75 Years Ago (Addendum III): Coast-to Coast to Fort Ord, California

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The 32nd Infantry Division left Fort Devens, Massachusetts, on or about 10 April 1942, bound for the West Coast.  The trip took a total of five days.  The following excerpted letter passages continue to track the progress of the move, as witnessed by 2nd. Lt. Sheldon M. Dannelly (Wofford College ’39) from Ehrhardt, South Carolina.

Co. A, 128th Infantry

Somewhere in the Midwest

Sunday Morning, April 12, 1942

Again, I am attempting to write en route to a new destination; this time it’s California.  Perhaps you remember my mentioning going there this summer, but I’m going earlier and at Uncle Sam’s expense.  I’m getting to see some swell parts of the country, too, which is something I really like.  I think one really appreciates and knows more what he is fighting for after having seen so much of this wonderful country of ours.

Please excuse the scratching made worse by the motion of the Pullman.  The end of a sixteen car passenger train has a little vibration, you see.

I have heard of a place alive with thousands of troops one day and vacant the next.  Now, I have seen a camp evacuated by night, and have taken part in its evacuation.  Things like these are experiences well worth seeing and living through.

[Later]

. . .  Well, at this later and particular time we are near Kansas City, Missouri, and it is just good dark.  We aren’t even half-way across the continent yet, but this train really rolls at times.

We really get in the habit of going to bed early here on the train.  There’s little to do besides see the country, read, eat, write, or sleep, and traveling makes writing very difficult.  Neither is it good to read very much at one time; it tires the eyes.  Never-the-less, I am enjoying the trip very much.

. . .  We left Fort Devens in the snow, and it continued to fall until we got almost into Missouri.  It is much warmer here, however, and the sun shone a great part of the afternoon.  The grass is getting green and occasionally trees are budding.

Monday:

Today is a beautiful, bright, sunny one as we are passing through the rolling plains of Kansas. . . .  Green fields stretch as far as the eye.  It’s a sight well worth seeing.  We’ve just passed a herd of cattle–white faced.  Houses right here are about a mile apart, perhaps some are more, and there is not a tree to be seen, except occasionally by one of the houses.  It is easy to see from one house to the next because of the absence of trees and the gentle rise of the plains. . . .  The tremendous barns, machinery garages, and silos make the homes look about like doll houses.

The next letter, dated 16 April, 1942, was written on Fort Ord Officers’ Club Stationery.  Lt. Dannelly was evidently one of the fortunate who got into the billets on post, and so did not have to sleep in stalls at the Cow Palace or on bleachers at the sports arena.

Here’s my home for a while, and I like it better than any yet.  Of course I don’t live at the club, but it is a very luxurious building of Spanish architecture with a tile roof.  The whole post is a “story-book” army post with beautiful flowers, scenery, clubs, tennis courts, golf courses, etc.  The baths in our barracks have tile floors.  Just east of us are the mountains, which are beautiful at sunrise especially, and within full view.  West of us the Pacific Ocean laps the shore just a few hundred yards away. –Sunrise in the mountains, sunset in the Pacific; and in between a fort of green grass and lovely flowers.  The only catch is that we shall not be here long; we’re destined for somewhere across the Pacific to sink the “rising sun” (Japan).

We arrived here yesterday [15 April] about noon, after having traveled through the rich and luxurient beauty of California since dawn.  Down through the rich San Fernandino valley, through a canyon of varicolored earth, between snow-capped mountain ranges, by the foot of green mountains covered with white Spanish dwellings . . . [with] red and green tile roofs,  along San Francisco Bay, into the San Jose’ (Ho-say’) valley of orchards, vineyards, and a winding river, and finally to the quite beautiful Fort ORd; all this we traveled.  It was almost too much to drink in in one sightseeing tour.  Should anyone hint that this state is not beautiful, either they hit it at the wrong season or their tastes and mine differ tremendously.

Otherwise, Lt. Dannelly’s 16 April letter tried to assure his parents not to worry until he makes it back– “and I shall do that–just wait and see. . . .  Just be sure that you trust in God as I am doing, and everything will be all right. . . .  My real and earnest prayer is that my leadership will be strong, may knowledge and wisdom equal to my task, and my decisions correct– not just for my sake, but for my men–our men–and our righteous cause.

One more surviving letter followed before their departure on the troop convoy bound for Australia, and ultimately, their introduction to jungle combat in Papua New Guinea.  This last letter was typed, as was usually the case when Dannelly took a turn on duty.

Can you imagine what I’m doing tonight?  Really it is about 1:00 o’clock Sunday morning, and I am sitting in Regimental Headquarters as Duty Officer for the outfit. I have to stay here from 11:30 Saturday night until 7:30 Sunday morning.  Our Company had last night off, so I . . . [went] to Salinas and then to San Jose’ with two other officers.  We got in about 4 o’clock, and I’ve been on the go all day since 7:00 this morning.  Had I known about my duty here beforehand, I would have slept last night instead of going somewhere.

Elsewhere in the letter, he warned his parents about the possible disruption in correspondence:

I think it will be very soon that you will be unable to get any mail from me for perhaps three months, maybe even a bit longer.  Our trip may take over six weeks, and it would take a letter at least that long to get back to the U.S., making a total of three months

The Red Arrow Division would depart Fort Ord by train at 3 a.m. on 21 April, bound for the San Francisco wharf.  Preparations and boarding would take all that day, after which time the convoy set sail at exactly 6:05 p.m.

More to follow. . . .

[JHC]

24 May 2017

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