Monthly Archives: October 2012
In Dobodura, New Guinea, the 457th began to notice severe shortages in their sugar supply. As it turned out, there was a major boot-legging operation in progress. With the absence of alcohol, the men felt necessity would be the mother of invention, but they were caught with their stills in production. The makeshift liquor companies were immediately put out of business.
My father had other ideas. The following letter was one I never tired of reading; it always gives me a chuckle or two. My father’s ingenuity was unfailing. He used to tell me, “If you think hard enough, there’s a solution to every problem.” After years of having tended bar, this was going to be right up Smitty’s alley.
Letter # 10 has been previously published by “Whistling Shade” magazine in 2007. I submitted it during their war story inquiry.
Letter X “Jungle Juice” Monday 7/17/44
Dear Mom, The title of this letter, at first glance, will no doubt puzzle you, but I suspect at the end you will know more than you do now. Before going any farther with this, allow me to explain the whys and wherefores of its origin and purpose.
The Army has been telling us, for some time now, that any day (they mean year), they are going to issue us hot, dry soldiers some beer. They haven’t told us the percentages yet, but never fear, it will be 3.2. In the meantime, we’re here in New Guinea patiently awaiting the day. We know, because our eyes and nostrils do not lie, that there is good whiskey slyly floating about. Try as we may to lay hold of some, as yet, none have succeeded.
There is an old saying, told to me by a much older and wiser veteran of this man’s army that goes: “Take something away from a soldier and he will, in time, make or find a better substitute.” Hence and forever after – Jungle Juice.
To begin the making of this liquor substitute, one must first overcome a few minor details in order to secure the necessary equipment and ingredients. First: You may try to cultivate the friendship of the mess sergeant. This is easily accomplished if one is well endowed with currency. Second: You may try getting on guard duty and taking a chance of getting the job of protecting the mess hall. (The odds against this working out is ten to one against you.) This is the hard way of acquiring the friendship of the mess sergeant and we will continue. With your new buddy’s help, you now have in your proud and cherished possession a quantity of raisins, dried prunes or apricots and some sugar. (Very rarely will one come up with any yeast, so we will forget it.)
Now, we need something to put all this stuff into. To make matters worse, it cannot be metal and it must be waterproof. A nail barrel will do the trick, if we soak it in water, thereby allowing the wood to swell. You could go to the supply sergeant and get a saw, hammer, nails and boards, but in taking this route, you risk your supplier discovering your idea and you will have to pay him off with the promise that, when finished, he will receive a share. Not only is this undesirable, but now you will have to sit out in the hot sun and build a cask. My first suggestion of a nail barrel will not only save you labor, but also add an extra drink of this wonderful alcoholic beverage.
Now, we are ready to begin. Into the empty cask, put your fruit and sugar, making certain to add water. With your hands, (clean ones are advisable) stir everything around while crushing some of the fruit with your fists. This is what’s called the “rapid juice extraction process.” When finished, cover the cask with a clean piece of linen long enough to drape over the side. Here, you can also use a G.I. handkerchief or undershirt. (This is just a sanitary precaution and it in no way affects the product.)
Now, dig yourself a hole (under your bunk preferably) large enough to receive the cask and conceal it. This is a necessary precaution as the manufacture of Jungle Juice is frowned upon by the Army and especially you C.O. or Inspection Officer. The finding of such might cause embarrassment. This way it will only be found if someone should trip you C.O. and he inadvertently falls face down on the spot.
All you have to do at this point is use some self-control and patiently wait out the next two or three weeks as the fruit, sugar and water do their stuff. We all know from experience that you will only sit out two weeks, so let’s get on with the last step. Surely you have kept busy locating empty bottles and cleaning them, so dig up the cask.
To accomplish the final phase, it is wise to get your mattress cover and put it over a clean, steel helmet. You will find that the Army had supplied you with a damn good filter. The whole parts stay on top and the liquid freely pours through, without blemish to the helmet. Pour the juice into the bottles and seal with candle wax, making them air tight. Here is the most difficult step because by this time, not only your curiosity, but your craving for a taste is so high — you’re almost completely out of control. But, you must put your contraband away for one more week.
As the expected day approaches, I want to warn you to be on the lookout for newly acquired friends who start calling on you, regardless of the fact that they never came near you before. Yes, you are suddenly becoming the most popular guy in camp. When the hour approaches, marked as the time of reckoning, I would advise you to make up your mind that you are not going to finish it all in one sitting. Actually, this precaution is really unnecessary, as the Jungle Juice will decide that for you.
