DAD’S WWII LETTERS: Chapter 2, Mojave Desert Wanderings

Mojave Desert
August 16, 1942

Here it is another Sunday morning and it doesn’t seem much different from any other day except that we got up three-quarters of an hour earlier than usual.  There isn’t so much activity around camp as there sometimes it, but there hasn’t been so very much since we came out here with the exception of getting our camping area straightened out.  We haven’t started taking any work to do yet because we aren’t settled for sure.  We’ll probably move to another area in a few days.  Where we are supposed to move is a lot dustier because of more traffic.  This isn’t so bad because we are sort of out to ourselves with the exception of the hospital which is just across the street or road.  The road has a hard surface and hasn’t any dust where the other road is awful dusty and rough.  I think the command figures that we’ll closer to our work over there and they don’t consider our working conditions.  The heat is bad enough alone without having a lot of dust and dirt.  Several of the fellows are sick.  I’ve been sort of off feed.  It is too hot for anyone that isn’t used to it and then this army food doesn’t set good on one’s stomach when it is sort of weak anyway.  I have lost quite a bit of weight already. 

I took my Saturday night bath in a water bucket. The water that came out of our water trailer after having set in the sun, was just the right temperature to take a bath in.  They have showers up the road aways, but it is so hard to get a chance to get in there and after you do you only get to stay about a minute and a half.  I decided that I would bathe farmer style.

The Santa Fe railroad runs within about a quarter of mile from here and the trains run often both day and night. The other day I kept track for half an hour and there were 3 in that time.  A lot of them are double headers.  They are using several of those diesel locomotives now.  Last night one of them had the longest string of cars behind it I’ve ever seen.  This morning since daylight I haven’t seen any trains.  It might be because it’s Sunday.

It is partly cloudy this morning and it hasn’t gotten so hot yet, although it is warm enough.  Yesterday afternoon a cloud went over and it rained a few drops.  They say there was a 4 inch rain here last week, but water goes right down and evaporates immediately.  I did some washing yesterday morning and it soon dried.  Most of the time there is a breeze and even though it is hot, it helps keep one cool. 

In the evening they sometimes give us lemonade or ice tea to drink.  That is generally about all that tastes good to me at that time of day.  Last night after dark they put some ice in the water to cool it off.  I think our water comes from a well that the railroad has.  You can hear the pumps going most of the time.  By the time the water is hauled to us it is rather warm.  I can drink warm water all day and it won’t quench my thirst.  That’s about all there is to talk about right now so I’ll close.

August 22, 1942

I’m writing this in the camp hospital out here in the desert.  I came here yesterday morning.  I was weak and tired.  I had a fast pulse, but no fever to speak of.   They called it early heat exhaustion.  I haven’t felt very good since I came out here.  I feel fairly good tonight.  I think I’ll go back to active duty tomorrow.  I don’t think I’ll ever be too good as long as we are out here in this heat.

They bring fellows in here every day with heat exhaustion.  Some of them are pretty far gone.  They have a cooler here to put them in when they have too high temperature.  There they maintain a temperature of 68 degrees and the patient is cooled off sufficiently to bring the fever down.  There are several diarrhea patients in the hospital.  Our company has about six here with the same ailment.  

They turned the lights out on me last night, so I couldn’t finish this letter.  I am supposed to go back to my company this morning, but it is almost 11 o’clock and no transportation has shown up yet.

We moved to a new area last Tuesday, I think it was.  Monday night we had an awful dust storm and wind storm.  It blew down most of the tents and filled everything full of dust and dirt.  I was on guard at the time.  We packed our stuff in trucks and some of us pitched pup tents to sleep in that night.  We knew that we were to move the next day anyway.  Some of the fellows slept around in trucks or near them out in the open.

Clyde supervising digging a latrine

Dad supervising digging a latrine

The next day we moved the new area which in only about three-quarters of a mile from where we were.  We have a building there recently constructed that we can use to work in. 

That night we had a beer bust.  The mess sergeant took money from the company fund and bought beer and Coca Cola.  Most of the fellows drank the beer.  The cold beer sure tastes good after a hot day. 

The chaplain brought this paper into the hospital yesterday afternoon.  I had none, so I used some of it.

Two or three days ago they set up a tent for us to eat in.  Before we had to squat in the sand and eat our chow right out in the hot sun. That spoils a person’s appetite as quick as anything when a person is hot already and doesn’t care much whether he eats or not.

I sort of dread going back to company to duty.  It is so hot there and no good shade to get in unless you can find room in one of the large tents and they are generally full of something or other.

They came at 11 o’clock to take me back.  Seems like it is hotter here than it was over at the hospital and a lot dustier.  I don’t know how long I can take this heat and dirt.  Seems like my pulse is fast most of the time.  If I get to feeling to bad again I’ll go back to the hospital and maybe if they find out that this climate doesn’t agree with me at all they’ll send me back to San Luis.  I still feel weak after lying in the hospital for two days.  Night is the only time it is half way comfortable and I can’t recuperate in a night’s time.  One consolation maybe will be that if they find out that I can’t stand this sort of climate they won’t send me overseas to a similar climate.

I received your letter this afternoon after going back to the hospital to get it.  It had been sent from here up there but had never been delivered to me.  It took it five days after you mailed it to reach here. 

Yes, I remember Dewitt, It takes me back to a year ago when I came into the army.  In a way, I’m glad the first year is over.  It is always the hardest although the rest are none too easy.  Write.

Sept. 9, 1942

I think I told you that I went to the hospital again for a few days.  About all they did was give me a good rest and starved me.  For three days I had nothing but bread and mild.  The last day they gave me a general diet. 

