Dear Aunty Clara:
At 5:30 last Friday morning, there was witnessed, in the parade grounds of the 353rd Engineer General Service Regiment the commencement of one the most active, tiresome, unusual and loathsome days which either I or any of my fellow comrades have witnessed in their army days. It was the beginning of an adventure. An adventure of which we soon had our fill.
We ate an early breakfast and fell out immediately afterwards. We were dressed in fatigue clothes and leggings. We wore field jackets beneath borrowed mackinaws. And our equipment consisted of a light combat pack (or in other words a raincoat, mess gear, pack, shelter half and canteen), boots and a rifle.
To a certain extent I still had one hand held out to Lady Luck in that we had no manual of arms (maneuvering of the rifle) at any time. I would have looked foolish trying to swing that rifle into different positions without knowing beans about it.
Nevertheless, in a short time we began our trek into the unknown. We walked due East from our end of the camp to the other side then a mile outside the camp to the range. This camp is no small size. The approximate walk from our end of camp to the East end is similar to walking from Crawford Avenue to Harlem Avenue. This walk in itself was what you could call an experience also. It was night for almost ¾ of the way out. We were marching along with slung muskets while the dark shapes of the Army trucks rumbled along the road at our left. It was all very reminiscent of the war movies of yesteryear. I don't think it will be very long before it will be the real thing either.
Just after leaving the camp we sighted the rifle range in the distance. Here were about 50 targets built at the base of a good sized hill (mountain). And I'll eat my hat if it didn't resemble a golf driving range ---- First there was the firing line, then a 200 yard interval of grass and finally the targets.
But as I said before, we had just sighted the targets. In order to reach them from the road, we had to march thru a bit of mud. Note that descriptive adjective bit. We just covered our shoes to the ankles with a two inch covering. Then came an order, which we thought was a laugh at first, to put on our overshoes. We didn't believe it was possible to get any more mud covered than we were at the time nor did we think it was such a swell idea to put muddy shoes into the boots. But then that is one of the troubles with this man's army --- it usually has a reason for its orders. Those boots were at least an inch in mud at all times and occasionally sank to record lows of four inches. Then too, there were the mud puddles which were at least 2/3 as deep as the height of the overshoes themselves. Personally, I did not mind that slosh; for it isn't often one can have that good protection for the feet and still have all that fun.
We were in the first firing order and BANG----before we had been there ten minutes, we had that rifle banging away. My first reaction to the weapon was one of distaste, distrust and disinterest. As you will see later in this letter (if I ever get to it), I changed that attitude slightly (for convenience).
Here is the way we went about it:
Our company had targets numbered 1 to 15 and in order to get every one up to the line, we were arranged in squads or orders of 15 each. When our order was called, we grabbed our rifle, our shelter half and our rain coat. We took off our mackinaws when firing and spread the tent half beneath us. We shot from a prone position, sitting position, kneeling position and a standing position. This was all slow fire shooting; i.e., one bullet at a time. My scores were good, to bad, to worse to just plain lousy. We shot 10 rounds of ammunition in each position. A round, incidentally, means just a bullet by another name. That is something like the monkey business the Army goes thru by calling 10 men or so, 10 troops. Just to give you a relative idea of the scores, I will tell you what I got. In the prone position I came within an inch or so of the bull's eye on every shot and hit it with one. My score was 41. Then came the sitting position. I rang up 3 consecutive bull's eyes and two close ones for a score of 23 out of a possible 25. Then, alas and alack, and who cares anyhow, I got 15 out of 25 in a kneeling position. Finally we stood erect and I missed the target completely 3 times and got 7 out of 25. What had begun like a whirlwind and which had the fellows gasping, now slowed down to a mere waft of air scarcely noticeable. My score was insufficient for qualifying. At least for that preliminary day.
By the way, I forgot to mention we lunched out in the field. And this little corporal did not have his mess gear cleaned from that bivouac of almost a month back. (It is so tiresome washing dishes.) As a result he went hungry but for two slices of lemon cream pie, an apple and a slice of bread. It wasn't because he wasn't going to eat out of a dirty can but because he was sort of ashamed to go around with the dirty utensil.
The walk back got us in to the barracks just about chow time. That we ate a healthy meal that evening you can well rest yourself. This day also turned out to be a morale busting day. Because of the faulty mail delivery, I failed to receive a letter for the second time this year.
No here is a topper to the day's activities. I became involved in conversation and in a ping-pong contest with one Ray Gradler. By the time we turned in and washed our boots, mess kits, leggings etcetra it was 2 o'clock in the A.M.