I won’t describe the taste. For some it is bitter and others say sweet. No two batches are alike and in fact the Juice has no opposition. Even its most adamant foes agree that for variety, the Juice has no equal.
This recipe is given free of charge.
I hope to hear your hiccupping in your next letter soon. Your brewmeister son & never to be dry again, Everett
General Swing decided, after the stills were destroyed, to bring ice cream machines and set up sports competitions. Teams were made up for volleyball, softball and tackle football. This proved not only to lift their spirits, but the activities kept them in top physical shape.
It always amazed me that such a letter as “Jungle Juice” made it through the censors without Smitty ever getting into trouble. His little operation was never discovered.
In August and September of 1944, the division began to learn amphibious operations, which was a mandatory requirement for ANY soldier in the Pacific. They received jungle training that my father often referred to as “guerrilla war training” which he felt was needed to enter my room when I was a teenager – he couldn’t possibly have meant that room was a mess – could he?
“Fire and movement” was what the men called for throwing their hand grenades into the 8 foot high Huai grass, closing behind mortar and artillery barrages, flame thrower usage, clearing a jungle path with a machete and demonstrations of Japanese hand grenades came next; which caused one fatality. The troopers learned all this while they faced the hazards of scrub typhus, malaria, dengue fever and more. The 11th fared better than most thanks to their para-medical teams and the abundant supply of Atabrine. The medicine helped to ward off malaria, but turned the men yellow from head to toe. My father did still contract the disease, but thankfully just a mild case.
The 11th Airborne Division endured the rigor to become the elite that their commander, General Swing, expected. I had never heard my father say, “I did this in the war,” he always spoke in regards to the entire unit. They personified the idea of a band of brothers.
At the Casablanca Conference in 1943, Pres. Roosevelt said, “The elimination of German, Japanese and Italian was power mean the unconditional surrender of Germany, Italy and Japan.” This meant to all that there would never be any ardent peace talks — only unlimited war. The statement added fuel to the fire under the Japanese. Whether FDR realized it or spoke these words intentionally, he gave the enemy the added spirit they needed to continue onward with the fighting. Nothing the Japanese generals and admirals could say would ever rouse the exuberance of the enemy troops more than that speech by a U.S. president.
The up-coming posts I’m certain you will find to be far more humorous and light-hearted – just the way Smitty would have wanted.
Please remember that if any photograph is too small for you to make out clearly, simple click the photo to enlarge.
Letter IX “A Day’s Venture” Monday 6/26/44
Yesterday, being Sunday, a day of rest, I decided to ride around this place and see something. I made up my mine though that this sightseeing tour of mine, this time, would be done as a civilian completely forgetting I’m in the army. You have to do this in order to see the place in its true light, otherwise if you don’t all you can see is hardship and work. With my mind cleared of Khaki, I set forth in a jeep with a buddy of mine; who I dare say couldn’t see the sense of our venture.
As we drove along in the still quiet, the thought kept coming to me of the enormous job the boys before us had to confront and overcome. Here and there along the way you could see some old emplacement or deserted village. These villages were really something to see with their straw-thatched roofs and open sided houses. We wouldn’t call them shed, but that is just what they looked like.
One can readily understand why the authors of those travelogues really go all out when describing these islands. You forget the heat as cooling breezes blow over you from the coast and the shade of the giant coconut trees gradually engulf you.
We passed one spot close to the coast that suddenly shook us with the horrible realization of our place and mission. It wasn’t large or spread out, but all was peaceful and quiet though men were gaily chatting and swimming nearby. We entered by an archway on which was inscribed, “Japanese Cemetery.” We passed now upon some of the little white markers all neatly lined up and lettered. Although they were once an active enemy, one could not help but see the shame and waste of war.
We looked around the beach for a while, then decided to go in for a swim. The water here is amazingly warm and clear. You could never believe it unless you could see it as I have. How crystal clear and immune of blemish this water here is. Why, to peer down 25 feet and see bottom is really an easy thing to do. The bottom is sand, sand at its finest and whitest literally covered with shells of every shape and color with here and there a grotesque piece of coral. You can really pick out the coral as it shows up a faint green while the shells throw all colors of the rainbow up at you until your eyes are completely dazzled by the many-colored lights.
By this time, the sun was well on its way toward the horizon and dusk rapidly approaching. Here and there a faint star twinkled until suddenly the sky was almost completely covered with thousands. The moon finally appeared in all its bright glory and reflected itself a hundred times over on the waves before us. The end of the day had come and with it also my venture into a world never to be forgotten. This day will long be remembered and stored with the rest of my most treasured memories.
