Army Life

  As I stated previously, Dollie and I were married on Sunday the eighteenth and I went to the Army on the twenty-first of June. Dollie and mother took me in to Hollidaysburg and we went from there to Altoona by streetcar and then to New Cumberland by train. This was one of the saddest days of our lives because we had been together most of the time going to places such as Gettysburg, Washington DC, and to other places.

  Dollie had worked for my parents for several years, doing housework, and helping with special things such as butchering, because my dad did a lot of custom butchering as well as butchering hogs to sell in Altoona. She worked hard, carrying water and cleaning skins and filling the sausage. Sometimes she and I helped cut the fat to make lard. So you see, we spent a lot of time together before we got married.

  I would say that those four days in New Cumberland were the loneliest days that I spent. I was close to my home and loved ones but could not see them, being confined to camp. Finally the orders came through, and we were loaded on several railroad cars. I was lucky to be in the right group that was billeted in a Pullman sleeper coach. We really lived that up, because the dining car was up front and everyone lined up to go for their meals. We had to take our lunch kits and go to the dining car and then back to our coach to eat. Some of the cars [coaches] were not built too tight and they left in the cinders and smoke. We felt good about ours. When some of the other men came through ours, they thought that we paid extra for the luxury. Of course we did not do that, we were lucky to be some of the last called alphabetically. One of the plus things, the porters actually made our beds. We didn’t give any tips.

  We were three days on the road, and as usual there were those people who knew it all. First there were some who said that we were going to a camp in Virginia. We passed Virginia and then they were sure that we were going to North Carolina. But passing through North Carolina, they were sure we were going to Fort Bragg. But we kept going and then some one who seemed to be real bright declared with emphasis that we were headed for Officers Training School at Camp Gordon, Georgia. In looking around, I sort of felt that if we were headed for Officers Training, the army was placing their bets on a bunch of dummies. Well, we passed through Georgia and I knew immediately, with out a doubt, we were going to Florida. We were told to dress up in full dress uniforms, which were all wool, and we were marched off the train to the band playing the theme of the Bridge on the River Kwai. The temperature was in the nineties and we were wearing woolen trousers, woolen shirts and a woolen coat. It was three am in the morning and the only soldiers who met us were the ones who were in charge of the barracks where we were to call home for seventeen weeks.

  We finally marched up to the barracks and were told to turn in for the night. At the time, it seemed like a joke, the beds were full of sand and we had to remake them, then to the latrine for a shower and so six am came swiftly. We did have some sleep on the Pullman car from eight o’clock until three so it was not too bad. After Reveille we were led around to the different supply depots and was issued khaki clothing, new shoes and of course the rifle, food canteen, half of a tent [two people were each given a half also enough rope and tent stakes, and had to be on what they called "the buddy system"] all this made quite a large pack. Some were issued compasses and some wristwatches. Of course others complained that the were not given these items, but we later learned that these people were responsible for the direction we would take on maneuvers and for the correct time. After some of them got lectured about not being on time with the company and others for taking the wrong direction the rest were glad that they were not given these items. So ended the first three days at Camp Blanding.

  We moved slowly through our basic training. There would be ten hours each day. Fifty minutes of intruction or action or close order drill or calisthenics, and then ten minutes break time. The instruction periods were the most boring. After sitting on the ground? [sand] made you sleepy and a tap on the head with the instructors pointing stick called a swagger stick woke you in a hurry. Then came the questions from some of the men who wanted to impress the instructor who usually was a recently graduated Second Lieutenant. These people always waited until the ten-minute break to ask their questions and the Lieutenant would invariably say to the group that everyone should listen because you will need to know this. That would be the end of break time, and it really endeared these people to the rest of us.

  There are many things that I remember of those days in the few weeks of training that I had. There was the time that we went out in the swamps. I was on the blue team and luckily I was tagged in the first half-hour of the exercise and was sent back to the barracks. I rested while the bulk of my company was out slogging in the mud and possibly oblivious to the snakes and alligators that infested the area. Incidentally, the blue team won without my help. Then there were the hikes with full packs. They started out with three miles, gradually working up to the granddaddy of them all, seventeen miles. I was spared most of those hikes because I was wounded early in the training period. Another one of my non-favorites was the day we would get injections of all sorts. Immediately after several injections we would go to a class of calisthenics. This was done, I suppose to work out the soreness, but it was very painful. Then there was the almost everyday close order drill. About the fifth week, the camp commander was at the loud speaker and said, in effect, that we were the best battalion when it came to marching. We knew that this was not true, but he asked if we would like to show our stuff to the general. He got a rousing cheer from the battalion and so we were hooked into another parade. Of course we were proud, but now I believe he suckered us.

