Smitty – Letter XII

The 11th Airborne Division, still in New Guinea  and continuing to specialize their training – little do they know that they are coming closer and closer to their time for combat.  Their commander, General Swing, awaits the word from General MacArthur.

Backpacking the good ol' fashion way

Backpacking the good ol’ fashion way


Letter XII                                                       ?? Problems ??                                           0800 Sunday 9/3/44

Dear Mom,  We will start off first with “Webster’s” definition of the word — problem.  “A question for solution, and a proposition to be demonstrated.”  This is all very true, only in the army, although it is demonstrated, it never turns out in a satisfactory solution.

For some unknown reason, the hint of a problem soon-to-be gets around long before it is ever officially announced.  When once you hear about it, you begin to wonder just how you will get out of going and wonder if going on sick call will help.  The best thing is to try to get on some detail, but generally, the details floating around loose at that time are of such a nature that going on the problem is much easier.

No one likes or cares for problems including the officers and non-coms, except maybe a few who are bucking and hope to show their leader that they have tactical and sure-fire P.F.C. abilities.

No matter how easy or simple the problem, you always have to carry around a load of unnecessary equipment.  On the day set forth for the problem they put up a list of the stuff you are to take with you.  After an hour or two spent trying to get everything into the pack, just big enough to hold a pair of socks, a tent, poles, rain gear, poncho, insect repellent and your toilet articles, you are pretty well tired out and lie down for a few minutes rest.  You no sooner do that than the sergeant will come around with a revised list of equipment and again you unpack and re-pack.  This goes on through the day until finally in utter despair you pick up your duffel bag and carry that on your back.

Finally the whistle blows.  You hurriedly put on your pack, pick up your rifle and dash to fall in the formation forming outside.  After standing there for 30 or 40 minutes, you realize that all your rushing was in vain and that you have a chance to untangle yourself from the pack harness and straighten it out.  You no sooner start to do this than the order comes to pull out and get going.

While marching out, it suddenly dawns on you that a quick visit to the latrine would have helped, but is now impossible to get to.  After walking for two hours, your pack feels like a ton and your five-pound rifle now weighs twenty.  The heat is slowly getting you down and you begin to wonder, is it all worth it?  Soon the Lt. comes prancing alongside of you and walking just as easy as falling off a log.  He says a few words to you, such as, “Close it up.” “Keep in line” or “How you doing fella?” as he passes by.  You wonder how the devil he can keep it up, until you take a good look at his pack.  Many are the times when I wondered what would happen if I stuck a pin in it.  Wonderful things these basketball bladders.

When finally you arrive at the next to last stop, the Lt. calls his men around him and proceeds to try and tell them what this problem is about and what we are supposed to do.  We are all too tired to listen in the first place and in the second place — don’t give a damn.  All this time you watch the Lt. and soon you realize that he didn’t much care for the problem and is probably just as annoyed as you.

When you finally hit the place where the problem is, confusion takes over and the problem is started.  Orders are given and not carried out, cause generally the G.I. has been told before to do something else, so that by the time order is restored, all is in a worse shape than before.  The Lt. takes out a map to try and locate himself and is only to find that the map he has is the one relating to last week’s problem.  No matter, from then on, where the C.P. and assembly area were to be, now, wherever you are at that particular moment will become the C.P. and assembly area.  If the rest of the company was fortunate enough to locate the right place — the hell with them — let them find us.

You are then assigned to different spots and told to dig in.  Now, digging in calls for some thought.  If you just dig a slit trench, it doesn’t call for much work, but you can always be seen and so you can’t sleep.  But, if you dig a larger hole, called a foxhole, you can safely sleep away the night and also — the problem.  Myself?  I go for the foxhole on the slit trench side as it affords me the opportunity of sleeping in a horizontal position.

002 (530x800)

Soon the whistle blows announcing the end of the problem.  You awaken to find that it is the next day and that once again you slept through the whole mess.  Questions are asked as to who or what side won, did the enemy get through and a thousand and one others.  Before leaving the place, you now have to shovel the dirt back into your hole, as leaving blank open holes around are dangerous to life and limb.  When that is completed, you put your backpack back on and trudge your weary way back.