Good night! And may God bless you, Everett
PS. I shall write to Joe Dumb as soon as I send this letter on its way. Be good and take care of yourself.
Smitty always made mention of how hard the soldiers before him had to struggle. He noticed that no matter how hard people or nature tried to disguise their surroundings, the scars of war were everywhere. In New Guinea, my father had a clear view of the battle remnants of General Robert Eichelberger’s Australian and American troops from when they fought on a similar terrain and in battles as fiercely intense as Guadalcanal – on each island the territories had to be taken inch by inch. (Many veterans know of what I speak.)
Lt. Gen. George C. Kenney, Chief of Allied Air Forces, in the southwest Pacific sent his complaints to the War Dept. and Gen. “Hap” Arnold, head of the U.S. Army Air Forces to explain just that in 1942:
“… The Japanese is still being underrated. There is no question of our being able to defeat him, but the time, effort, blood and money required to do the job may run to proportions beyond all conception, particularly if the devil is allowed to develop the resources he is now holding.
“Look at us in Buna. There are hundreds of Buna ahead for us. The Japanese there has been in a hopeless position for months. He has been outnumbered heavily throughout the show. His garrison has been whittled down to a handful by bombing and strafing. He has no air support and his own Navy has not been able to get passed our air blockade to help him. He has seen lots of Japs sunk off shore a few miles away. He has been short on rations and has had to conserve his ammunition, as his replenishment from submarines and small boats working down from Lae at night and once by parachute from airplanes has been precarious, to say the least. The Emperor told them to hold, and believe me, they have held! As to their morale — they still yell out to our troops, “What’s the matter, Yanks? Are you yellow? Why don’t you come in and fight?” A few snipers, asked to surrender after being surrounded, called back, “If you bastards think you are good enough, come and get us!”
“…I’m afraid that a lot of people, who think this Jap is a “pushover” as soon as Germany falls, are due for a rude awakening. We will have to call on all our patriotism, stamina, guts and maybe some crusading spirit or religious fervor thrown in to beat him. No amateur team will take this boy out. We have got to turn professional. Another thing: there are no quiet sectors in which troops get started off gradually, as in the last war. There are no breathers on this schedule. You take on Notre Dame every time you play!”
It was after this one month later after this report that the specialized training for the 11th A/B began and the War Dept. also saw the need for improved weapons for this “new type of war.” Under the direction of Colonel William Borden this effort resulted in: 105-mm and 155-mm mortars, flamethrowers, ground rockets, colored smoke grenades and the skidpans for towing heavy srtillery in muddy terrains.
But – still at this point – only about 15% of the Allied resources were going to the Pacific.
(These two photographs are courtesy of the World War II Database. ww2db.com)
You may notice in Smitty’s letters that he does not mention his rigorous training or even combat in his later ones. I am unaware as to whether it was concern for his mother’s feelings, censorship restrictions, just plain denial or all of the above. As a child I asked if I would ever catch him in one of the old news reels and he said that he surely doubted it. He made a point to avoid any photographers in the event his mother caught sight of the pictures of him in combat. No matter how hard things had become, he found something else to talk about, but he did have a tongue-in-cheek humor that could both amuse someone even while he was complaining.
At this point in time, the jungle war training had live firing and everything was becoming a bit clearer, a bit more realistic.
Letter VIII G.I. Labor 6/17/44
Work! Work! And more work. After a week here, we still can’t figure when it is all going to end. We put tents up, then take them down. That is our biggest problem — tents.
The War Department in Washington has its offices in a large air-conditioned building costing hundreds of thousands of the taxpayer’s money. In this building, they have all the inventing geniuses of the land. All they do is design equipment and little what-nots for us. After that, it is submitted to the boards of Strategy, Health, Welfare, etc.
Now, some poor weak underfed inventor designed in a moment of frenzy and excitement, the Pyramidal Tent number M.6606. It passed everything and every board with flying colors — until finally — we got hold of it. We put them up with the loss of tons of perspiration and energy, only to find out later that someone, someplace around here didn’t like the way they looked. That job of putting the tents up was simple and much too easy. They sent down a set of blue prints that reminded me of the Empire State Building with the Holland Tunnel thrown in.
Well, next day, bright and early we arose wearily to find that we were to be split up into different sections such as log cutters, tent putter-uppers, log setters and log finders. We, the pole setter-uppers, sat down and pondered over the blue prints. We had to raise the center pole 16 inches, while on the four corners erect eight-foot poles. Then, connecting these poles at the top of 16-foot logs.