  One of the things that was rather peculiar about the leaders seemed to be lack of consideration. We would be out on a hike or out for some of the classes when it would start to rain. In Florida this is common. The officers would let us get totally wet before they would have us open our pack and put on raincoats. Then the sun would come out real hot, but we still had to wear that rubber raincoat for the rest of the period. To me, this made a lot of sense. We had a routine that we followed daily, get up at five am, eat breakfast, police up the company area gathering all the paper and cigarette buts. We also had to clean the barracks and the latrine. This involved using cloth and wiping dust and sand from the windows and doorframes. We also pulled KP duty working in the kitchen, helping the cooks, setting tables and washing dishes. This was for a company of two hundred men. Making pancakes for breakfast was a lot of fun. You would start at one end of the grill, putting batter on the grill from a funnel affair and by the time you were half way down, another person would start turning the cakes. By the time he was at the middle area another person was taking them off. The first person would be back at the end starting to pour again. We kept this up until everyone was done eating. At the same time one of the cooks was breaking eggs on another grill. You could not order the way you wanted them done but took what they gave you.

  Everyone not on KP duty would be ready to move out at seven am to whichever class or training area we were assigned. Sometimes we marched and sometimes we went by truck. When we went by truck, we knew that we would be out all day. At noontime the truck carrying the food and the cooks would arrive and we would have lunch in the field.

  It was while I was in training that Dollie and my cousin Thelma visited me. They spent a few days in Jacksonville and then spent the rest of the time in the guesthouse in camp. As a side note, we visited Camp Blanding on our trips down to visit Kim. Nothing original was standing except the guesthouse Dollie and Thelma stayed in. It is now a museum housing a lot of memorabilia from the companies that were stationed there.

  What can I say of the lonely evenings and weekends that I spent there? Sometimes I walked around the perimeter of the area until I got tired and sleepy. Weeks went very slowly and there was always the nagging thought that I would be shipped out and never return home. During my basic training, my grandfather passed away and I was called off a training exercise and sent home, curtsey of the Red Cross. They had made a mistake of notifying Camp Blanding and said it was my father. I was glad they made that mistake, because they would never have left me come for a grand parent.

  After ten weeks of training, I was kicked in the groin and suffered an injury, which in later life proved to be worse than I thought at the time. And before going further I would like to state that since 1978 I have been in constant battle with the Veterans Administration for a deserving pension. As of this writing I have not succeeded. I was offered an easy job if I wanted it. This was in the S-2 section doing investigations of subversive activities and it was interesting if not easy. I worked with one officer, who happened to be an elderly major. Cases were varied and I never knew ahead of time what I would be investigating. The procedure was always the same. I would be transferred to a company as a clerk and then was given the name of the person involved. The company commander and first sergeant never knew anything about the person that I was to follow up.

  I was surprised to find a case that was given me one morning involved one my best friends. Steve Bornimesa and I spent a lot of time together on our time off. We went to Saint Augustine to the beach and also to the old fortress that was built by the Spaniards. Steve just happened to be a Canadian who came in under an assumed name and I never could remember his real name. There were no hard feelings as he was sent back to Canada. As far as I know he still regarded me as a friend. There were quite a few cases and I don’t remember them all.

  There was an eighteen-year-old soldier that became rather friendly with me later on. I will always remember Junior. His real name was Carmen Graziano and he was related to Rocky Graziano the boxer. We were inseparable on the weekends. We went all around just as Barney and I had done before. I really don’t know what he did in camp, but we became friends one afternoon when we both were bored. Junior suggested going to an alligator farm, so we took the bus to go there. Bus service was free so there was no outlay of cash. The thing that I thought was humorous was that we saw a sign on the monkey cage saying not to feed the monkeys chewing gum. That was a mistake for the owners, because we decided to find out why. We gave the monkeys some gom and it was something to see them getting it stuck and trying to get it off their teeth. We also went to the Ross Allen reptile farm and watched them "milking rattlesnakes" for the venom that they used in some kind of medicine.

  When Dollie came down to live with me off the post, we sort of adopted him. We had a car that I purchased from Mr Mingle who owned the company store in Roaring Spring. It was a 1939 Ford Coupe and we were quite proud of it. This car gave us flexibility in going different places. We would go into Starke and sit in the car and watch the things going on. We also went in to Gainesville to a cafeteria a couple of times. This car was our transportation for me to go to work and also to be used for our weekends together.

  Dollie was living with me in Waldo and I went home every evening and had the weekends off. Some of the mess sergeants gave me food to bring home with me, so we lived pretty well. The major was very lenient with me and gave several days off each week, and then he would take several days and I covered for him. This worked out so well that the people of Waldo were surprised that I was actually in the Army. We seemed to fit in the small town. We rented a room from Mr and Mrs Arthur Stevens and had the use of the living room if we wanted to feel more at home. Dollie and Auntie Mae, as most people knew her became fast friends and got along very well. This was proven a short time after we started to live there. Arthur and Mae went on a trip somewhere and had Dollie look after her most valuable possession-her silverware.

  Dollie was having sick spells and a local doctor told her to pack cold ice on her side. His diagnosis was that she had gall bladder attacks and by using the ice packs she would have some relief. Her pain and sick spells continued so we decided to contact a doctor in Gainesville. Doctor Manias had his office in the hospital, so we went to see him there. His diagnosis was clear and to the point, she was pregnant. We decided that the day Virginia Butts spent using the ice packs nearly froze our firstborn, Carol Jane. During the first months of her pregnancy Dollie got sick quite frequently and the one time that stands out is the evening Dollie and I went with Arthur and Mae into Gainesville. Coming home Arthur decided to show off the University of Florida. He went up and down streets pointing out different buildings. He told Dollie that she could tell everyone up home that she went through the university. Needless to say, when we got back to the house she was very sick. We never told them that she was nauseated.