Upon arriving back in camp, critiques are held and then you find out what you were supposed to have learnt while you were out there.  I have always been of the opinion that if critiques were held before going out, it would save us all a lot of trouble and also make going on the problem — unnecessary.  Once back in your tent, you unpack and think that now you will lie down and have a little nap, only to find out that the detail you tried to get on in order to miss the problem has materialized and that you are to get up and get on it.  Oh, weary bones, will they never have any rest?

Don’t give up, for after all, the war can’t last forever.  One thing you can always count on though, problems are the pride and joy of the army and will continue on being as long as there is an army.

Hope I’ve confused you as much as we are.  I’ll leave you as that damn detail has come up and so I’ll have to carry my weary body out and hope I last out the day.

Confused as all hell,    Everett


But training goes on …..

New Guinea, training. Notice the date on the picture – 


Military Humor –



Farewell Salutes –

John ‘Spike’ Adochio – Miltown, NJ; US Army, WWII

Nevin Biser Jr. – Columbia, SC; US Navy, WWII

Joseph Chadwell – Tullahoma, TN; US Army Air Corps, WWII, 101st Airborne Division

Edward Elder – Los Angeles, CA; US Navy, USS Seawolf, KIA

US Army division salute for outgoing & incoming troops

US Army division salute for outgoing & incoming troops

Alan Fewer – Christchurch, NZ; RNZ Air Force  # 413053, Squadron 485 & RAF 232, WWII

Bee Jay Garrison – Bethany, OK; US Army, WWII, PTO

Clare Hollingworth – ENG; Telegraph war correspondent, WWII, ETO

John McGrath – Calgary, CAN; RC Army, WWII, ETO, (Ret.)

Bruce O’Brien Sr. – Chicago, IL; US Navy, WWII, PTO, SeaBee

Joseph ‘Pip’ Paolantonio – Wayne, PA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, Cpl., 472 Glider Field Artillery/11th Airborne Division


About GP

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GP is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on January 16, 2017, in Letters home, SMITTY, Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 119 Comments.

  1. I can relate to the scenario in Smitty’s letter perfectly, in my twenty years those situations arose quite frequently. Start getting Smitty’s book together gp.

    Liked by 1 person

    • At this point, with the bibliography so large, there is no way in the world I could get permission to reprint (for free) from so many publishers for a book. They don’t seem to care about a non-profit blog, so here I am. At least his letter “Jungle Juice” has been published in “Soldiers’ Stories: A Collection of WWII Memoirs” published by the Miller Family. Great book!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ” I have always been of the opinion that if critiques were held before going out, it would save us all a lot of trouble and also make going on the problem — unnecessary. ”


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Another great letter from Smitty! I know my father would have enjoyed reading them too. Yes, your Dad did have a sense of humor!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A terrific letter! :))) I don’t know how Smitty kept his sense of humor w/ all that was going on.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. His letters, and the dry humor in them, always gives me a smile. I had a discussion with my dad last summer about his digging experiences in WWII – quite interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Always enjoy the Smitty Chronicles 😉 Sometimes they ping memories of some of the stories dad told about his time in the army. I won’t repeat the one about this is your rifle and this is your gun…..

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Interesting that in the middle of a war it was thought dangerous to leave holes open. That’s the beauty of first hand accounts.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Another letter I thank you for sharing. I am fascinated also with what you said about WWII archives still being declassified, wow

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Honestly — such a wise man. I laughed out loud at this: “I have always been of the opinion that if critiques were held before going out, it would save us all a lot of trouble and also make going on the problem — unnecessary.” Oh, and doesn’t that apply in a lot of civilian situations, too! These letters really are a treasure — I’m so glad you’re sharing them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Linda. I am very happy you are enjoying them. I know I treasure them (but then again, I’m prejudiced). It bolsters my original opinion as a kid that they were worth sharing.