Sounds very easy, but for some reason or other, the trees grew in the jungle across a stream which all in all made log cutting and finding an exasperating business. Undaunted though, the men went in laden down with axes, saws and prismatic and soon logs were being cut — also fingers, arms and legs. It wasn’t long before we had the amount of lumber necessary to start work on the first domicile, house or tent. We were all set and ready, four men were holding up the corner poles and one man steadied the center pole. The whistle blows for us to fall in and be counted. We fall in, the corners fall out and the blame tent fell down. Oh Well!! What the heck, tomorrow’s another day and after all, the boys that belonged in that tent can sleep out.
This routine kept up for days until finally all our tents were erected and set. “Looks good,” we all said and good it was, but not to some of the higher-ups who again decided the tents were now too high and would we please, under threat of court-martial, lower the 4 corner posts to 5 feet. (Oh death, where is thy sting?) Upon completing this last detail, they then decided the tents should all be moved and then lined up on a new line. This has been going on for so long that each morning we have to stop, think and hold ourselves in check, for a few times we caught men automatically tearing down tents or putting up poles where there wasn’t anything to put up.
“The heat!” they said, and then gave us half a day off, only to try to squeeze it out of us the next afternoon. Well, maybe they can get blood out of a stone.
“Well, that’s all for that in this letter as I don’t want to tire you out completely listening to some of our other minor details that are stuck in here and there, such as digging latrine holes, building officer’s tents and officer knickknacks, polishing up, which we are experts at, K.P. duty, inspections, washing clothes and at night making little things for ourselves such as tables, desks, clothes racks, rings out of coins, wristwatch bands and loads of other do-dads. I guess though the hardest thing is trying all day not to do all this work and go on the gold-bricking standard. That last line would be understood by any buck private or G.I. as absolute fact and truth.
Wearily I end this letter and sleepily say regards to all. With love and kisses, Everett
Major Burgess left the units temporarily to set up a jump school. This would give the glidermen and Burgess himself an opportunity to qualify as paratroopers. The parachutists began their glider training at Soputa airstrip that was no longer in regular use.
For a period of five months the 11th Airborne Division would receive jungle warfare and intensified combat unit ground training in the primitive land of jungles and mountains and thatched huts. Many called the native population, Fuzzy Wuzzies, but this was considered a derogatory term. The Papua brigades and Allied forces that constituted the Cartwheel Operations before the troopers made this landing possible.
Letter VII 6/8/44 Land
Dear Mom, Well, here we are on the island of New Guinea. From what we can see if it so far, I know we’ll never go hungry as the coconut trees are as thick as a swarm of bees.
We started for our area in trucks after all the rumors said we’d walk and we “Oh!” and Ah’d” all throughout the trip. Not wanting to show the natives here how smart we are, the driver proceeded on his own when lo and behold — where were we? I don’t know, no one knows, so right away we all knew that wherever we were — that wasn’t where we were supposed to be. Now, of course, we weren’t to blame, as after all, this is a strange and new place to us and they didn’t give us a Socony road map or a compass reading, so no matter — drive on — come what may. Of course, some large and strange appearing trees which grew in the road had different ideas and no matter how hard we hit them, they consistently set us back. How they ever managed to find a road to grow in is beyond me, but then they were here before us. Naturally, after the way they treated our truck, we gave them a wide berth, eventually leaving the road al together.
When after what seemed like hours, we finally found our area, much to the delight of the lower hind part of our anatomy. Then, our shoulders and backs had to haul our bags around until we found our tents. This was done very systematically: someone had the idea of first asking the captain just where we belonged and he proceeded to take us there. We could see at once that this place was no place for us and got right down to thinking up goldbricking alibis.
Work here is the main word we soon found out, and might I add we are all still trying to duck, but it seems that as soon as one finds a spot in the woods, oops I mean jungle, the tree-chopper-downers come along and there you are not only up to your neck in work, but also find out that now your haven is so exposed as to make it useless again as a hideout.
You might wonder what all this labor is about and also expect to find out in this chapter or letter, but no, it shall never be. I’m saving that for the next installment, which I’m sure you will be breathlessly awaiting. Regards to all.
