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at least my hands weren't blown off
Written by: Robert Sandell
Commentary by: Alex Sandell
Letters # 18 & 19
(I combined letters 18 & 19 because it felt like the right thing to do at the time.)
Sept. 7 and 8, '43
Dear Mother -
Hello, not much "happy" news to report from "camp." I've gotten poison oak all over my body. They gave us shots in the arm of some kind of serum which pretty quickly dries it up. We also got a lot of heat rash.
It's been hot here again, no surprise. For a couple of days it was rainy & comparatively cool. Well anyway, I'm glad that July & August, the hottest months, are over. September is supposed to be a little bit cooler. I sure hope so!
We're back in camp now for a short time. Soon we go out into the woods on some more maneuvers.
So Andy is home eh? And he didn't even give me a hint that he was getting a furlough! I've been wondering why I haven't heard from him for quite a while! I wished we could get our furloughs at the same time once. I'm hoping for mine sometime next winter. We've yet to go on our extended maneuvers. A week ago we came in from our short maneuver involving only our division. The next maneuver will have several divisions involved. I guess Andy's been on his maneuver & he probably has let you know something of what them things are. I wish I could tell you more, but I'd get "scolded" for giving away these almighty "secrets."
This morning our battalion commanding officers gave a critique on our short maneuvers. There's about 50,000,000 details to attend to & keep in mind at one time. It involves a constant strain. My hands are beginning to tremble out of stress and it's hard to keep them steady to avoid the officer from seeing them.
During the 3 1/2 weeks in the woods I dropped from 156 pounds to 142. At that rate in the big maneuvers I'll be invisible when turned edgewise.
This interval in camp is supposed to be a "rest & recuperation" period between maneuvers, but they sure have us on the go. I suppose "rest" means something different in the army. Yesterday we had a complete & detailed equipment inspection & preparation for it involved from mending tears in canvas & tents to polishing & siding the surgical instruments. Every little minute piece of equipment of which the medics have an enormous amount, have to be in perfect shape. At this inspection yesterday the wind blew a few grains of sand into some displayed surgical instruments. We sure took a lashing for that. In other words, I guess we'll have to tell the wind to stop blowing. The army recognizes no excuses!
Tomorrow we have an air-ground co-operation exercise. Out in the field again for a day while different kinds of planes come by which we have to signal back & forth. Day before yesterday we attended a camp-wide fire power demonstration. Some medium bombers drop 25, 250 pound bombs on some cardboard "airplanes". 6 fast P-39s put on a "truck column" strafing demonstration with tracer bullets. An infantry battalion opened up with all their guns at one time onto one spot with tracer bullets. Was quite a sight. Well, here it is the next day (8th). It's early morning, in fact it's still dark outside. Just came from breakfast & we're waiting for the station trucks to load up the equipment again to take it out into the woods & set up for the air-ground tests.
Just newly created in the medics is the job of podiatrist (foot technician). So I happened to get a break & get the job. I still don't know too much about feet. But I better learn soon. Course I still have to do the other medical aid treatment as before. I'm afraid to think of maneuvers when hundreds of guys'll start coming in with everything from hives to heat exhaustion. Course we have a medical officer who is a doctor, but he can't be everywhere at once. This job is quite a responsibility. They might send me to school yet, but nothing is for sure.
But don't be a bit surprised if in the next letter I'd have pvt. in front of my name in the return address. That's how unsure this proposition is. All it would take, for instance, would be to forget to have my hat on when in the field and on tactical, to be reduced to buch (buck? - Alex the ignorant idiot excuse for an "editor.") private. And you know how absent-minded I've been at times! In fact, I have to be constantly checking & double-checking on myself to avoid forgetting something. Especially out in the field where we'd have everything set up including our own personal equipment & as it always happens, orders come in to pack up, load up & be ready to move in a very few minutes. Often-time this happens at nite in blackout when it's really pitch dark. And every nite out in the field when a problem is on is a complete blackout! So it's necessary to practically memorize the position of each piece of equipment so as not to miss anything in the haste & darkness.
That stuff is nervousing. Especially now when more is expected of rated men. The stripes also make a target as it were for all the umpires, inspectors, etc. who come snooping around & observing. It's the stripers they watch. So you can see what I mean when I say the next letter could very well have private in front of my name. I still don't just know how I would react under actual battle. I hate to think of it. Then causalities will pour in at hundreds a day in all degrees & manner of condition. And movements are extremely swift. It's almost impossible for a civilian to realize what that swift shifting with all the equipment involves. It amounts to a constant "moving day." I'll sure be glad when I've dug my last slit trench or fox hole & heard the last "attention" & when I can burn all traces of army clothes & completely forget there ever was such a thing as wars & armies. I'd like to then do a bit of travelling to see this country complete & get some kind of job & perhaps go to night school and have a chance to buy a lot of symphony records & listen to them unlimited!
Well, I suppose all this is beginning to bore you, so I'll close now. Say hello to everybody from me & drop me a line again soon. It's much appreciated.
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