  10. I want 3 volunteers … you, you and you.

    I was never a regular. Militia. But we also trained – Camp Wainwright with the PPCLI (Princess Pats Canadian Light Infantry). They wanted us kids (I was 15) to get the flavour of soldiering – without killing us. (Bad form to kill militia kids). So we’re on night maneuvers. It’s raining and cold. We get to the top of a ridge and they tell us to dig in. We’re sitting in there – cold and wet. A guy passing by says there’s some coffee down the hill. Up we jump. When get back … our rifles ( FNC1) are gone. Holy Crap !!! We frantically look all over. Shortly a PPCLI Office walks up: “You boys looking for something?”
    We got our rifles back – with a very stern lecture.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. This letter should be required reading of all new recruits; but, I suppose they’d experience it on day one, and figure out the prevailing philosophy, oh….. within a week (therefore, saving “alot of trouble and also make going on the problem — unnecessary”). A constant, frustrating wonder…

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Hard soldier’s life in the war time. The only person who experienced that could write so emotional and truthful letter. It recalled my own army experience memories although it wasn’t by the war time.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Sounded to me like Smitty was trying to give his mom some clues of problems coming up in his clever way.That is what the mother in me sensed. But he certainly did have a way with words.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Being as close to Gen. Swing as he was, I don’t doubt he was hearing rumors – but in the Army – most everything one hears is going to be rumors. That old saying of his, “believe have of what you see and none of what you read.”

      Liked by 2 people

  14. I always think, how wonderful it is that he wrote those letters, and they were delivered uncensored. What a witness.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. SNAFU, the way of the Army. Thanks again, GP and of course, Smitty.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. “Hurry up and wait~!”

    Nothing much ever changes. The men? Keep the buggers busy! How?

    “March ’em up to the top of the hill, and…”


    “… march ’em down again.”

    Repeat the dose as often as the guy on his ass feels necessary. (Oops, redundancy there … simply “As often as the ass feels necessary” would have sufficed).

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Another great letter, GP. Thanks for sharing it.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I love reading letter home GP…I imagine it would not be encouraging to receive such a letter.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Hi, this is such a great blog, and I love this one. Sent it to my son and also my grandson, both who have been in the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan and now one is Active Reserve and the other National Guard. I am so proud of both of them. They will love this one.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. “I have always been of the opinion that if critiques were held before going out, it would save us all a lot of trouble and also make going on the problem — unnecessary.”

    Such wise words and it appears that even with the passing of time, much much time; we are still ALL confused as hell.

    Thanx for another fine read. GP. ~~dru~~

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Loved reading this letter as your Dad’s letters bring it closer to home. It sure does sound like the motto is “Hurry up and Wait”.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. After the war, America became an economic powerhouse, not so much because everywhere else had the crap bombed out of it – but because several million guys learned how to adjust to the bizarre behavior of bureaucracies.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. It seems to me that your dad’s letters were not only intended for your mom to read, but also for you to publish them as you are doing it now on your fascinating blog. Perhaps your dad at one point even planned to write a book.

    Liked by 2 people

    • He passed away in 1988, so home computers were not around. I used to ask him permission to submit these letters to a magazine or make a book out of them, but he felt no one would be interested in a simple soldier. He wasn’t one to talk much about it (like so many others), but when he did, it was never I did this or I did that – it was always the 11th Airborne did……
      Thank you for your interest, Peter!

      Liked by 2 people

      • How I wish I had letters like yours. My Dad was a test pilot and then a military scientist – so unable to talk about practically anything at all – even many years later, much was still classified, and he took it to his grave. He was tight lipped about almost everything, thanks being drilled in the importance of Security. “Need to know” seemed to be his life motto, though he did joke about “hurry up and wait.”

