In honor of Veteran’s day – Dad’s Service Journal

00 Dad at cemetery WW2

More Frozenprose…

By John R. Moses

The following is the beginning of my father’s service journal. John Steve Moses of Detroit, Mich. was about 24 when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. A guy who learned English in kindergarten (his family spoke Hungarian and was also learning English), he found his first challenge was matching up his now thoroughly Midwestern speech patterns against officers from the states of Maine and Vermont.

Chapter 1 – Rookies

Unit history from Wikipedia:


The 43rd Infantry Division was first activated in 1923, with the division headquarters in Hartford, Connecticut.[1] The 43rd Division consisted of two infantry brigades, the 85th in Connecticut, and the 86th in Vermont. The 85th Brigade included the 102nd and 169th Infantry Regiments, both based in Connecticut. The 86th Brigade was made up of the 172nd Infantry Regiment in Vermont and the 103rd Infantry Regiment in Maine. In addition, the 68th Field Artillery Brigade was based in Providence, Rhode Island.

Or, as Dad put it:

“First week of basic training is learning close order and commands. Sure is something for a while. Walk damn near to the point of exhaustion, and that hot sun sure is no help. As a matter of fact, neither are our non-coms. All but one comes from Maine and over there, there must be a shortage of n’s. There are times when they don’t even try to speak American, then they blame us for doing things wrong.”

Pvt. John Steve Moses after induction into the U.S. Army's 43rd Cavalry.

Pvt. John Steve Moses after induction into the U.S. Army’s 43rd Cavalry.

May 1942

Was inducted into the U.S. Army on May 18, 1942, sworn in at exactly 6 o’clock. We left by D & R bus to the railroad station and boarded a train to Camp Custer, Mich. I saw the last of Detroit at 7:15 p.m. We got to the camp by 11 and had chow at 12, but then came the works. The clothing and equipment was issued at 1. Boy what a night, I finally found a place to sleep by 5 a.m.

Fell asleep, and my first cussing at the Army began. First reville at 6 o’clock, and boy did those Army non-coms lay it on to the rookies. Breakfast was swell, and then came first detail. Sweep up and scrub barracks. Had to do it until 10, then the first Army inspection and a lesson in how to fix regulation Army beds. Chow. Sent civilian clothes home. Took I.Q. after dinner and mechanical aptitude test.  Heard articles of war. Was so sleepy had to be awakened quite a few times.

Lined up again for personal interview and then came two shots in the arm about 10 at nite. Time for bed.

May 19, 1942

Put on working clothes, green fatigues, no shortage of cloth there. Some kind of detail to plant grass and pick up stones and cigarette butts — called “policing” in the Army. Called up home in the evening and told them we’re leaving for training camp soon. Mom sure sounded disappointed. Who wasn’t? Left Camp Custer in Pullmans. Was told we’d go to Jefferson barracks.

Had swell time in troop train — took five days. When we arrived in Detroit we went for chow at the railroad station. Stopped over for two hours but no phone calls were allowed. Got pretty darn homesick going over Fort Street R.R. bridge and seeing our chimney top. Then up past Dearborn railroad crossing, sure looked swell. Went through  Ohio, Michigan, Ky., Mo., Ala. And Mississippi. Boy, it sure was hot the last day. And the South isn’t exactly the paradise you read about. Sure looked lousy. Another disappointment, instead of Jefferson Barracks we ended up at Camp Shelby, Miss. Our bunch was miss-sent, so there was quite a mess as to whether we stay or not. Had to walk about a mile with a heavy suitcase and boy it sure was hot. Has a shower and big tents to sleep in, double cots and lockers, very nice area but on Sunday we were told we stay. After noon we reported to quarantine area. Boy, what a difference. We looked like something God forgot. Due to overcrowded conditions 14 of us had to sleep in a day room. Where they got the crummy hospital beds is beyond me. Swell introduction to our new camp.

Had a picnic trying to put leggings on for the first time. Had to lace them ourself and neither of us knew a thing about it. Got instructions the next day. All I had wrong was the leggings were on the wrong foot. Start of basic training right away as one outfit we joined has already been in for one week. Most are from Pa. and Miss.  We Michigan boys sure are outnumbered.

First week of basic training is learning close order and commands. Sure is something for a while. Walk damn near to the point of exhaustion, and that hot sun sure is no help.

As a matter of fact, neither are our non-coms. All but one comes from Maine and over there, there must be a shortage of n’s. There are times when they don’t even try to speak American, then they blame us for doing things wrong. That first week was really the nuts. Every one of us has a swell case of sun burn, aching muscles and tired dogs. Boy I never walked so much in all my life, and from all indications there’s more to come.

Home was never like this, more than a few of us are beginning to know.

June 1942

My address now is Company C, 103rd Infantry, 43rd Division, Camp Shelby, Mississippi.

Have the drills down pretty fair now and have quite a few lectures on the army, etc. Go to the big tent theatre every morning for some army instruction film. Some OK but some very dry and that old sun really hits the tent. Pretty hard to concentrate on film when the sweat rolls down by bucketfuls. Some of the film, though, was very educational, especially the ones about venereal diseases. Boy, they didn’t beat around the bushes and I myself really appreciated them. Stuff like that should be shown to civilian, too, quite a few could benefit from it.

Strangely enough, we never saw any comedies but some of the boners they pulled were funny enough, and they passed the film by army censors.

July 1942

Getting all kinds of shots in arm every week or so, by now must be immune to any bug or germ known to man. Issued M-I rifles (or another name is Garand semi-automatic) and pretty darn good. Learning nomenclature for two weeks, can take it apart and assemble it blindfolded and can name every part.

