75 Years Ago (Addendum II): Greetings from Fort Devens (a.k.a., Springtime Arrives in New England)

Postcrd_FtDevensArt

The interim posting at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, following the move from Camp Livingston, Louisiana, was for the 32nd Division a combination of disruption, uncertainty, and continued transition from a prewar mindset.  For the new officer intakes, this time was a combination of training and bliss.  The weather seems to have fluctuated back and forth between cold, snowy days to a springtime warmth trying to burst through.  The spouses of the married officers, many of them newlyweds since only December, traveled in to try to continue some semblance of peacetime togetherness with their husbands despite the inevitable separation to come.  A large proportion of them had also found married couples’ housing off-base briefly near Camp Livingston, then had traveled back home to stay with relatives until they could arrange travel to Ayer, Massachusetts.  Most, if not all, of the single officers stayed in billets on base, two to a room, except for a three-week long training school attended by all of the new Reservist intakes in which they (along with the married officers) stayed together in barracks.

The Dannelly letters pick up again with  a note dated 5 March 1942. “I believe that I like Ft. Devens a great deal better than Camp Livingston,” he notes.  “The civilians around Livingston didn’t particularly like so many soldiers there.”  Continuing, “So far I haven’t made that trip into Boston, but I plan to go tomorrow, Saturday, and come back in time to act as Regimental Officer of the Day, Sunday.”  Later in the same letter, he notes that he has helped with the payroll. Enlisted were paid with cash, officers with “government checks”.  An unmarried Second Lieutenant received, in the pay period from 11 February to the date of the letter, at total check of $87.43, this after deductions for insurance and billeting fees.

In the next letter dated two days later, we discover that Lt. Dannelly did not get to make that planned trip to Boston, but by then he and his mates had made the fortuitous discovery of a “swanky” Officer’s Club on post.  It appears that movies shown on base several times a week were very popular and well-attended, running from about 6 p.m. to about 8:30 p.m., after which Dannelly’s personal radio came in handy as “a real companion”.   In another letter from that same Sunday evening, he remarked,

We have a library of a lot of good novels, magazines, etc.  Of course the strongest thing I got from the bar was a Coca Cola.  There is a pool room free to the officers there also.  Our 32nd band played for a dance last night, at which I met some quite nice girls, including a daughter of one of the Colonels.  She was from Texas, lived in Georgia, and has been living until a week ago, in Drexel Hill (Philadelphia) Pa.  It was about the only social life I’ve seen during the past month and I was glad to discover that I could really spend an enjoyable evening there.  Quite a few nurses (Lady Lieutenants) were there with their dates.

Around 15 March, the greater Boston area received the oft-cited snowstorm that was certainly a hit with the Southerners in the Division.  The married couples who made up the Orangeburg gang, as mentioned in 32 Answered, certainly enjoyed sledding with their infant and toddler children and assorted new Army friends in attendance at the farmhouse (the old “Brewer House”) they together had rented in Ayer.  Elsewhere, back on base, Lt. Dannelly wrote [NOTE: shown exactly as written, brackets added] that

The country-side is covered with about six inches of beautiful, white snow.  It began to snow yesterday afternoon and kept it up most of last night.  Even today it snowed a little.  The surprising part is that you don’t feel cold out in it if you dress for winter.  With a muffler, gloves, and short coat over trousers and wool shirt one doesn’t feel chilly when he’s out in it for a long time.

Yesterday [in the snowstorm] I went into Boston and looked the city over. . . .  I like the place fine, from what I have seen.  We passed famous Harvard, the James river (where they have the “shell” races), and through Revolutionary famous old Concord.  Everyone says, and I know it must be true, that it is very beautiful here in summer.  I have seen evidence of that beauty all ready, with beautiful hills, hurrying streams, winding roads, long valleys, and many other natural bits of handiwork.   

