75 Years Ago (Addendum): The First Move–Camp Livingston, La., to Fort Devens, Mass.

[This update is intended as first in a serial prequel to the update from 14 May, which remarked on the arrival of the 32nd Infantry Division in Australia.  Created with apologies that teaching load precluded any periodic updates between February and April.]

The recent discovery of another (perhaps the final) cache of letters and papers belonging to Captain Sheldon M. Dannelly have shed more light on the earliest and the last events in his military career.  Notwithstanding is his astute attention to detail of the trip by train from the Division’s earlier posting at Camp Livingston, just outside of Alexandria, Louisiana, to its hasty move to Fort Devens, on the outskirts of Boston.  The story picks up in a letter from “Somewhere in Arkansas” dated 26 February 1942 (but likely written over a period of at least two and a half days), commencing after an overnight train ride.  The unit had left Livingston Wednesday, 25 February, “about 4:30 Central War Time.”  The letter finds the train stopped (actually broken down).  “It is now 10:00 o’clock Thursday morning and we have just completed a hike for exercise. . . .  For quite a long way, ever since I woke up this morning, there has been snow on the ground.  It is snowing a little now.”  Continuing,

The men are all on Pullmans and the officers have private compartments–two officers to each.  Lt. [William E.] Butts of Georgia is in here with me. . . .  Something happened to the heat pipes last night, and we are waiting here for repairs before going into still colder territory. . . .  Our progress has been rather slow, but maybe we’ll pick up soon.

. . .  Our field kitchens are set up in the baggage cars, and our meals are prepared for all the personnel aboard at one time.  It’s really something to wobble down through seven or eight cars in motion and eat standing up, but its really plenty of fun, too.

The events pick up again in another section of the letter, indicated as “Later”, where Second Lieutenant Dannelly continues,

We’ve just passed the Mississippi and aren’t but about 80 miles from St. Louis.  The sun is even trying to come out now.  They’ve finally succeeded in getting the heat fixed enough for us (officers) to move from the train crew’s car back into our own.  Snow is only on the ground in occasional spots now . . .  [but] there’s a great deal of ice in the water we see as we pass streams and swamps now.  Of course it isn’t very thick, however; we’ll find it thick enough later and further North. 

Still further into the same letter, the date now indicated as Saturday, 28 February, the troop train has reached its objective.  Dannelly continues,

We’ve finally arrived at 12:30 noon. . . .  Please send my mail to Company H, 128th Infantry, C.P.O. 32, Fort Devens, Mass.  Yes, we’re in barracks at Fort Devens, Massachusetts.   On the way up, we came through the Mississippi valley, seeing Louisiana, Arkansas, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts.  Some of the cities we hit are Shreveport, St. Louis, Chicago, Akron.  We are 35 miles from Boston.  The trip was very enjoyable.  We were on the train about 68 hours including three nights.

The letter closes with the caveat that it was “written over 1800 miles of travel.  I hope it makes sense.”

The 32nd Division would remain at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, through March and until just after Easter, 1942.  Details of adventures on post and around Ayer, Massachusetts, will follow in the next installment….


16 May 2017


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