Soldiers don't die

"A man dies only when he is forgotten"

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Reading WW2 Weekend

Here's lookin' at you, Grandpa!
The eagerly awaited event is finally here! It's time for the annual Reading Mid-Atlantic Air Museum's World War II Weekend, and this year I'm going as a US infantryman to keep my grandparents' memories alive. I hope for sunny weather, blue skies and lots of slick vintage aircraft!

Go here for more info if you'd like to attend this event in the future: Mid-Atlantic Air Museum

This is one of the best videos from last year's air show:

Monday, June 3, 2013

More interesting photos from basic training

There are over a hundred undeveloped slides in a small cardboard box among Mel's possessions; I have digitized all of them.  While none of these are dated, they are most likely 1941-'42, as he was in the desert by '43.  None of the people in the slides are identifiable, but they are certainly his buddies.  I will post some of the interesting ones a few at a time from now on...

Guarding a drinking water reservoir.  Guard duty was a tedious but necessary part of being a soldier, as base security was maintained by the men who lived in it.  It would be part of routine "fatigue detail," what the officers liked to call these duties because they made one fatigued. A chore to some, a happy and easy job for others, being posted as a sentry also taught the men discipline and how to be vigilant.

Writing home.

Taking a nap. A soldier lays on his folding cot under the big tent; his backpack, ammo belt, helmet and first aid kit are piled nearby.

In warm weather, men slept outside underneath large tents with the side flaps rolled up. Here they have sleeping bags spread out on the ground instead of cots.

Grandpa's corner of the tent. You can see a wooden rack has been built to hang up his uniforms. There is only one chevron on his jacket sleeves, indicating a Private First Class.  His footlocker is to the right, with the tray balanced on it and his stuff neatly arranged. The end of the cot next to his in the foreground has a knapsack hung on it.

Partly to be patriotic and drum up support for the military effort, and partly for entertainment, the men sometimes rode into town in "convoys" to mingle with the public or hit the nearest bar.  This is similar to another slide in his memento album, so this is probably Charleston, South Carolina.

Some men looking at an odd anachronism within a WWII camp...a Civil War artillery piece. This was identified by a reenactor friend as a '3-inch ordnance rifle'.  The only place where this would conceivably be is at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, which would make the year 1941.

 Another tent neighbor relaxing. Most of the time between rigorous physical training was spent getting as much rest as possible.
The soldiers ate their meals with soup or rice served from old tin milk cans.
A friend on 'KP duty' washing his mess kit after a meal. As every Boy Scout knows, one bucket is for hot sterilization with soap and the other bucket is for a cold rinse.

It was clear that everyone knew he had a camera, as some of these pictures appear to be staged.
"R&R" time in camp for some consisted of playing team sports, like basketball, rugby and baseball.  I find the action poses entertaining.

There was also some cheap forms of entertainment in camp. The 8th Division had its own movie theater where you could go to watch newsreels or some popular "flicks," usually by request.  This was when a day at the movies cost you a couple of nickels.

A picture of an unidentified man shaving outside his company tent.

Eating watermelon.  Now why were soldiers eating watermelon, and why did Mel take a picture?
Summers in South Carolina tend to be hot and humid, and veteran Arthur Neriani of the 13th Infantry Regiment, 8th Division, attests that one day after a long march, the men came across a fruit merchant who wandered into camp and sold them fresh watermelons, much to the pleasure of the hot and tired men.  While this photo has very little significance, I find it interesting that this distant memory of an old GI was confirmed with my grandfather's photographs.

The incredible thing is not what is going on in these pictures, as every soldier in boot camp did mundane things like this every day.  But rather it is the fact that my grandfather was able to capture these images, and give us an impression of what Army camp life was like during the 1940's.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

1942 - Mel promoted to Sergeant, Camp Forrest Tennessee Maneuvers

Mel earned his Sergeant stripes on August 7, 1942. 

Some time that year he visited home and got another photo looking sharp in his dress uniform. Interestingly, he's still wearing the brown leather 'garrison belt' that was outdated by this time (No longer required per regulations after 1941)  This, and the bare trees behind him, leads me to believe this photo was taken sometime in early April or late March of '42.

Aunt Marilyn is trying on his Class A visor cap.
So what else was Mel doing in 1942? 
"1942 – The 8th Division was ordered to patrol the Atlantic coast. For six weeks during the winter of  1942, units of the division ranged along the eastern shores of the country from North Carolina to the Florida Keys. The 8th became a Motorized Division.

March 1942 – The 8th Division returned to Fort Jackson late in March to resume training.

Sep 1942 – There was a motor march to the location of the Tennessee Maneuvers.  Two more months of war games further hardened the troops of the 8th.  Then, after a brief stay in tents at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, the Division set out for its new station, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

December 1942 - March 1943 – There was a period of comparative calm."

The following slides were most likely taken at camp Forrest., as they are dated 1942 and show them camping in tents in the woods during the winter.  He doesn't have many pictures of this period, probably due to facing unfavorable weather and the fact that many of the operations during these war games were classified.  These wilderness survival and combat exercises, though meant to condition the men for living and fighting through the forests of Central Europe, had ill prepared them for the horrific ordeal they would face during winter in the Hurtgenwald and the Ardennes as part of their drive into Germany.

A man crawling through the underbrush most likely during tactical maneuvers.

Mel's tentmate

I'm almost positive the seated man in this photo is my grandfather.

A lean-to made of a single shelter half.
A blazing campfire somewhere in the dark woods.

The US Army printed holiday cards to send home to the folks. This is one from Easter of that year.