Continuing, Lt. Dannelly took opportunities to opine further on the situation and outlook. “The news still carries some that is on the dark side, but we must expect that for quite some time, chiefly of our complacency that found us very unprepared.  Thanks to the foresight of a few,  we weren’t completely unarmed.  All of us despise war, but let us all learn that we must maintain an Army and Navy to insure peace.  We made that mistake once too often.”

On 15 March (continued):

I saw “How Green Was My Valley” last night.  I think you’d enjoy it. “One Foot in Heaven” hasn’t been here yet.  A U.S.O. show was here Thursday and Friday nights.  It was free to us, and–believe it or not–it was very good.  The soldiers want and like good and clean entertainment.  Deanna Durbin was here a few days before we arrived.  I’m sorry we missed the appearance.  Some other stars are scheduled for appearances here.

On 16 March:

I shall be at Church Sunday, and shall attend regularly.  No, I haven’t been yet, although I still read the “Upper Room” [NOTE: regular devotional publication of the Methodist Church] every night and the Bible sometimes, as well as pray regularly.  We don’t have Sunday School on the post, since there are three services, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, each Sunday morning in each Chapel.

By Sunday, 22 March, the rumored, impending training school for the new Reservist officer intakes had begun.  [NOTE: This was, in fact, pursuant to the earlier “Memorandum Annex,” dated 19 March 1942, which included a comprehensive roster of such officers from each of the three Infantry Regiments as well as attached ancillary units ordered to attend, and which became the most comprehensive Rosetta Stone finding tool for this project, as it helped identify and locate almost all of the thirty-two from South Carolina.]  All of the attendees were ordered to report to the Training School building with a full complement of clothing, field gear and equipment, including the new M-1 Garand rifle.  Lt. Dannelly’s letter that same day reflected the mood.

We are still at Fort Devens, but all new officers are in one barracks (about 110 of us), where we’re attending special Division Training School for three weeks.  For this period we live exactly as enlisted men, shine our own shoes, make our own beds, march to and from classes, mass, and every group formation.  We have classes until 9 o’clock every night except Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday.  We get Wednesday P.M.’s off from 12:00 noon until 11:45.  Week-ends are free from 3 o’clock on Saturday until 12 o’clock Sunday nights.  All other nights we must be in by 11:15.   You know we’re glad it will only be for three weeks, but the training will be very good for us.

. . .Letters may be short and far between because of all the hard work and long hours (5:45 until 9 p.m.) plus a little studying and a couple of hours sleep.  This is no exaggeration, we’re actually on the go just this much.

. . .  [Otherwise] the week has been an especially busy one for me.  I’ve had the company in the field several days while the other officers had special duties.  Too, I am Supply and Transportation officer,  meaning I have to check the supplies and inspect the fifteen company trucks every day, in addition to regular duty.  Of course this is true of all officers–we all have several special duties.

. . . Last night I took Phyllis Schrum (the Colonel’s daughter) to the Officer’s Club Ball.  We had a delightful evening, and I have been asked out to dinner next Saturday as her escort.  She is one of the few girls I’ve met who doesn’t care to “drink.”  She always drinks Coca Colas.

In addition to the update on the training school, Dannelly included a snapshot of himself, “just one that one of the lieutenants took the other day.  I’m standing behind our regular barracks and the Division Chapel is in the background.

SMD_photo_Spring42
2nd Lt. Sheldon M. Dannelly, taken March 1942, Fort Devens, Mass. (Sheldon M. Dannelly Collection.)

 

A brief update home, dated 25 March, added, “Army life is still okay, and they really do feed us good and well prepared food.  We went out on the range and fired the M-1 rifle.  My shots were about 90 out of a possible hundred (34 out of 40 to be exact).”

Things were a bit more ominous by 29 March, which triggered even deeper contemplation about the days and months to come.  First, a rather innocuous update on the progress of the training school, where Dannelly shared that

Although we’re kept in a “strict” [environment] school is packed with fun, and we are really learning a good deal in such a short time.  We had part of yesterday (Saturday) afternoon and last night off.  I think I wrote you that we had bed check every night except Saturday.  It’s doing us all a lot of good.  I’m actually getting a real tan this time of the year.