The first day I was there I didn’t want anything to eat but after that I got hungry.  There was a PX near the hospital, so I lived on beer, potato chips, and ice cream.  After the first day, they moved me out into some tents with some more fellows.  There are an awful lot of the fellows that get sick out here.  I think I’m OK now for a while.

Yesterday afternoon we had an awful strong wind that blew down three tents and blew dust into everything.

We’ll probably move from here to new location within the next week.  We’ll follow down along the Colorado River along with the maneuvers.

We have a good location here for water and we are only a mile from town.  We have our camp about two hundred yards from the river and we pump water right out of the river for showers.  The water is cold, but it cools one off.

The town doesn’t amount too much as a means of entertainment with all the soldiers around.  Most of the restaurants sell out early in the evening and close their doors.  The bars are generally loaded with soldiers buying drinks. 

We have our own PX here and we can buy all the beer we want and candy, ice cream and such.  There really isn’t much incentive to go to town.  I go through town several times during the day to go to the A. P. O. and headquarters which is on the other side.  There are about as many army vehicles there as there are civilian cars.

It is a nice appearing little town to be located in the desert.  Of course the river affords them plenty of water to keep their lawns green and to water the trees.  There are several trees right around and in the town, but they are all the same variety.  They look something like a willow, but the foliage is more fuzzy.  There are a few palms also.

It is such a contrast out here to what it is back home that I just can’t come to like it.

If I do have to do foreign service I would almost do anything to keep from having to be in a place like this.  *Although, since we are getting all this training here, they would probably figure that we were fitted for that kind of climate.  

*Editor’s note:  This statement would prove to be both prophetic and ironic.  After the first year of military service, Dad resigned to the quirks of Army life.  He’d learned the meaning of “hurry up and wait” and about doing things the “Army way.”  The harsh conditions took a physical, emotional, and psychological toll on these young soldiers.

No one knows whether this company will go overseas after maneuvers or not.  Since we are getting all this training it looks more than likely, but we have only half enough strength and would have to have more men.  They could soon attach more men.  Again we may be out here to take of the equipment of those on maneuvers and afterwards continue to furnish men for cadre forming new companies elsewhere.

I see in the papers that the allies are beginning to open up over in Europe as well as on the Japs in the Pacific.  The Allies have a mighty war machine to keep going this time and they are scattered all over the world.  In my opinion the sooner they get going the sooner the Axis can be defeated.  It will be a tough war because it covers so much more territory and the war machines are so much more expensive than the last war.

The US has such a vast supply of resources, that with a lot of hard work, sacrifice and proper management, there is no excuse why we can’t win this war and do it without taking too long.  Of course there are still those that are in the game for the money only.  By now I think that most people realize what we are up against.

How are you folks progressing back there?  Do you think that you’ll be able to get by another season?  It looks like those that are left behind are expected to do an awful lot.

Many are the times that, while I am here with idle time on my hands, I wish that I could be doing something back there that was really useful.

The first year wasn’t so bad although I had several weak moments when I got rather homesick.  Now it looks sort of hopeless.  If I was doing something really useful toward the war effort or something constructive it would be different.

This army is a mess, but I guess it can’t be any other way with so many different kinds of people in it running it.  It has to be run more lass standard and what fits to some doesn’t to others.  I know enough about the army and there are others like me that when it is over I want to wash my hands of the whole thing and forget it completely.  When I hear some fellows talk of how they like the army and would like to make it their career I soon form an impression of them that they’ve either been handed a commission on a platter or else they haven’t the ambition to work for a living on the outside.

Anyway from this you should get a rough idea of what I think of it.  I feel the urge to fight those dirty Japs and Germans but I feel like a man with his hand tied behind his back. 

I wish I had enough money to go around so that I could buy me a camera and take pictures of all these places that I have been.  It take a lot of money–more than one would think and I’m trying to save enough to start a home after I get out of here.  If a person doesn’t have something to plan and look forward to it all looks so hopeless. 

All of this desert is more or less alike.  Almost any spot in it you can see mountains in the distance although they aren’t so high. 

If you ever need any help, let me know.  It can always be fixed somehow. 

needles , ca

Needles, CA on Route 66

Needles, Calif.
Sept. 20, 1942 

We are getting ready to go out on actual maneuvers.  So far we have made our camp and the stuff to be repaired has been brought in to us.  We were on the red army side before and we are on the blue side this time.

We are going right out among the maneuvers and follow the combating units.  We put grease on the windshields leaving just a small space to see through.  That is to keep the glass from reflecting the sun.  We’ll probably do most of our moving after dark during the blackout so that the enemy won’t spot us.  We are supposed to leave this area tonight about dark.  We fastened a sign painted blue on the trucks so that they know whose side we’re on.  On the other side it is painted red.  It we should get in enemy territory we could turn the sign over.  I imagine that we’ll be on the move about all this week.

This area here is getting so dusty that I’m not sorry to leave it, but I suppose it will be rather rugged moving around all the time and then a person is liable to get captured. 

There are a few clouds to obscure the sun occasionally which is unusual for the weather here.

I don’t suppose that we’ll get our mail very regular either.  I don’t know what kind of setup they’ll have for the post office.  Write. 

Editor’s thoughts:  Dad had previously mentioned considering marriage.  There will be more to come on that subject.  I’m closing this post with a picture of my mother from the early forties.  This was her first school assignment after graduating from Blackburn College in 1940.  It was one of the last rural, one-room schools in the county, before consolidation in 1948.

img004Albany School, District #121
Teacher, Dorothy Jane Clark and students