Love, Your son, Everett
The origin of the nickname, “Angels” for the 11th Airborne has always been up for debate. At Dobodura, New Guinea, while unloading the supplies off the ships that were constantly pulling into port, it became well-known that the troopers of the 11th A/B were a bit more light-fingered than the other units. The distribution of the food and war materiel was severely unbalanced, with the bulk of it going to the troopers. It was definitely at this time that they acquired the title of “Swing and his 8,000 Thieves.” My father and many other troopers believe that the title remained with them up until the release of the internees at Los Banos prison on Luzon, when a nun looked up and said that the parachutists looked like “angels sent to save us.”
One other theory I found, while still on New Guinea, a senior officers questioned General Swing about the uneven delivery of supplies. Swing , with a rather tongue-in-cheek attitude, replied that it could not possibly be due to his “angels.”
And yet, there is another idea on the subject. The troopers, with their antics, were often in trouble. After a rather rough weekend, a senior officer asked just how many of the 11th airborne’s “little angels” were in the stockade. The reply, of course, was, “none of my angels are.”
No matter what the reason or nickname, this undermanned and under-equiped division trudged on.
Just as Smitty expected, their destination was quickly coming up over the horizon. The fleeting glimpse of solid land, Milne Bay, New Guinea was only a short stopover for water (such a disappointment) and they continued their cruise north. The 11th came upon the humming waterfront of ships manipulating to unload troops, supplies and equipment in Oro Bay. They witnessed a paradoxal view of organized chaos. Down the rope ladders they went to the beach taxis, DUKWs (2 ton amphibious vehicles commonly called “ducks”) and onward to the awaiting shoreline. At latitude 8*52’60S and longitude 148*30’0E would be the first step for many a G.I. on foreign soil. On the beach, the heat seemed to slam into the troopers and their uniforms became soaked within minutes, but they proceeded on to the Buna-Dobodura area to make their new base camp.
As written in the Australian newspaper, The Canberra Times, 1944: “New Guinea was a country out of the Stone Age that was whizzed through the centuries. A country that had previously known only natives, grass huts and raw nature has been blitzed from all angles with every piece of equipment known to modern engineering and warfare … the skies are as busy as a beehive with bombers and fighters and transports.”
The 11th had entered the jungles amidst torrential rains, mud and heat. On their first day, the meals were prepared in Australian chuck wagons and the idea of fresh food would be a distant memory from the past. From here on out, everything would be canned, dehydrated or cured. Having come from the fishing town of Broad Channel, Smitty was accustom to eating seafood and was even teased in boot camp for liking the creamed chipped beef on toast (more commonly known as -“shit-on-a-shingle”), but those days were long gone. I remember him saying more than once, “It wasn’t that the powdered eggs tasted bad — they just didn’t have a taste.”
Although General Swing had contracted malaria and was hospitalized when his men sipped out of the U.S., he boarded a plane for Brisbane, Australia to attend a meeting with Gen. MacArthur. Swing was briefed on the immediate plans for his command and was reminded that the 11th A/B was considered a “secret weapon.” Swing managed to be in Dobodura in time to meet his men as they disembarked.
Letter VI Land Ho! On the port side
Dear Mom, Well, land is in sight so I’ll just hold off this letter awhile until I can find out for sure if this is what we have all been waiting for or just another island…. Yep and yes siree this is finally it and from what I have seen up to now it is going to prove not only an interesting place, but picturesque as well. Don’t know yet if we can say where we are, so I won’t attempt it.
Everyone is standing along the railings with glasses while those less fortunate are straining their eyes trying to get a glimpse of our new and strange surroundings. It is all very exciting and thrilling and must say one gets sort of feeling down deep that is hard to explain. It might be that the sight of this long awaited place has sub-consciously awaked us to the fact that we are one heck of a long way from home.
Now that we are here in a port with a chance of possibly getting this letter mailed, I’ll close this letter and mail it as I know how anxious you must be about me and would like to hear from me as soon as possible. I promise you though that I will continue to write my letters like this and would like you to save them all so that when I get back I will have something to read back on and maybe remember.
I did finally get around to
part of this was censored so don’t worry any on that account. I know how you worry about things like that so thought it best that you know. the next two lines were also censored That is just about all there is for now, so with regards to all and hoping this letter is the answer to your nightly prayers, I’ll close with all my love and millions of hugs and kisses.
Your son, Everett
PERSONAL NOTE – If any photo image is too small to see, click on that image to enlarge. In future letters you will see the dry humor my father had. I can’t wait to get to those.
From my father’s description of his transport ship out of San Francisco and the approximate number of soldiers that were aboard, I can speculate that it was a Heywood class ship, as seen to the left. As the ship lumbered out to the ocean swells, many of the young men took their final glance of the USA. Smitty thought that his most boring time in the army was while he sailed on this cruise, although he did well in learning how to play cards – as did many other G.I.’s.