  Virginia was a schoolteacher who was a neighbor and became a good friend while we lived there in Waldo. She was one who remarked that I spent more time at home there than I did in the army. It was Virginia who invited Dollie and I to her house on New Years eve. We sat in front of her fireplace and sipped wine and something to eat. We attended the Baptist Church with Mrs Stevens, but there were services in other churches that we attended. They were special services that the three churches in town held jointly. One was the night before Christmas when Santa distributed toys to all the children. One little boy got real excited because he saw some of the gifts were from his daddy’s store. On Christmas day Uncle Arthur and Aunt Mae invited us to go with them for Christmas dinner. Imagine me with about three or four dollars in my pocket. I started to decline but he said that the dinner was on him. We certainly were grateful for that dinner. We were not the only ones he invited; there was a relative who was a Naval Officer and his wife. Then there was the nephew that the Stevens raised, Fay DeShea who was a Navy Pharmacist mate.

  Then came New Years Eve and we gathered in one of the churches for a midnight service. After the clock struck one there was kraut and hot dogs served to everyone. The three churches cooperated in the service. It was after the special service that we went to Virginia’s house. I did not need to go to the camp the next day. Living in Waldo was really nice, except we would rather have been home.

  There was one other thing about Waldo and its people. They were very friendly to this soldier and his wife. They had a farewell party for us before we packed up to come home. The men just sat around and talked, but the women played a game called cootie. They either let Dollie win all the prizes unless she was really lucky that night.

  My friendship with Major Fisher continued and when we closed down the camp, he saw that I would be stationed at Fort Monroe in Virginia. He also told me that when my furlough was over, I was to call for an extension so that I would be with Dollie who was at this time pregnant with our eldest, Carol. He came with us and signed me out of the camp personally, so that the Classification Officer, who was determined to send me to Fort Hood in Texas, could not make any last minute changes in my orders. We came home in our 39 Ford, filled to overflowing with groceries and other stuff that they were throwing out in the camp and taking to the city dump.

  There was only a skeleton crew left in the camp because it was being deactivated at that time. When we were there a couple of years ago the trees and underbrush had overrun most of the areas. There was still a portion left where the Florida reservists were training.

  There were a few things that stand out in my service there at Camp Blanding. There was Major Haight in one of the companies that happened to see me reading the Altoona Mirror. He told me he was from Altoona and we became friendly to the extent that when he and his wife wanted to go to a movie or something else, I was drafted to baby sit their two small children. This was OK except if it happened when I was on CQ [Charge of Quarters] I always worried that Colonel Banks; the Regimental Commander might drop in. Of course that never happened. Colonel Banks always liked to go with the various companies and battalions on their seventeen mile hikes. The only difference was that he rode in his jeep until the last mile, then he would get out and march at the head of the line. The other thing was, he would always pull off the side of the road and get in the sand. He would walk back to where it was and of course it was always stuck. He would then walk back to the area and have two of us go out with a big truck and tow it out of the sand and bring it in. Of course all we would do would be to put it in four-wheel drive and we would not need to tow it.

  I was assigned to Fort Monroe and that gave me time to be at home a couple of weekends while stationed there. Fort Monroe was a beautiful post along the bay. The duty there was a lot different than Camp Blanding in that we did not do KP or stand guard duty. I was able to purchase food, especially sugar and butter in the commissary and I could bring some home for the family. I would catch the ferry on Friday evening and then get a ride with one of the soldiers who lived in Waldorf, Maryland and then get the train the rest of the way home. Going back I would arrive at the fort about six-thirty on Monday morning. The connections had to be just right.

  Fort Monroe was an easy assignment and I made the most of it. We were required to wear a dress uniform at all times. I was responsible to one Colonel and since he owned a Hotel somewhere on California’s West Coast, he was down to earth and did not lean heavily on military courtesy. He told me that I need not salute him when I came in his office. I was to be in complete control in my job, or should I say position. I spent a lot of time down along the bay side watching the ships come into port. I could spend a lot of my time looking the old fort over. There were soldiers stationed there that were in the Coast Artillery and much of their time was spent in keeping the artillery pieces in working order. There was not any association between us in headquarters and the men stationed in the old barracks. Everything was slow there because the war with Germany was over and Japan was talking peace. I was due to be discharged soon, so I was looking forward to going home to be with my wife when the baby was born. Finally the day came that the Colonel I worked for called me in to his office and told me my orders were being processed and I would be leaving in a week. Finally the day came and I boarded the ferry to go to Fort Meade where I was discharged.

  We were able to visit the fort as a civilian a couple of times later in the years, showing Brady and the rest of the family the fort. I have slides showing Larry and Leon the gun turrets and several slides of the family walking around the places that I learned to go when I had spare time. One of the cannons that they had there was made in McKee.