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Dahl Letters : Training in the USA

September 23, 1942 - May 1, 1944

Letters from Harold J. Dahl

soldier packs and rifles in rows on the ground

Dahl's basic training took place in Fort Meade, MD in September and October of 1942. During Army basic training, Dahl was trained with rifles and other weapons. On July 19, 1943, Dahl was sent to Camp Forrest, TN on maneuvers. He returned to Fort Meade in September, and then on to signal communications training in Fort Dupont, DE on October 26, 1943. He went back to Fort Meade on November 25, 1943, and then back to Camp Forrest for January-March, 1944. His training included existing camouflage techniques, and the men developed additional techniques themselves. Harold was an expert marksman with a rifle (second highest score in the battalion), a sharpshooter with the carbine, and a qualified Morse code operator.

Dahl Letters September 1942

September 1942

Well here I am - with fellows from all over the place - and they all say we are going to get a tough work-out, so I’ll be pretty hard before long.  I hear I’m to get a week-end after about 3 weeks which is the end of my detention period.  The fellows are very friendly and helpful.  I guess I get my duds tomorrow - at the moment I’m the only guy in civilian clothes in the whole camp of 60,000.
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Training in the USA Letter from Harold Dahl

September 25, 1942

Today has been our first of field work, and our last for 3 weeks during which time we will do drill and other basic training.  We made some dummy cannon & anti-air craft guns. One distinction is surely mine in this army - I got my rifle & gas mask before I got any uniforms whatsoever.  I am sending home my clothes, all but my hat which I threw away, and my shoes, which I am keeping to wear on my first visit home.

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Training in the USA Letter from Harold Dahl

October 15, 1942

My cold is much improved in spite of the fact that I have been soaking wet for 3 days.  Tues. we went on a 12 mile hike in the rain & yesterday & today in addition to hours of drill we were learning to skirmish which means crawl on your belly in the mud.  I was a pretty sight, judging by the others.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl October 25, 1942

October 25, 1942

I am enclosing an Engineers Pin which is better to wear than the Service Pin - means something to be in the Engineers, especially the 603rd.

My New Company is OK - fine bunch of well-educated men - and my friend Herb Amborski was sent there too along with Sam Rosenbaum, Bud Parke, Marion Pastorcrich & me.  Next week (tomorrow) starts regular training now that my basic is over.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl October 28, 1942

October 28, 1942

“D” Co. is my permanent spot - at least it is for as long as I stay at the 603rd. and they stay at Ft. Meade.  There is some talk that we might go to another camp in this same area somewhere.

Today we had it pretty easy - we were working on a gun emplacement.  It is very interesting to see how it all is done.  What we will do tomorrow I don’t know.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl November 4, 1942

November 4, 1942

The last couple of days we have worked very hard - yesterday making dummy guns & tanks & today on a combat problem & making a small map which was interesting but which was a little tiring.  I’m darn tired right now.  It is already 8:30 & I need to clean my gun before I turn it.  Also I need a shave.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl November 15, 1942

November 15, 1942

This morning our Tech. Sergeant, who happens to be Hallie Paul, painted a portrait of me, using a knife from the kitchen instead of a brush.  Up close it looks awful - but from a ways away it is remarkable.  I’ll be bringing it home after it dries ... We are all excited about the news of Africa, it makes quite a difference to have some offensive action under way.  Funny thing - we have all along had a hunch that Africa would be our spot.  Next week we get bayonets and start training with them.  Just another thing to clean, says I.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl November 24, 1942

November 24, 1942

Thanks for the letter - but don’t mistake my position - I am not a mere sharpshooter, but an expert, which is better.  And the medal is prettier.  I’ll bet you are proud, and I must say that I am too.  It feels pretty good to be second-highest man in the Battalion.  I understand that at parade on Saturday I’ll have to go before the Colonel... Today we had drill in bayonet practice for endless hours & then in anti-air craft fire.  Tomorrow we go to the combat range and learn to shoot rifles at airplanes.  That should be good sport.  But I’ve never been so weary as I am tonight.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl December 19, 1942