As they boarded, the ship’s crew immediately began enforcing the security procedures. All portholes and hatches were covered and no lights were allowed after dusk. The heat below deck would become intolerable. The arrival of the “ditty bags” filled with toiletries, cigarettes, gum and a harmonica brightened their spirits; although many of the mouth organs were sent flying overboard when the noise made from the tin-eared soldiers became too much for the ship’s officers to endure. This cruise would take 28 days.
When they passed the equator, as per naval tradition, the ship’s crew donned their apparel of King Neptune and his court in preparation of handing the “Pollywogs” (the soldiers) their certificates of crossing. The Royal Barber tried to cut the hair of the crew-cut troopers and the Royal Executioner paddled a backside with an oar if the receiving line moved too closely to a snail’s pace. (which one can imagine was every G.I. derriere that went by!) Smitty was one to really enjoy this sort of tomfoolery — even if it was with the navy! The water damage you see to Smitty’s certificate (pictured below) is one of the reasons I began to make a facsimile of his scrapbook onto the computer. The more research I did, the more people I discovered who were out there, also looking for data on their own relatives, ergo – this blog. I have re-typed the contents of the certificate to show the humor involved — despite a war.
To All Sailors, Marines, Whatever Ye Maybe: Greetings: and to all Mermaids, Whales, Sea Serpents, Porpoises, Sharks, Eels,Dolphins, Skates, Suckers, Crabs, Lobsters and all other Living Things of the Sea: Know ye, that on this June 15 ’44 in Latitude 00000 and Longitude Cape Mendacia there appeared within Our Royal Domain the bound Southwestward for the Equator, the South Sea Islands, New Zealand and Australian ports BE IT REMEMBERED That the said Vessel and Officers and Crew thereof have been inspected and passed on by Ourselves and Royal Staff: AND BE IT KNOWN By all ye Sailors, Marines, Landlubbers, Soldiers and all others who may be honored by his presence, that Pollywog Everett A. Smith 32816491 Having been found worthy to be numbered as one of our Trusty Shellbacks he has been duly initiated into the SOLEMN MYSTERIES OF THE ANCIENT ORDER OF THE DEEP Be It Further Understood: That by Virtue of the power invested in me I do hereby command all my subjects to show honor and respect to him wherever he may be. Disobey the Order under Penalty of Royal Displeasure. (bottom left) Given under our band and seal this Davey Jones, His Majesty’s Scribe – (bottom right) Neptunus Rex, His Servant – the signature appears to be Gregory Cullen
Click on photos to enlarge.
Letter III Somewhere at sea at a loss
Dear Mom, We have been on this tub for quite some time now and I must say that although the army doesn’t go to any great pains making you comfortable, they sure do go to extremes making it unpleasant. I can’t tell you as much as I would like to about the trip or what we are doing. One reason is that we don’t know where the heck we are anyway and as for what we are doing, well anything we might like to do would be stopped sooner than it got started. It has gotten so that now we have to play cards, if money is displayed, down in the hold. Seems as though the sea gulls over this ocean are the pious type and the sight of men gambling is revolting — or they think it is food.
To try and describe the food or the mess hall would curtail the use of profanity the like of which I wouldn’t attempt to use. To call it food in the first place is flattery at its best. Mess Hall is very appropriate — it is some MESS. This is the first time in my life that I can truthfully say I dread the thought of eating. We are supposed to tell you that on board ship we can purchase cigarettes for 4 1/2 cents a pack, also candy and a load of other stuff at cost price. We can also buy bottles of coca cola, but the blame stuff is so hot that we are of the opinion that loaded down with this coke in our stomachs, we might be used as depth charges if a sub should show up. We did receive free, with no strings attached, a bag full of necessary things from the Red Cross. It really was worthwhile going after.
Where we might be bound for is still a very big question that will no doubt be answered only when we finally arrive there. After all, if we knew, we might tell it to the stars and that would be just awful. I realize this doesn’t sound like a very pleasant letter, but then you must take into consideration this isn’t a very pleasant trip. None of those romantic moonlit nights. Well, that is all for today, so until later on when I will be back to add to this, I’ll say so long for now and all my love, Everett
Letter IV Still at sea in a quandary
Dear Mom, Well, here I am again as promised. Yesterday we had a little something different to sea besides the sea. Notice that I’m getting so that I can only spell the sea when I mean to write see. Early in the morning we had the pleasure of seeing another ship and must say it sure made one feel good. Why it should though I can’t say unless it is the thought that someone else is having it just as tough. Guess there is some truth in the saying, “Misery loves company.” We also had the pleasure of watching some islands in the far off distance. I won’t try to describe them to you, as that would be too much to expect to pass. (Censorship) You will kindly take notice that I used the words “pleasant” and “pleasure,” if I keep that up you might get the idea this is getting to be that kind of voyage. Some amusing things do happen though, such as the boys sleeping out on the deck getting caught in the rain or some clumsy ox slipping and sliding his way along the boat. By the way, I forgot to tell you that we get the regular news everyday in a printed form resembling a newspaper. Also music by record sounds tinny, but anything out here is good.