Mail call twice a day. That’s something every man here would forfeit a few meals for. And boy, the disappointed faces whenever a long-expected letter doesn’t come. So far I’ve been lucky, haven’t missed getting mail since it started coming in. I guess I write plenty myself. In fact it’s my chief past time now. Besides, that “Free Mail” business is tops. Even if we are now getting $50 instead of the $21 base pay. That $50 sure is a swell thing for the soldier, and no kidding either.

August 1942

Basic training almost finished and we’re really getting the hikes, started off with a six mile in mid day heat. Passed out when I got to  tent. Out for a couple hours. Mild case of heat stroke. Went a little farther the second hike but got ride back to hospital.  Guess I’m not much of a soldier after all.

Now that basic’s almost over I got transferred to 1st B H.Q. Co. anti-tank section. Learned nomenclature of 37 m.m. anti-tank gun. Sure is a swell field gun. Can now take it apart in no time at all. Learned all about sighting and firing.

Went to rifle range to fire M-1 rifle, did fairly well for a rookie. Was out on range for 4 days. Two days in the pits marking and scoring targets not bad, considering you have lead flying over your head. Slept in tents and my first time on mother earth. Stiff and sore for weeks.

Headquarters Co. would be swell if it weren’t for all the brass hats around. All one does is salute from dawn to dusk. After dark you can pretend you don’t recognize the officers. They’re probably glad of it. Acting corporal on 37 now. Teaching some more rookies the gun. Have PFC rating now but as yet not official.

August-Sept. 1942

Went to 37 m.m. range to fire at moving targets with 37s. Didn’t use regular ammo, instead had a sub-caliber mount in the barrel to fire either .22 cal. Or .30 cal. Shells. 1000’ range. Hits were kind of few for us rookies. Any way, we shot hell out of a few targets.

Came back to camp to hear rumors that we were moving from Shelby. Rumors must have been true, because we really started in cleaning up our area and packing stuff. Our shipping mark is a solid white triangle and number 5181-G Guess maybe we’ll end up in Calif. according to the rumors. Fort Ord seems to head the list of guesses. Slept two nights on floor of tents. Kind of hard, but as the boys said, so what – it’s soft wood.

Finally left for train and left Shelby on Sept. 4 on Pullmans again. This time it was another 5-day trip.

Troop train was guarded all the way. Had fixed bayonets and loaded rifles with orders to use both to keep over anxious civilians from getting too close. Very little  trouble on that account. In many towns the people came out to greet us and to give us magazines, candy, cigarettes and even peaches.

Played pinochle with another fellow from Detroit, Corp. Ragoso, Philly and Corp. Stewart from Md.  Don’t know how many games we played but wore out three decks of cards enroute.

And nobody seemed to care who was winning.

Had a few fights on the train. Seems the fellows take their gambling too seriously, and gambling  is really a major past time in the Army. A lot of fellows lose their pay the same night they get it.  Been sending money home. Don’t know how much but Mom should be a good banker.

Had to sleep in a lower bunk with Eddie Jankousaki, another Pa. boy. Between us we had $6.15. He had the .15 cents. I wouldn’t have had a cent but Mom sent me a check for $10.

Had to go to Hattiesburg to get it, but I sure had a swell meal at one of the cafes there. Me and Pino (Philly) really went to town on steaks galore. Hattiesburg wasn’t such a bad town of course, it was always over crowded with soldiers. Had 3 U.S.O.s and a couple of other service clubs. Plenty of movies and entertainment. In fact, a miniature city. But it wasn’t exactly heaven, either.  The prices charged us by the Southerners were about a high as they could possibly get by with. And Southern Hospitality is nothing but a myth around here. It was the same all over.

Jackson  was 75 miles and New Orleans was only one hundred miles away. Went to Jackson, but never quite got to New Orleans. Reports from there really painted that town red. Women and liquor was very easy to get. Sure would like to see the place, but chances are mighty slim for me to ever see Mississippi again. Not that I’ll ever regret leaving. Never hated a place as much as I did Shelby. Doubt very much if there’s a worse camp in the states. I mean for heat and rain. Otherwise it wasn’t too bad. Especially on Sat. and Sundays when we had off.

Finally arrived in California after 5 days of travel. Boy some of the trees were really big and we had beautiful scenery on the way to camp. Followed a stream between two very high hills. Went through San Jose, a really nice town. Arrived Fort Ord around dinner time. Big barracks and roads all over the camp. Nice cement was all over. Soil very sandy and only about a mile off the Pacific Coast. Cool wind blowing all day.

Was a bit disappointed. Instead of moving right in we had to march to a bivouac area about 2 ½ miles from main camp. Slept in pup tents for two nights and during the day drilled and had classes as usual.

Major Mansfield gave us a speech on what to expect. Very serious but still had some humor left over. Nice guy.

Had a five-day problem our Brooklyn Ramp (STET) one week in Shelby, and Maj. Mansfield proved himself to be a regular guy. Rained steady for 4 days and nites yet he was cheerful and just as wet as we were. In fact, at nite around our puny fire he told more stories than a comedian ever knew. On one of our hikes, 7 miles to be exact, he walked right in with us although the lesser officers rode in jeeps. And we made those 7 miles with no stops although rain came down in buckets and mud was knee-deep. Sure was glad to see the end of that little picnic when we got back to camp 18 miles away.

After a good shower and clean clothes made a bee line for the service club and ate two $1 steaks at one sitting. First decent meal I had in 5 days plus.

Copyright 2013 – John R. Moses

(More to come.)


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