Regiment Engineers in the field. The combat troops such as artillery and infantry move into the combat zone first some engineers go along with these troops to construct temporary roads, bridges, fortifications, camouflage, etc. We may be found among these engineers occasionally, but for the main part, we will work behind the lines making the more permanent type of construction for the ordnance and quartermaster corps to use in moving up supplies. At first, I had seriously thought of turning in my resignation and requesting a transfer to another corps on the grounds of my conscientious objection to killing my fellow man. However, that situation is now changed. In building permanent constructions we are apt to be bombed, strafed, sniped at etc by the enemy without ever being able to strike back. There are only two chances of being in the front line. First, if there is a break thru and the enemy advances upon us and second, if there is a desperate need for immediate reserves we will support the infantry.
I hope that the last two possibilities never materialize. Some of my buddies, however, are of a quite different frame of mind. They can hardly wait until they finish off some Jap.
As I said yesterday, the food situation is a bit different here than at Camp Grant. By now it is pretty generally agreed that the mess halls at Camp Grant can't be beat. The trouble seems to be that although the food is good at Camp White there is (1) not enough of it and (2) not enough variety. We don't have desserts here, coffee, or any side dishes. We get our bacon & eggs, our mashed potatoes, our meat, slice of bread, pat of butter, ½ grapefruit, and cocoa at the various meals --- but that is all. In fact, they even ran out of cocoa this afternoon serving water in its place. I won't gain much weight at this rate.
Today it was raining. The ground all about the place turned into mud and puddles. But that doesn't phase the 353rd Engineers --- we march thru it, drill thru it etc. I don't mind it as much because I didn't pay for the clothes or the shoes and the fellows at the front are sleeping in mud. We are becoming a little bit better at carrying out our close formation infantry drill.
Incidentally, after the twelve weeks basic training, we will have another twelve weeks of specialized training. At any time we may be called to the fight if needed, regardless of the amount of training completed. This 353rd Regiment is really brand new. It was authorized in August (about the time the new Service & Supply unit became effective as a 3rd arm of the U.S. Army --- the 1st arm is the Ground Force and the 2nd arm is the Air Force). The being in a brand new regiment has its advantages and disadvantages. Among the disadvantages is that we have to build up our reputation and believe me, Aunty Clara, everything is stricter than can be because of that. Our officers want to turn out the best squads, platoons, companies, battalions, and regiment of engineers that the U.S. army ever saw. We are supposed to be letter perfect. Then too there is a lot of propaganda about loyalty, heritage, pride, patriotism etc.
The foremost advantage to being in a new outfit is that we have the best opportunities for advancement since all the posts are vacant. At the worst, I should be at least a private first class in the first twelve weeks and not lower than a corporal during the second twelve weeks. Chances for Officers Candidate School seem limited at the time. In fact, from all outward signs thus far, there will not be very many of us, if any, who will be sent to Officers School. We are "highly schooled technical men and are needed as such".
We were given the "harpoon" once more. We got the shot in our right arm at 4:30 P.M. and my arm already feels as if someone gave it a good solid smack (7:00 P.M.). The doc said when he was giving me the injection that here was a lad with good skin. By the way, just like the vaccinations in high school, the last one has already disappeared.
If I have been writing too small and too close together, please tell me and I will change my style.
I sent short USO postcards to my Daddy (+Rose!), Mrs. Boyer, work, Uncle Jack & Gonzalez telling them where I am. I will have to write a few more tonight to a few other people. I am sending USO cards to Aunty Florence & Uncle Joe so you will be able to see what they look like. I got them up in Portland along with the stationery and apple. I also want to take a shower tonight so if you will pardon the short letter, I will be signing off in a few more sentences.
We are still in quarantine and have to turn in by 9:00 P.M.
The last night on the train I dreamt of Clarence. It was so plain it seemed real. I asked him after a while if he didn't know he was dead. At first he seemed to ignore or misunderstand me and then he said, "O, that! That's a lot of bunk". He was dressed in his raincoat and hat --- looked very dashing and very much alive.
The first night in Camp White and the single cots made me feel so much at home that I had difficulty recalling myself from my bedroom back in Cicero and placing myself on an army cot.
The company commander inspected our bunks and I was told to fix my spare blanket (called a hood because it covers the pillow) tighter. I tried my best but when I was done I couldn't see a bit of difference in the tightness.
We were shown two additional movies today. Those we saw yesterday were on camouflage and Guarding Military Information. Those we saw today were on Military Courtesy and Squad Drill. Walter Houston was one of the principal narrators. The movies are good and have all the extra music sounding at the beginning and end.
We also had an introduction speech from the regimental commander and he is a real fellow (so it seems) and seems to understand perfectly the feelings of an individual during the transitional period from civil to army life.
P.S. The camp is twice as large or larger than Medford. We have about 35,000 soldiers here --- half the population of Cicero!!!!!