You can readily see I haven’t much ambition for writing today, which reminds me
Everett was blacked out by censors. Matter of fact, the way I feel right now, I don’t care much whether I do or not. Well, that is all for today’s report on nothing, so with all my love, I am your ever obedient son, Everett
Letter V Yep! Still at sea
Dear Mom, I was seriously thinking of tearing this letter up, as I couldn’t for the life of me locate an airmail stamp aboard ship. I kept at it though until finally fortune smiled down on me and success was mine. I have been pretty lucky so far at my card playing activities and should it hold out until we reach some civilized port, why I’ll be ahead and you will be pleasantly surprised when you receive my check for like amount. We can cable home money from abroad so might just as well take your advice — surprised? — and send it home for that day when we shall all return.
We have a large map of the world hanging up on the wall, which supplies us with as much amusement trying to figure out just where we are. According to figures, dates, times and patience, we should be hitting a port sometime real soon. In fact there is a rumor being whispered about that we will hit one tomorrow. Now this rumor comes from good authority seeing that it came from a fellow whose first sergeant is a second cousin to the uncle of the father of the first mate whose brother is third cook on this boat. Now, can’t you see why we are so glumly overjoyed? All kidding aside though, we should be nearing one soon.
We saw a movie last night down in the mess hall. It was quite an old picture, but luckily for me, I hadn’t seen it before, so therefore I spent my most enjoyable hour so far on this trip. The officers on this trip haven’t been having it quite as tough as us, but rough enough. In order to pass away their time they have taken up the game of badminton with a zeal and I must say have really kept at it until now this regiment can boast it has not only badminton players, but experts as well. By the way, I have also learned how to play the old card game of Cribbage. Ever hear tell of it before? Well mom, that is all for today, so once again I’ll sign off, but before I do, give my regards to all and I’ll write again soon. Love and kisses, Everett
Pvt. Smith was as cocky and proud as the next trooper, but he also thought of the army as a learning experience and considered his new adventure as a chance to experience things he would not otherwise have the opportunity. On April 23, 1944, he stepped off a train near Camp Stoneman, California. Here the troopers would learn how to live aboard ship, operate life boats, raft kits and climb up and down rope ladders. Censorship of the soldier’s letters began here. The Inspector General’s men discovered the ruse of the 11th A/B Division hiding behind the paperwork of Shipment #1855 and the troopers began to accumulate AW104’s in record amounts. (Under the Article of War #104 – a commanding officer may give punishment, as is necessary, without the threat of court-martial.) May 2, the 11th A/B moved to Pittsburg, CA by way of inland boats to their actual POE and the letters from Smitty began …
Letter I Tuesday 5/2/44 Dear Mom, I sure am a fine one after calling you Sunday especially to wish you a Happy Birthday and I go and forget to, but I assure you it wasn’t intentional, but just excitement of the conversation. I tried yesterday to buy a card, but to no avail. No doubt by the time you receive this letter you will be wondering why I didn’t call you this week as I promised I would. It just so happened that we were confined to our company area starting yesterday morning, so it was an impossibility to get to either a telephone or telegraph office. From now on all my letters to you will be numbered as this one is in the upper left hand corner. In that way, you can read my letters in sequence and can tell whether or not you are receiving all my letters. I would also advise sending all letters to me from now on by airmail as that will be the quickest way. We heard that not all the mail so far from here has yet been sent out, but when it does go out, why you will no doubt get them all at once. Tell everyone at home to be patient and they will no doubt hear from me as I sit down Saturday and either write a letter or card to everyone I know. You had better check up on them all and see that they have my correct address, as the army will notify only you of any new changes. I sure don’t want to lose out on my letters of anyone just because they have an incorrect address. Yesterday we didn’t do much of anything, but Sunday was really quite an entertaining day. We went bowling, then to a free USO show and from there to a movie. The entertainment is so full and alive that sometimes it still persists in your dreams. Therefore, you can really say they even take care of you while you are slumbering. Well mom, that is all for now, so once more I want to wish you a “Happy Birthday” and the best of everything. Don’t worry and keep you chin up. Love, Everett
PS – Be on the lookout for a new Class E allotment I made out and also a B allotment. Your allotments now will come to 22 dollars cash and a $18.75 war bond a month. I’m getting pretty good, aren’t I?