By this time, also, the next disposition and direction of the unit must have been growing more clear, because the following also appeared in his 29 March letter: “Well, I believe we’re heading out before very long, so don’t worry if letters don’t come for awhile.  I feel pretty confident that we shall move within the United States, perhaps not, but I think so.”  Also, that the level of personal censorship was also about to tighten.

I imagine that there will soon be strict regulations on what we may and may not write in our own letters, and it is a good idea.  Eventually, it is possible that we may not be permitted to mention even what we think about such matters.  As I have said, that is as much for our own security as for anything else.  Please don’t worry when you don’t hear from me for a short while–or even a long while.  It is possible for enemy agents to intercept our mail, and any definite information might prove disastrous for us, either at sea or across land.  As long as we are here or wherever we go, our address will be given, until further notice.  Much of the news I have heard lately sounds good, especially in view of our Army’s great task.

From here, Lt. Dannelly goes on to express appreciation for support from family and friends in their letters:

All the letters I get, from home and elsewhere, are filled with strength and hope and courage.  One realizes that he can’t fail when such is behind him in his every undertaking.  From home, you always send a bright, cheerful picture, filled with written and unwritten words of your concern over me; from the rest of the family come expressions of confidence and well-wishing; from friends come the words that speak of well-remembered and ever-valuable friendships, and the ever-pleasant thoughts of “we miss you”;  from special persons come between-the-line prayers for my well-being and hopes for and faith in a brighter and happier day ahead for us all.  All say, “you’re a good fellow.  Hurry back.  God bless you wherever you go,” perhaps not in so many words, but never-the-less expressed.

These things help one to become adjusted to wherever he is.  Perhaps this is why I had very little difficulty in becoming adjusted to my new life so that I am really happy here.  Perhaps the greatest strength of our own Army is the power of those back home which binds us all in the unite purpose of winning in the battle for what we know . . . is right and just.

Also by that week, the weather had begun to turn.  “Yesterday and today“, he adds, “have been beautiful, bright, and for the most part, warm.  I know New England must be beautiful in summer when the hillsides are green and the valleys are alive with fresh leaves and blossoms.”  The trend continued through Easter weekend and afterwards.  A letter dated “Easter Sunday” (5 April) reported the day as “one of the prettiest we have had.  The sun is warm, and the atmosphere is fresh enough to be pleasantly cool.”  The next day, “another lovely spring day; I’ve been in my shirt sleeves practically all day.  All the green grass and leaves are really decorating the views around here.”

With the onset of spring came more adjustments for Lt. Dannelly personally and for the Division as a whole.  In the Easter Sunday letter, he shared his transfer from Company H (3rd Battalion) to Company A (1st Battalion), a somewhat fateful development that put him on the path to his destiny.  This move, he adds, became “effective yesterday [4 April], on which day we finished training at Division Training School,”  adding, “Having risen at 5:30 every morning and having been on the ‘go’ until 9:00 every night certainly shaped us into stride and routine in a hurry.  We even took calesthenics (exercise) in a snowstorm one morning, and while it was still dark, too.”  What the letter does not share, however, is that the Training School was scheduled to finish the week after and had been ordered cut short.  The other development, perhaps with equal implications, was news of a pay raise, “giving us $150.00 base pay per month, $21.00 for rations allowance, 10% more for overseas service (20% for enlisted men, 10% for officers), plus $60.00 rental for a married man and $21.00 rations for his wife.”  Finally, Dannelly adds that he “had to buy three summer uniforms yesterday (3 trousers, 2 shirts) costing about $16.00 total, including two caps.”  He did hint at a move “very soon (west, I think), but will be in the United States (I think) for a few, two, or three, weeks–perhaps longer.  I really don’t know our time of departure nor our destination.

The next move would certainly occur much more sooner than later– actually within the week.

More to come…..

[JHC]

21 May 2017

 

 

 

 

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