More G.I. work … Letter XII
Back in the states, people were still dancing to the tunes of The Dorsey Brothers, Count Basie and Artie Shaw. They listened to the songs of Doris Day, the Andrew Sisters, Lena Horne and Rosemary Clooney. But, some others weren’t so lucky, in the army there was always latrine duty, as depicted in the following letter from Smitty.
The cartoons were thought of and drawn by Pvt. Smith. (They scanned in rather light, so you may need to click the photos to see them clearly. Sorry for the inconvenience.)
Letter XII Latrines Wednesday 9/5/44
Many are the times you have heard me refer to the latrines. Never before had I any conception or realized the amount of genius and mathematical figuring that was necessary for the building of one of these casual looking comfort stations.
Yesterday I had the dubious honor of being selected, with four other disgruntled G.I.s, to labor on a detail whose sole aim and mission was the digging and building of a latrine. It seems that in order to get a latrine built correctly there also has to be present a lieutenant and a hard to please sergeant. Their presence is essential due to the fact that if they weren’t around, it would never get built, no less started and to supervise the completion and finesse details of the finer points necessary for sanitation and the comfort of the men. You can most generally find these two worthy in some far off spot, away from all the work.
To begin with, a place is chosen suitable for a latrine, generally about a half mile from the nearest inhabitant and well hidden in the brush and woods. This is done for the very simple reason that it affords the stricken G.I. a chance to brush up on his long forgotten tracking and compass reading lessons, also the hike involved tends to make up for the many he has missed.
You wait then while the Lt., in a very business-like manner, marks out the length and width desired. When finished, he gives you a short speech on the importance of the detail and the time limit allotted, ending with: “Good digging fellows. I know you can do it, as you are the picked men!”
You pick up your shovels and picks and gloomily get to work. First, the picks are put into play loosening up the stubborn ground. Then, the shovels get to work removing the loose dirt, making sure to pile it evenly around the hole. This procedure is followed until finally you have now a hole six feet long by five feet in width with a depth ranging anywheres from six to eight feet. Try as you may to dig less than six feet, the sergeant always has a ruler handy which he guards with his life. One would think that a latrine hole that size would last forever, but as I found out, in the army — they don’t.
Next step is to lower into this hole oil drums whose both ends have been removed. This end cutting process is something foreign to us as they had another detail doing that the day before. I understand though that it is a highly skilled job in that keeping the ax blades from chipping is quite a problem. These drums, once lowered and set side by side, draws to a close the crude laborious end of the job.
Boards, saws, hammers and nails now appear along with some overbearing would-be carpenters. They proceed to build a coffin-like box which looks more like anything else but a box. This affair, when finished, is fitted over the hole, covering completely the hole and part of the piles of loose dirt spread around the outer fringe. This type of latrine box is called the settee type. It is very comfortable to sit on if rough boarding isn’t employed. When the box is completed to the satisfaction and sitting height comfort of all present, holes are then cut in the top. These holes are oval in shape, but of different width and shapes. The rear end of a G.I.’s anatomy, I’ve found, has many varied shapes and sizes.
The next thing to put in an appearance is the latrine blind and screen. This is very simple, although at times men have leaned back into it and got tangled up in the canvas, bringing it where the blind should be. While the blind is being put up on a long pipe, funnel-shaped at one end comes up and demands a lot of detailed attention. The height of this pipe, when set, is a trial and tribulation to all and never satisfies all who use it. This funneled affair is intended for what all funnels are. The directing of a stream of water.
The Lt. and sergeant now come out of hiding, inspect it and proclaim it a job well done and worthy of their time and supervision, strutting off gaily chatting, leaving us to find our way alone, unguided and without a compass, back to our tents. We, in the building of this latrine were fortunate in that we only had to erect it once and it was the correct position. Generally, you dig three or four only to find out that it is out of line somehow with the next latrine a mile away.
Generals, colonels and majors all visit while you are at work. Their presence is also needed for the fact that when they are around, you stand at attention and in that way get a moment’s rest. The captain generally comes out to see how you are doing and always tells you to hurry it up as the boys back in camp are prancing around like young colts and doing weird dance steps all the while hoping that they can hold out until its completion.
When once finished and back in camp, you are kept busy giving the boys directions as to where it is and then have to listen to them gripe about the distance away from their tent the blame thing is. It is, I have found out, a thankless detail and one I intend missing the next time there is one to be built.There are of course different types of latrines as the illustrations show, but most of those are for troops on the move. Now, why they should say, ‘troops on the move’ I do not know, for certainly no matter whether in the latrines or on the wat to it, you are most certainly moving.
Before any G.I. finds the latrine, the flies are already there. No latrine is a latrine until after a family or two moves in. They too are necessary in that without them as an annoying element, some men would never leave, others would fall asleep, while others would use it as an indefinite hiding place from some hike or detail. Latrines are also necessary for rumors. Until a good latrine is built, rumors around the camp lay dormant. Many new and strange acquaintances are made and the souls of many a man have been saved while sitting in this sanctuary place of appeasement.
No place in the army gets the care and attention of a latrine. Orderlies are assigned daily to see to its cleanliness. Medical inspections are twice a week, while on Saturdays it has to stand a general inspection. It is the haven of good-fellowship, conversations and a relief to all men in the end.
Hoping I have portrayed for you the army’s version of a rest station, I’ll close, as the flies in here are very annoying and the fellow standing and waiting for me to leave is going into a rage and walking up and down all the while eyeing me up and down as if to kill.
Ending this in a hasty departure and on the run, I am always, Your son, Everett
Smitty did not write home about his experience with the showers. (Unfortunately, I do not remember which island this story occurred on.) He was coming back into camp after having a nice cold shower. He walked back with a towel wrapped around his middle and held it closed with his left hand. The jungle appeared quiet except for the buzzing of the insects whizzing around him. He said, “You know how annoying just one mosquito can be when it’s hovering by your ears. This was like a swarm and I tried like hell to use my right hand to swat them away from my face. When I began to approach our tents there was not one man to be seen and I couldn’t imagine where they all went. As I got closer I could hear the G.I.s yelling and they were waving their arms as they crouched in their tents, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Besides, I was too preoccupied with swatting the bugs. When I got back to my tent complaining about how aggravating the bugs on the island were, I asked them what all the hooting and hollering was all about. All they kept doing was checking my skin and asking if I was alright. Somebody yelled, ‘Those were no jungle bugs — that’s shrapnel!’ When they discovered that I had been hit, someone happily said that I could put in for a Purple Heart.
After a good laugh between dad and I, I asked if he ever put in for the medal. He laughed again and said that he was too embarrassed. “For one thing I felt stupid for not realizing what was going on and second, I didn’t want to be grouped into being one of those guys that put in for a Purple Heart every time they nicked themselves shaving. It would be like taking something away from the men who actually did get wounded and deserved the medal.”
Posted on November 10, 2012, in Letters home, SMITTY, Uncategorized, WWII and tagged "Angels", 11th airborne division, 1944, Airborne, Army, Everett Smith, History, Latrines, Military, Military History, New Guinea, pacific photos, Pacific War, paratroopers, veterans, war, war letters, WWII. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.