LOOKING BACK

A rare and humorous look at life in the army, even during WWII

Larry Bowers
Posted 11/30/17

 When History Branch Library Director Margo Still was researching 1941 Cleveland newspapers for her weekly column in the Banner, "This Week in History," she came across an entertaining letter …

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LOOKING BACK

A rare and humorous look at life in the army, even during WWII

Posted

 When History Branch Library Director Margo Still was researching 1941 Cleveland newspapers for her weekly column in the Banner, "This Week in History," she came across an entertaining letter from local soldier William Hamlin.

Hamlin had mailed the correspondence back to Cleveland, to his brother Joe, and it provided a very unusual and humorous slant on the time he was spending in the U.S. Army.

You quickly realize Hamlin's letter about his experiences in the military was written at the outset of World War II.

Perhaps it was easier at that time to poke fun at your predicament, than to dwell on what was ahead.

His words of jest rang a memory bell for all of us who spent time in the military — in World War II or over the years since.

As you read his letter, you may say to yourself "I think I was there — because that was what I thought!"

Veterans can easily relate to Hamlin's classic letter.

The letter follows:

“I am very enthusiastic about army life. We lie around in bed every morning until 5 o’clock. This, of course, gives us plenty of time to get washed, dressed, make the bunks, and so forth —  by 5:15.

At 5:15 we stand outside and shiver while someone blows a bugle. After we are reasonably chilled, we grope our way through the darkness to the mess hall.

Here we have a hearty breakfast, consisting of an unidentified liquid and a choice of wheat or rye crusts. After gorging ourselves with this delicious repast, we waddle our way slowly back to the barracks.

We have nothing to do until 7:30, so we just sit around and scrub toilets, mop floors, wash windows, and pick up all the cigarette butts and matchsticks within a radius of 200 feet of the barracks.

Soon the sergeant comes in and says, 'Come on out in the sun, kids.' So we go out and bask in the wonderful North Carolina sunshine — of course we stand in six inches of sand. 

To limber up, we do a few simple calisthenics like touching our toes with both feet off the ground and grabbing ourselves by the hair and holding ourselves at arm’s length.

At 8 o’clock we put on our light packs and start walking into the hills. The light pack includes a gun, a bayonet, canteen, fork, knife, spoon, meat can, cup, shaving kit, pup tent, rain coat, cartridge belt, first aid kits, fire extinguishers, tent pegs, rope, tent pole, blankets, hand axe, small spade, and a few other negligible items.

Carrying my light pack, I weigh 217 pounds. I weighed 134 when I left home, so you can see how easy it is to gain weight in the army.

An observation car follows the boys as they climb the hills, and picks up the fellows who faint. Those who fall out in mountain climbing are treated very well.

They are given six months in the guard house, but don’t have to face court marital. At 12 o’clock those who can limp to the infirmary, are permitted to. At the infirmary, patients are divided into two classes: (1) those who have athlete’s foot, and (2) those who have colds.

If you have athlete’s foot, you get your feet swabbed with iodine. If you have a cold, you get your throat swabbed with iodine. If you have neither a cold nor athlete’s foot, you are sent to the guard house for impersonating an officer. 

I am very popular at the infirmary. I told them that I have both a cold and athlete’s foot. What I really have is gastric ulcers, but I know when to keep my mouth shut.

Well, that’s all I have time to write as I hear the call for chow and I don’t want to get there late.

You see, tonight we have hominy grits for supper and I don’t want to miss out on a treat like that. Hominy grits — Oh, Boy!

Best regards, Joe."


We salute this former soldier, and his uncanny summary of what goes on in military's training with its mental conditioning. We understand, because we, and thousands upon thousands of others, have been there. 

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