Letter III – SMITTY, Somewhere At Sea At A Loss

May 1944 – US troops relax laying cards while a troopship takes them to their deployment.

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 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.

USS Heywood

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.

 

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

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Military Humor –

“Spud peeling machine? Yes, you’re the latest model.” Navy News cartoon # 21

“Chow down at the mess.” USS Darter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Harvey Alexander – East Dennis, MA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, Co. B/187/11th Airborne Division

Heren Cabacar – Portsmouth, VA; US Army, WWII & Korea, Death March survivor, POW

RESPECT

Paul C. Charvet – Yakima County, WA; US Navy, Vietnam, Lt. Commander, pilot, Attack Squadron 215, USS Bon Homme Richard, KIA (Phuoc Long Prov.)

Charles Hagemeister – Lincoln, NE; US Army, Vietnam, medic, HQ Co./1/5/1st Cavalry Division, Medal of Honor

Edgar Harrell – Clarksville, TN; USMC, WWII, PTO, USS Indianapolis survivor

Harry Holmes – USA; US Navy, WWII, PTO, fireman 3rd Class, USS Oklahoma, KIA (Pearl Harbor)

John King – Scranton, PA; US Army, Vietnam, 101st Airborne Division

Lloyd “Babe” Lashaway – Liberty Center, WI; US Army, Vietnam, 82nd Airborne Division

Burl Mullins – Dorton, KY; US Army, Korea, Cpl., Heavy Mortar Co./3/31/7th Infantry Division, KIA (Chosin Reservoir)

M.Bernadine Pierce – Herrin, IL; Civilian, WWII, “Rosie” at Mc Donald Douglas

Victor Sharp – Christchurch, NZ; NZ Army # 446826, WWII, PTO, SSgt., “Z” Special Unit

Peter Tarantino – Woodbridge, NJ; US Army, Korea, 187th RCT

John Wilstrup – Seminole, FL; US Navy, WWII, USS Boxer

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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 May 24, 2021, in First-hand Accounts, SMITTY, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 143 Comments.

  1. I’m so enjoying these slices of life from Smitty, even though they mask the serious business at hand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dad felt that he was the one in the Army in the middle of a war, but his mother wasn’t and there was no need to have her worrying any more about her only child than was necessary. Glad you’re enjoying them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “As the ship lumbered out to the ocean swells, many of the young men took their final glance of the USA.”
    This sentence breaks the heart!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I could hear his tone in the letter, and although I will never be able to fully comprehend the conditions they had to live under, Smitty certainly gives the reader a good feel for it

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The Red Cross bags sound like a huge perk

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Another wonderful letter to read. Hot Coke must have been awful, like the food.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. It is sad that it was that awful serving our country! I hope things are better today?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Young Everett would have been a great blogger had such a thing existed then. I hope his sense of humour stayed with him.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, thank you. When he was older he was the editor of the ELKS newsletter called “Old Bill”. His articles was hysterical, but even in humor, they got their point across!

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Good idea on the harmonicas! I was just thinking … your blog is one of the first I became aquainted with when I first joined WordPress. Has a warm place in my heart. Made me feel closer to my son. ♥️

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I can not imagine what the trip was like

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow 🤩 nice job on this blog 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  11. That was an enlightening description of the journey. I’d assumed tight quarters, but somehow thought the food would have been decent.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. That letter has such a ring of truth about it. And young men of that age are still just the same. They play cards and find things to grumble about.
    It’s a pity though that the food was so poor. I would have thought that one or two top Hollywood chefs could have been drafted to the troopships across the Pacific.

