Ten Day Pass
We were given ten-day passes to go to our homes wherever they may be. Ten measly days! I bought my railroad ticket and boarded a train in Gainesville, Texas. The train chugged out of the station loaded down with all sorts of human cargo. Here I sat waiting for some speed to take me home! Mostly I wanted to see the ‘girl’ I left behind. Of course I longed for Daddy and my Momma. My niece Bonnie had been born while I was away. She’d be about 3 months old when I got there. The date was August 15th, 1943.
It seemed as if everything important happened on August 15th–like the landing in South France.
It took four whole days on the slowest train in the world to get home. We stopped at every little place to pick up passengers and let them off and also stopped in the middle of nowhere to pick up a can of some farmer’s cream can! I wanted that engine to put on some steam!! We went up through Wyoming, Montana and Idaho–I thought Alaska was next!
At home it was sort of normal. I spent most of the time with the girlfriend. I saved some time by buying an airline ticket back to Texas. I think it cost about 150 dollars in those days and almost broke my bank. I think my account was down to about 150 dollars after that expense. While I was home I had arranged to open a joint savings account with my Mother and Dad–mostly with my Mother because she could write English best and could take care of banking the allotments I would send home each month. I figured that if I was killed they could have a ‘nest egg’. I also took out the $10,000 life insurance policy and named the folks as beneficiary’s .If I didn’t make it home they could have a “good time” with it, I thought with some degree of morbidity.
As you can guess, the days went by too quickly. The scene is still in my mind of when I said goodbye to my mother in the farmyard and I remembered that very scene every day I was gone. It was the scene that came to mind when I went berserk on Anzio after getting my first letter after 8 months of being in and out of hospitals and up to and back from the front. I cried my heart out. My mother was a stouthearted woman and I don’t think she let out her emotions as I did. I knew where I was going. I couldn’t tell them at that time. The Army warned us about “Loose Lips Sinks Ships”-that was a billboard expression all over the USA. Some of you might remember the ads about the “Fifth Column” and spies.
My brother Donald and sister Ann drove us to the airport in the1937 Chevy. My girlfriend and I were trying to be as close as we could because it was possible it would be the last time we could be close. It turned out that way but not because I was killed.
I boarded a regular passenger plane that was like a C-47 cargo plane. The best of the day, 150 mph top speed. We landed in lots of airports on the way to Los Angeles and then towards Texas. It took 24 hours of flying. I was late! I didn’t know what the hell to do being on an AWOL basis now. In Dallas or Fort Worth, (I forget which) I wanted to hire a cab to get me to Camp Howze as fast as I could. The son of a bitch wanted to charge me $150 to get me there. He didn’t give a damn one iota of my plight – Soldier or not! What patriotism I thought! I wished he were dead on the spot! I called the camp and they gave me an extra “day of grace”. They said it was for my honesty. I took a bus to make it in adequate time. I didn’t wish to be tossed into the hoosegow. I shouldn’t have worried one bit. Others didn’t make it back for a whole week and weren’t given any reprimand at all. Some of them stayed at home and never did return to make the troop train out of Texas. In a few days we packed all of our gear and belongings in the “A” bag and “B” bag. We were ordered now to wear our best “Suntans”. It was the hottest day of the year and for the first time we were looking like drugstore soldiers at least.
We were taken by truck to the railroad station. It was the same old “hurry up and wait” in the army! While standing there on the loading ramps a big black cloud came over and drenched us for the first time I was in Texas!! We hadn’t had a rain in all that time!! Next thing you know we were soaked to the skin in our best Suntans! The rains in Texas can wet you down in seconds!
We were loaded on nice rail trains this time. These were nice Pullman types. No sleepers though, as I recall. One of the first stops was back in Dallas or Fort Worth or maybe both. There were throngs of people at the station being patriotic, waving USA flags and such demonstrations. I beckoned a young girl to come up close to the window and handed her my old address. I needed pen pals where I was going. I never did get a letter however. I wasn’t allowed to tell her where I was going and the old address was obsolete. I was foiled on that attempt.
We were shipped by train through a different-looking America. We changed from Pullmans to boxcars. We finally arrived at a camp in Virginia. One memorable sight was when we were side-railed waiting for a string of Pullmans loaded with German prisoners heading inland. This was the first sight of German uniforms. They were in PULLMANS!! Yes, and we were in ordinary cars! Ironic!
We were instructed to not let our whereabouts be known to the people at home. It was a grave offense to mention it in your mail, which would be censored from now on. I thought this might happen, so I had devised a code for my girlfriend to use. My letter would be marked in such an innocent way. Every fifth word, or something like that, would have the first letter in it to be used to spell out a whole word. It took ages to write that letter just to tell her I was being shipped overseas but I didn’t know where.
For my folks it was simple. This is the code: “Nineteen days and nineteen nights”. That’s it! Why? Because my Dad always used to tell us it took him 19 days and 19 nights to come from Croatia. With that phrase, they knew I was destined for overseas shipment.
One GI got caught! The dumb bugger wrote on the back of a stamp some few words that he was being shipped out–they caught him off the bat!
The barracks in this place was hardly better than in Texas. I think they were worse. The terrain surrounding had at least some vegetation and trees for crimminy sake! In Texas it was a huge expanse!