Letter II Thursday 5/4/44
There really isn’t much to write about as I’ve told you most everything on the phone. By the way, when you receive your bill for the month let me know just how much these calls cost.
I heard from Harley yesterday and it seems that he wants something to do and they just won’t give him anything. They have now made him landscape sergeant and I can just see him pulling weeds and taking care of flowers. If he should ever get his load on, he’ll nip out the flowers and let the weeds alone. I haven’t written to Woods yet, but give me time. I’ll get around to it before long.
We have to police up the area now, so will leave you for a while. Be back before long. — Hello again. We no sooner pick up the old cigarette butts and paper than some jerk behind you drops one so that cleaning up is getting to be a problem. Policing up is what is known as body bending exercise, head down, backsides pointing to the sky.
Well mom, that is all there is for now so take care of yourself and give my regards to all. All my love, Everett
Smitty was unable to tell his mother that he and the 11th A/B would be shipping out the following day – destination and mission unknown. The men cruised from Suisan Bay into San Pablo Bay, into San Francisco Bay and under the Oakland Bridge to Oakland Mole where the Red Cross passed out coffee and donuts while they boarded the transport ships. So … back under the Oakland Bridge, thru San Francisco Bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge to the open Pacific.
This photograph on the left was removed from a New York newspaper. The sign above the entry states: “Through these portals pass the best damn soldiers in the World.” The clipping beside it indicates shipping out dates. The 11th A/B departed May 5, 1944. Smitty said that this cruise would be the most boring part of his service, although he did become quite adept at playing cards during this time.
It took 22 trains and one week to transport the proud and cocky division to Camp Polk in the west-central area of Louisiana. This was the home of the armored forces and it would not take long for the two units to clash. But first, they planned to enjoy the improved living conditions and the 3.2 beer. They found time to “hit the town” and often it was a place called “Scotty’s,” just outside of Southern Pines. The tank units did not take kindly to the finely tuned troopers who were in the best shape of their lives (and they knew it!). The 11th would often “unboot” the tankers when they were in town, forcing them to return to base barefoot and find their footwear neatly lined up in their barracks.
Beginning Jan. 10, the men underwent harsh training in preparation for the tests at the hands of the Third Army. The Louisiana Maneuvers began Feb. 5 with the troopers bivouacked near Hawthorne, LA. There were 4 tactical maneuvers lasting 3 days each. First, they jumped and marched immediately after. Then they attacked and defended using an attack sequence of “flags & umpires.” Finally, the “enemy” broke through and they would retreat. The weather in the Calcasieu Swamp was snow, hail, sleet and enough rain to swallow a jeep. The men joked that the camp should be a naval base. On Feb. 20, the 11th airborne division took and passed their infantry tests.
About this time, Gen. Swing was pleased to be told that the troopers were being sent to the Pacific and MacArthur would consider the unit his “secret weapon.” This turned out to be one reason for the lack of newspaper coverage for the division until they landed in the Philippines. I discovered this after an extensive search in the Australian library and newspaper archives.
Click on photos to enlarge.
The 11th was restricted to base for one month. Swing decided the men should travel to their POE (Port of Exit/Entry) Camp Stoneman, CA incognito as Shipment # 1855 in an effort to bypass the Inspector General’s men. Orders were to look and act as a “straight-leg” unit; ALL paratrooper I.D. and clothing to be stowed away.
News from home: The Banner (Broad Channel newspaper sent to servicemen) reports: NY Governor Dewey signed a bill that would allow fishermen of Jamaica Bay to shoot an unlimited amount of eels, but the shooting had to be done with bow and arrow. Smitty’s mom says: everyone is still trying to figure that one out.
Fellow blogger, Carl D’Agostino at “i know i made you smile”, sent me his father’s pictures and information. Arthur D’Agostino had been with the 8th Armored Division. They were stationed at Camp Campbell, KY until 1943 when they were moved to Camp Polk, LA to prepare for combat. The division was sent to the European Theater on 5 December 1943, but Mr. D’Agostino was in recovery from surgery and was spared the journey. Carl’s blog can be found HERE.
Click on images to enlarge.