    Liked by 1 person

    • haha, the top chefs would have been assigned to admirals and generals, certainly not a troopship with a couple of thousand extra passengers. Your sense of humor would have gone well with Smitty!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Letters like this one are great insight into everyday life of the soldiers. It would be weird to be on a ship and have little idea about where you are or where you are going. Great share GP!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. 28 days seems a long passage under terrible conditions. Like the way he described the coca-cola and the mess hall. Glad they had cards to play to help keep their mind on something enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 28 days was long, but you have to remember they didn’t sail directly to their destination, they zig-zagged to avoid detection. They didn’t have the type escorts that helped protect the ships in the Atlantic.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. OMG, 28 days with food like at boarding school. Lol Who ever had the idea of a mouth organ for every soldier??? 😉 There is no doubt, that your father wrote a very truthful letter home, GP! You can see, that the censorship was not designed to preserve the image of the troups. Thank you for sharing these wonderful piece of remembrance, and have a beautiful week! Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Since we’ve seen that usually your father tried to protect your mother from things that might upset her, this trip must have really made him miserable and angry for him to vent so much to her. I wonder how she reacted. I know that when my daughter would send a homesick letter from camp complaining about the food, I felt just awful. And for your father (and thus your mother) there was also the unsettling and frightening knowledge that you weren’t just on a voyage, you were heading to war.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. GP, My Dad who was a Second lieutenant with Calgary Highlanders and fought in the European theatre never talked about the War. Never brought it up. Yet he had a huge library of War literature including all Churchills writings – and watched every War movie that ever came out. And if he bumped into any veteran on the street he would talk to them for hours – it didn’t even matter who they had fought for – they were somehow kindred spirits. I would have been hugely interested to hear him talk about it at any time, but it wouldn’t happen. I never figured that out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I doubt Smitty would have ever talked about it with me, except I found his scrapbook and became a nag! haha But he wouldn’t describe actual war, just like in his letters. A veteran knows that when talking to someone, there are not enough words to describe what it’s like to a civilian – and no words are needed to someone who was there.
      Being in the Pacific, my father enjoyed the ETO movies and even TV programs such as “Combat” and “Rat Patrol”, but you never heard him laugh so hard as watching, “M*A*S*H*”, “Hogan’s Heroes” or “McHale’s Navy”!!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Your stories always have something interesting. The harmonica segment was a hoot.🦉 or should I say hit a few sour notes! 🎵 Cheers! 💖

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so happy you’re enjoying the letters. They express Dad’s personality far better than I ever could. But he didn’t tell you – he did know how to play the harmonica, haha. 🎵

      Like

  19. Oh, man. 28 days of inedible food, intolerable heat below deck and pious seagulls —- ha-ha-ha, love Smitty’s wry sense of humor! When we remember what these boys went through on the battlefield, we tend to forget (or didn’t know) the hell of getting there! Wonderful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Such a long sea voyage on a relatively small ship would be my idea of Hell, GP.
    I was surprised that he wasn’t happy with the food on board. British troops used to be envious of American rations.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • On the warships, I understand the food was quite good, but on a troop ship you are feeding thousands more on top of your own crew. I suppose that takes a toll.

      Like

  21. I can’t imagine the sound of those “mouth organs” playing all at the same time. That could drive anyone crazy especially when most of them were out of tune most likely. The soldiers must have a great time annoying some officers just to pass the time before the mouth organs were thrown out to sea. Thanks for sharing your Dad’s letter. I love the spud peeling machine!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for dropping in, Rose. I know Dad knew how to play the harmonica, so I guess he kept his hidden. I did see it as a kid, but have no clue what happened to it as time went by.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Great post as usual, GP. I’m so grateful when you post these seemingly routine items that let us know what members of the greatest generation were thinking, feeling on a day-to-day basis during the war.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Smitty was an expressive writer . One of the memories an uncle of mine had during the transport was the sub-avoiding zig-zagging that the ship did : one major turn every 24 hours and minor turns every 8 hours . For some reason that stuck in his mind .