December 19, 1942

In the afternoon we (a few of us) observed the fort & our camouflage areas from the air - 3,000 ft up in a little cub plane flown by a Civil Air Patrol pilot.  It was most interesting & everyone hopes it will be repeated now & then. We are now on camouflage training again & will do experiments this week, plus a 24 hour problem which can only mean a night out again - I hope it will not have the bad effect the 3-day bivouac had - 35 men in the hospital.  For me, I rather enjoyed it, but it was good to get home. Our platoon has a new sergeant - a former football star named Pettit.  He is a little rough but very nice, good natured as can be, and seems to like Herb Amborski & me quite well so we get along fine together.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl January 10, 1943

January 10, 1943

I put in for camoufleur for the ski troops, but do not think I’ll make it... We had quite a time yesterday at the last minute we were told that we were to build a dummy anti-air craft position & have it done that afternoon.  We really had to work, especially me, since I was the only one in our platoon who knew how to chop, saw or hammer.  Some crew we had! ... ​Today for the first time I saw some of those amphibian things - they are like a small scow with four wheels & a propeller.  Some stuff, our army!

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl January 17, 1943

January 17, 1943

Monday I had quite a time - we were building a dummy Anti-aircraft position - 4 guns, each 16 ft high & made out of tree trunks ...  After it was finished we set it up & it fell to me to put stakes in to support the traces.  All of a sudden the whole thing toppled over on me & knocked me cold for a few minutes ... I had an interview with the Company commander the other day.  He was astounded to hear my age - asked how I wanted to be classified (I said carpenter - camouflage) and then told me he was pleased with my work, which he should be.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl January 19, 1943

January 19, 1943

Our Colonel said goodbye to us today and you could see how badly he felt to leave after building up the battalion from a group of 35 last May.  Our new Commanding officer is a major named Fitz who is much older.  He came out to see something we were working on today and was much impressed by the speed at which we were working.  That was the 3rd platoon, a swell outfit.  Most of the things we have been making have been for use in a camouflage manual that is soon to be published by the War Dept.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl January 30, 1943

January 30, 1943

As far as teaching camouflage is concerned, rumor has it that we will split up the Battalion into two parts one of which will be A&B Co. & the other C&D.  The first would stay in this country teaching & the other half would go across & teach & work there.  From all I can gather, D Co is likely to go on a cruise this spring. Those that stay will probably go from place to place by truck & teach in various army camps all over the place.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl March 14, 1943

March 14, 1943

Busy little fellow I am - here it is Sunday morning 9:30 - I’ve been up for 3 hours already.  I’m C.O. today and am also working on various projects, the Btn. Newspaper, the Book and I’ve been assigned an article to write for a company book which is a report of our findings on camouflage and if accepted will be published to the Army as a whole.  My topic is “Dummy & Decoy Flat-tops”.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl March 23, 1943

March 23, 1943

The last couple of days I have been working in the Supply Room with a couple of good guys, Sgt. Grindal and MacChesney who is a pal to Hovel & me.  We have a lot of these big paint sprayers and we had to design & build cases to pack them in.  It was quite a problem, what with all the little gadgets each of which had to have its own accessible cubby hole.  We managed to work out a box 6 inches shorter & 3 inches narrower than any other Company built which is what we were aiming for.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl March 28, 1943

March 28, 1943

I worked on boxes all week - and am glad someone else will have will have to do it next week.  All must be in readiness by next Friday.  The major gave us an interesting talk on Saturday telling us that we would be observing large installations, including photographing them & making models - and that means photographing from the air, sometimes in bombers. So we think we have an interesting near future and a possibility of becoming real experts.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl May 15, 1943

May 15, 1943

We didn’t get back to camp until after 7:00 so we went to bed right after chow - Hovel (now a sergeant) and I slept in the 1/ 1/2 Ton truck - at about 3:00 the gas alarm woke us up - the place was full of smoke & tear gas.  We put on our masks & awaited orders which turned out to be to assemble & march to support A Co. ... It was so dark & smoky we could hardly see, but we got there somehow & got the job done.  Afterwards we heard from the Major that the only camouflage Co abroad, newly in Africa, was attacked by Nazi parachutist all of whom were wiped out (& no “bang, bang, you’re dead”, stuff, either) by the camoufleurs who had quite a party, apparently.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl June 1, 1943

June 1, 1943

Our platoon has been selected to run a camouflage school for 6 Battalions of Artillery, their last training before embarkation. We are proud to be selected although it will be a tough assignment.  We will be in the middle of the area, living in fox holes & simulating actual battle conditions.  A.P. Hill is where artillery fires over your head, etc.  I hear it is hot, muddy & generally unpleasant.