Then, tra la tra la, we arose fit and merry (?) at 5:30 the following morning. The marching down to the course was a lark this time because Ray and I were swinging along side by side singing and chattering incessantly. The walk was quite short 'thataway'. On the range, Ray was my coach, but that didn't seem to help the matter any. I do not recall all my shots that day but they were rapid fire (10 rounds or rather 2 clips of 5 shots each). We had to fire them in one minute times. Once again, they were insufficient to qualify me. It was something like 4, 16, 39, 25, 33 out of 50 each. This is the day the trouble started also. For some strange reason Sgt. Driscoll and Lt. Hanton want to make me into a sharpshooter and actually seemed to condemn me for my inefficiency. In fact, they started to plug me into all the empty targets and as a result, I, who hate that lousy rifle, was getting more shots than any of the rest. That burnt me up.
Our chow was wonderful in the field that noon. Especially with a clean kit.
But the best of it was when we walked home. Ray, Mersing and I were all in one rank. We sang, talked and had quite a time. The climax came when I learned Ray spoke FRENCH. Can you beat that. I have at last found a fellow Frenchman. We rattled on continually for several miles---he speaking a more rapid and rather fluid French and me stammering along with my smattering of the spoken language---until the fellows around us were going batty from listening to us. In time, if we stick together, I believe we will be able to get along rather well and that will be something being able to hold our private conversations amongst a few hundred soldiers.
When we got back from the hike all mudded, sweated and everything like that, we decided to get into O.D.s and it turned out that we were the only brave ones in the bunch who felt ambitious enough to change. Also that evening, Sgt Driscoll told me they wanted me to have me work in the office on Sunday and that I would continue my firing during the week for the record. It turned out that I worked in the office both Sunday and Monday. Since the majority of the regiment was going to be on the range for 8 straight days, they decided to abolish Sunday as a day of rest.
I didn't get to bed until 2:30 A.M. Monday morning. I received some work to get out at 5 minutes to midnight and then brought it down to the Orderly Room where we talked to Hanton and Driscoll for an hour. Hanton at that time informed me that I was to go out on the range for 4 days starting Tuesday. He also said I was to be in bed by 9:30 if he himself had to personally make a bed check. Well that disgusted me no end----So! my office work wasn't important! Just to make me fire a gun he was going to have me come out 6 days instead of 4 or 3 and take me away from a very important and necessary work.
Well, as you well know, I am not the type of person who stays home from work or thinks he is sick for no reason at all. Like my trick knee a short while back, I just went along without reporting it when I very well could have done so any day of the week. When I did go it was on Christmas Day or around that time. Anyhow, I figured I could look after my own health if the work could be let go especially at this critical time like the present.
The Co. Clerk of the Medics says that today and tomorrow were reserved for the 353rd Engineers at the Hospital for fitting for glasses. I immediately went down to the dispensary, signed for 0800 this morning, and received a medical order releasing me from all duty until I had gotten back from the hospital. I also attempted to kill several birds with one stone. I had the tendon in my left ankle inspected because it was enlarged and seemed as if it were made from leather and not cartilage. The Captain (Doc) said the oil or fluid in the protective shield had dried up and until a new supply was manufactured I would have to just forget the difficulty. That seems to be the Army's best prescription --- let nature take its course. Either that or they give you a pill for whatever ails you. At the same time I decided maybe I could work in an X-ray and I did. After all being continually tired for two months in a damp unhealthy climate may have activated something down in them thar breathing devices. I explained the situation to the Capt. and he oked my request.
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All of the above was written by me at the hospital while I was waiting for my fitting and the X-ray. I have had just time to write this out on a typewriter and in a few minutes must personally and individually be in bed by the request of the Company Commander.
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I got a ride down to the range in the afternoon and a ride back. I am going to try to do the same thing tomorrow. At least I will keep off that tendon for a while.
I was fitted for the glasses on one of those machines which has all different kinds of levers etcetera to look thru and when you are all done adjusting the different screws etcetera you have the prescription for the glasses. They will be ready in about two to three weeks. Maybe I will never get them, huh? I told the fellow that I need them for close work and he said they will be made for close work but I need not take them off at all. He said the only thing that will happen that my vision at a distance will be slightly blurred.
The X-ray report will follow me in a few days time. I wonder what kind of report I would prefer?
My tetanus injection record was messed up and I am one of those unfortunate fellows who has taken the injection every time and now because some one had erred I must go thru the business all over again. And I thought that one more and I would be done. Phooee!
Aha! Guess what blood type I have! Ho ho, you guessed it. Type B. That means when I am lying, face down in the mud, shot into shreds, when I lay there hovering between life and death --- that is when your blood, the very blood which you yourself donated may save my life.
Incidentally, Sgt Censky is again my instructor. Today on the range he was my coach and a good one at that. We both requested that we be allowed to work together out there. I am afraid tho that he will become disgusted with my shooting.
P.S. I got another letter from Ray today and a letter from Mrs. Reed.
Will answer your other letters later.
P.S. Also rec'd cookies today. Thanks a million and one times. Will open them when I get back to barracks in 60 secs flat.