        When my sister was young, her teacher asked the class what their fathers did at work. My mother was informed that she replied, “He eats lunch.” That was about all he could share during family dinners – what he ate for lunch – sometimes not even with whom or where. 🙂

        I do know that he received many medals during WWII (Purple Heart with clusters – tho’ he NEVER talked about how or why), and remained “Army Air Corps” officially, even though he wore an Air Force uniform – some kind of grandfather clause. I wish I could ask him all SORTS of questions – and that he would be able to answer them. I’m quite sure nothing was ever written down that wasn’t in a high-security safe, however.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Believe it or not, WWII materiel in the Archives are still being de-classified. Very slow work there. Security is always important, a subject most civilians do not seem to understand. It is a shame it keep you from learning more about your dad. If you ever care to put him in the farewell Salutes, simply give me his name, rank, unit # [if possible] – well, you see what I put in the Salutes….

          Liked by 2 people

          • “Loose lips sink ships,” as they used to say.

            The “public right to know” seems to have been greatly misunderstood to mean the “right” to know *everything* – but given the actions of far too many politicians, it is certainly understandable how that idea came about.

            Toward the end of his career my father served as Congressional Liaison, and BOY did he complain about the loose lips there (although he used *much* less flattering words).

            I wrote an article about how little I know about my father [“Homage to Brandy – the most amazing man I never knew”]. Although it is on the longish side, it is an interesting retelling [I hope!] of practically every story I know about him. ONE single blog post.

            Thanks for the offer of a Salute – I’ll have to think about it. I’m not sure my father would have been comfortable even with that.

            Liked by 1 person

  24. Another classic letter from your bitingly amusing father! My favourite, laugh out loud, line was “…if critiques were held before going out, it would save us a lot of trouble and also make going on the problem – unnecessary.” 😂

    Liked by 2 people

  25. This sounds so much like the amazing soldiers I’m following in Ross’s story of Chosin Reservoir. These guys are always humble, hard-working, and committed to their leaders. Amazing how much that accomp-lishes.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. As a military vet, I can relate. Smitty really hit the nail on the head. I liked to call the little projects they’d put us on, “organized confusion.”

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Another great letter. I love how he used the word “problem” as a euphemism for battle. Was that to fool the censors? Or were these not real battles, just training exercises? I have to wonder what your grandmother made of all his images and language!

    Liked by 2 people

  28. I’m so glad he kept his wits about him, and that someone decided to keep these letters. My dad echoed his thoughts about packing, repacking and not being sure where they were going half the time.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. I enjoy so much your father’s letters.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. “After standing there for 30 or 40 minutes, you realize that all your rushing was in vain…”

    Reminds me of my boot camp days back in the 1970s. As you might know, the draft is very much alive in Singapore even now, and all 18 year-olds spend up to 20 months in the military or police. During my time, it was 30 months for NCOs and 36 months for officers.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. On a Different subject, for those of you that like WW2 Period Dramas there is a new movie out called “Alone in Berlin”. It is based on the novel by the same title by Hans Fallada. It is the True Story about the parents of a German soldier killed on the front who decide to start a “Truth” Campaign against the third reich, telling people what is really going on versus what the Nazi party is telling them. Really good movie with Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. All that equipment and someone had to take a bugle.

    Liked by 3 people

  33. Such a brave soul; trying to find normalcy in a crazy war and sleeping in a makeshift grave; more or less! The POV was much appreciated as I found soldiers usually wrote about combats, and I’d often wondered how they managed in between. Thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dad never wrote about the combat or horrors we all know transpired. As a child, I was sorry he didn’t, but I understand now.
      I thank you for taking the time to read the letter today.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I’m sorry; I need to clarify. I have read your dad’s amazing letters to his mom before. I was speaking generally when I talked about stories I’ve been exposed to from other soldiers’ point of view. Perhaps your father didn’t write about the combats, because he needed some kind of normalcy, and I’m sure he didn’t want to worry your grandmother even more. Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

  34. My Dad used to say that the British Army maxim was “Hurry up, and wait.” It sounds like your Dad experienced much the same thing in the US Army. He wrote about it with warmth and wit though, and you are lucky to have those letters to this day.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  35. And does Smitty bring training memories of decades ago!!

    Liked by 2 people

  36. You’ve shared 2 posts from here – an honor, thank you.


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