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letter from Harold Dahl June 21, 1943

June 21, 1943

We met some of the guys from the first camouflage outfit today - the 84th which was at Ft. Belvoir. These fellows, 6 of them, are the sole survivors of Co. C which was all but wiped out in New Guinea. They are a part of the 159th & 160th Combat Engineers, now on Post here. From the way it looks they may be going to fight in the winter campaign in Burma - and we may possibly go along.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl June 27, 1943

June 27, 1943

We went to a chigger-infested spot down along the Chesapeake Bay where we did manage to go swimming twice but which afforded a total of only 2 hours sleep for Lt. Slamon and a crew of picked men which included me. We had to rig up booby traps in a mine field and then the next day had to take up a field laid by another crew & rigged up with boobies. (We use fire crackers).

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl August 14, 1943

August 14, 1943

Well that is all I was able to write yesterday before the blues arrived and the problem ended in a victory for the reds - that is us.  And D Co. - 603rd Eng. was again commended for their large part in the victory - first our CP was bombed 3 times - good joke on the Blues - second, our 4th Plt. built a pontoon bridge that was of great service, third our 1st plt successfully hid the Red Army reserve strength and 4th we all together built a mine field and a dummy mine field each of which delayed the Blue tanks long enough for our Tank Destroyers to come up.  Quite a bit for 80 men among 40 or 50,000.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl August 18, 1943

August 18, 1943

We had a surprise waiting for us when we got back to camp - the first sergeant - Erickson - had been busted down to buck sergeant. ... Capt. Stack announced that the new one is none other than my good pal Wm. Lee German.  He is the one who was a Director of Art Education in N.J. ... Erasmus Beall takes his place as Supply Sergeant.  That will put the artists pretty much in control ... ​out of 20 high non-coms, 15 are artists - and some of these tough engineers thought the art boys would be flops!

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl October 3, 1943

October 3, 1943

Also we are working on  experiments for simple ways to teach troops about booby traps.  Yesterday I worked out a way to simulate one of those mines that jumps up in the air before it explodes. ... We are going to be very highly trained for the next couple of months - in motor transport, bridges, mines, combat & all Engineer activities besides hiking & obstacle courses.  Evidently we are to be some kind of “crack” outfit which is OK by us.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl November 26, 1943

November 26, 1943

The 603rd are fast becoming legendary fellows.  The Battalion was at Camp Ritchie, the Intelligence Post, this week and were everywhere spoken of as a “crack” outfit - and we were told that the Colonel got a fine reception on his first visit to XIII [13] Corps Headquarters, partly due to the fact that the 5 of us as a group were way ahead of the field in the school.  I hear he was well pleased.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl December 2, 1943

December 2, 1943

Today we went thru the gas chamber for the 3rd time - this time we had a taste of the real stuff as well as the ordinary tear gas. Our clothes are full of the stuff so we’ve been having a crying good time... ​The Booby Trap Area I have not seen since it was completed, but I was loaned to the 3rd Platoon while it was being planned & had a lot to do with the ideas that were used.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl January 18, 1944

January 18, 1944

We are now out of the XIII Corps and into a Special Troops Group in the 2nd Army. There are a couple of other outfits with us, all under the command of a West Pointer - a Colonel - I can’t tell you who else is with us or what kind of outfits they are nor what we do when we start to do it on Monday but it promises to be very interesting and frankly it looks like we are at last going to play a real part in the war effort.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl April 1, 1944

April 1, 1944

Had some fun today throwing live hand grenades at a steel oil drum.  I landed one right in it - was surprised how far I could throw something when keeping it around would be unwise.  Had a bit of excitement when one guy got his arm caught & the grenade only went about 10 feet - we all were in a sort of trench and believe me we kept way down that time!

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl April 7, 1944

April 7, 1944

Another thing - see to it... that nothing gets in the paper if and when we leave.  And you & Mother & the others must take it as part of your burden not to so much as tell anyone that I have gone until we get there and mail comes back to you.  And then, if you get an idea where I am, don’t tell anyone, no matter who. This thing we are doing might be suspected it it gets out that the 603rd is gone - we must be simply forgotten - until after our job is done.  It really can be terribly important in the war and we have to be more than ordinarily careful.  I’m sure you understand.

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