75 Years Ago: Mother’s Day, The Red Arrow Division, and Arrival “Down Under”

Mt_Vernon_2
Red Arrow Division soldiers on the USAT Mount Vernon arrive in Adelaide, 14 May 1942. Sheldon M. Dannelly Collection.
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Officers from the 128th Regiment upon arrival, including Clemson graduates Lt. Ben McKnight ’41 (front, second from left) and Lt. R.C. Commander ’36 (standing, second from left).  Sheldon M. Dannelly Collection.

May 14, 1942

Dear Mother and Daddy:

We have arrived safely and are somewhere in Australia.  I’m fine and feel unusually glad to be on land, although I enjoyed the voyage.

The Australians are friendly and likeable people, judging from those with whom I’ve talked.  I also saw some English officers and men, but have talked with none of them yet.

I feel I’ll like this place fine, and am glad this is where we were sent.

At the moment time is short and I’m busy as well as a bit sleepy.  I’ll get some souvenirs and send them.  Tell the folks I’m in a swell country, among friendly people who speak our language–thank goodness

I’ll write later——-

Love to all,

Sheldon

The arrival of the 32nd Infantry (“Red Arrow”) Division in Adelaide, SA, was the welcome culmination of three months of constant limbo, uncertainty, and moves. For the officers and enlisted men on the troopships Lurline, Mount Vernon, Monterey, and Matsonia, along with supporting cargo vessels, dry land was almost certainly a welcome sight.  In 1942, the 14th of April fell on a Thursday.  The vessels of the troop convoy docked at 4:30 in the afternoon, then proceeded in increments over the next several hours to disembark and proceed by truck and train to military camps on the outskirts of the city.  Second Lieutenant Sheldon M. Dannelly, the Wofford ’39 now a platoon leader in Company A (Menomonie, Wisconsin’s Guard Company), 128th Infantry Regiment, would have had perhaps little time to pen and later mail a short letter home to his parents.  He also sent a telegram on the 16th, expressing the same news but in only one line.

Mother’s Day had already been celebrated on the 10th, still at sea on board the troopships.  Surviving letters from the South Carolinian reservists, namely Lieutenant Dannelly and Lieutenant Ben McKnight (Clemson ’41) expressed regrets of not being able to be at home for this special day.  A glimpse of Lt. McKnight’s heartfelt Mother’s Day tribute was included in the narrative of 32 Answered (re., page 91).  Lt. Dannelly’s words can now be shared as well, now that a new and evidently the final trove of his wartime correspondence came to light in December 2016 and has just been cataloged.

Lt. Dannelly’s Mother’s Day letter describes the sailing conditions for Sunday morning, May 10th, 1942, as “very rough–rather stormy–and the ship rolls and pitches considerably, but rides the swell beautifully.  Having gotten our sea legs, we aren’t bothered much by rough water now.”  Undeterred, the soldiers on Mount Vernon, as certainly likewise on the other vessels, attended Sunday services held on deck by a Navy Chaplain.   Dannelly noted that

He spoke on morality, and our need of something buoyant to hold to in the troublesome days ahead.  His thoughts were good and very well expressed.  Toward the close he mentioned Mothers Day, saying that those at home would have us be good soldiers in the performance of our duties.  There was no use of dwelling on the Mothers Day theme.  We all felt–and it could be read in the men’s faces–more than words could express.  Words might have, somehow, spoiled the thoughts and fine, soft lines of determination on the faces of the men.  He was wise in leaving those thoughts within our hearts.

Continuing, further down:

Today, indeed, is a memorable day.  My regret is that I am unable to send you anything or call you today, but know you can understand that.  The only thing I can offer is the information that I am fine, in splendid health, and am in the very best of spirits.  I miss you and would like to see you, but I’m content to await the day that this will be happily possible.  My greatest comfort is in the realization that you are safe, and that we are helping to make secure the safety and protection of each of you.

Such words seem timeless for any American serviceman away from home in any war, then or since.

More to follow….

[JHC]

14 May 2017

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2 thoughts on “75 Years Ago: Mother’s Day, The Red Arrow Division, and Arrival “Down Under”

  1. Joe, thank you for posting this. I’m sitting with Dad right now and read it to him. Not sure if he absorbed anything but I enjoyed reading to him. Little did they know at this point what was really facing them.

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  2. You’re correct, they had no idea what was ahead and how bad it would get. NOTE: Because I could not update in February through April, I am going to try to recap the journey as a flashback in a few installments this week. Keep an eye out for some small posts. For Harry, I bet if you mention the “Lurline” (Lur-leen) you might jar a few memories loose. That’s how I got him rolling on the subject that one day I visited you in Anderson. Hope you all are doing OK. Happy Mother’s Day.

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