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Great letter, GP. I remember my dad saying that there was a positive side to bombing missions since getting off the sea tossed carrier was one of the few ways to beat the feeling of seasickness.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Reblogged this on Janet's Thread 2 and commented:
    Wartime experience from one who served.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Good grief! No delusions of glory there.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. It certainly didn’t sound like an exiting trip at all! Out of interest, was the mail held up until they reached land or was it taken off ship regularly. It was hard enough getting mail on Land let alone from the middle of the ocean!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Museum of the American Military Family

    Reblogged this on MAMF Library & Letters.

    Like

  29. I always look forward to your posts…Now I’m thinking of army posts…I admire your straight talk. It keeps me grounded. If they gave academy awards for bloggers I would nominate you as a well deserved recipient….Cheers! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  30. I got in on the last of K rations before tastier options were introduced. The only one I couldn’t handle was the lima beans and ham. The rest were pretty good. The packages came with little packs of cigarettes that took on the taste of the Chicklets packaged in the same package (Four cigarettes, maybe five – I forget.) I didn’t smoke at the time (nor now), so those little packages of cigarettes were handy trading material when trying to trade the unloved lima beans and ham for any other can of food.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. I love Smitty’s letters. My father would have enjoyed reading every one of these.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Smitty’s letters are as enjoyable as they are interesting. The thought of determined gulls mistaking — or betting on — money being food made me laugh. Gulls are gulls, no matter what. That had to be a hard passage. At least if you know your destination you can pass the days counting how many more you have to go through before you arrive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • With them zig-zagging to avoid detection, being as there were no to little escorts, it really would have been difficult for the average soldier to figure out.

      Like

  33. Dr. Johnson…’A ship is worse than a gaol. There is, in a gaol, better air, better company, better conveniency of every kind; and a ship has the additional disadvantage of being in danger’……I wonder what Smitty would have made of that!

    Liked by 1 person

  34. The living conditions on this transport ship were awful. They must have been a damper on the soldiers’ morale. And not knowing the destination of this depressing journey must have been demoralizing. Your dad survived this ordeal and I marvel at his sense of humour.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Perhaps the only time in such a young man’s life when boredom would be a saving factor

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Join the Army (Navy) and see the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. I am impressed with Smitty’s ability to express disgust and disdain in language suitable to send to his mother. His quip about being loaded with Coke and possibly used as depth charges for torpedo is quite clever. Thanks for sharing his letters with us. I’m not sure that future generations will have anything to share but maybe tweets and emails. At least he was in the pre-MRE days, which I have heard as Meals Rejected by Ethiopians (during one of Ethiopia’s many periods of starvation) and that MREs are covered with a particular shade of brown was not an accident. Navy promised 3 hots and a cot–sounds like Smitty got an overdose of hot, but not in the chow line.

    Liked by 3 people

  38. “Cruise” certainly wasn’t the word. I suspect his attitude helped him deal with the circumstances. I like how he looked for some humor to include, even when others might have only complained. My dad said he was never as happy as the day he got off that transport ship.

    Liked by 2 people

  39. Amazingly, Danny Wilson didn’t mention much about what he disliked on the troop ship to Italy, but it was the Atlantic in October. He spent much of the time topside with his best friend (who survived the war, said he didn’t even get a scratch on his P-38 throughout combat missions), watching the phosphorescence in the ocean and the fish hovering nearby. They thought it was headed for the Pacific, but he tried to hint that he was headed to Europe.

    Liked by 2 people

  40. That does sound dreadful. I’d imagine that conditions were pretty crowded, too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Crowded – I’ll use the old expression – like a bunch of sardines! Plus the cruise took so long because they did not have an escort such as used in the Atlantic, so they had to zig-zag their route.

      Liked by 1 person

  41. Certainly no cruise.

    Liked by 2 people

  42. At that time there was a way to connect the medium of correspondence(Feeling)

    Liked by 2 people

  43. My Grandfather’s letters and diary for his Atlantic Crossing to England for D-Day were similar. He used the words “Sick” and “Bored” about a dozen times! 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  44. All the time staying in a ship not knowig were we are or going to makes me crazy. I must going all day in naure

    Liked by 4 people

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