Katz Letters : Training in the USA
July, 1943 - April, 1944
Letters from Theodore Katz
Ted's first letters to Helen are postmarked in Leesville, Louisiana in July of 1943. He is stationed in Camp Polk, rather than at Fort Meade, where he had expected to go. He was able to visit New Orleans in August, and he had a 3-day furlough in October, which he used to travel to visit his parents in Syracuse, New York.
In January 1944, Ted is now at Camp Forrest in Tullahoma, Tennessee. He is training often outdoors in bivouacs (temporary camps without cover), doing maneuvers he cannot tell Helen about. In April, Ted knows he will be heading to Europe, and the first stop on that journey will be going to New Jersey.
Arrived here yesterday after as hot and dirty a trip as I ever saw, and since then have been unpacking equipment in temperatures up to 110°. ... If you could see me now – I’m sure you’d scream and run for help. Dirty, unshaven, sweat soaked and writing this on a tree stump in the middle of a swamp.read more
In the meantime, the authorities that be can’t stand to see us relax for a while so we’ve been sent out daily to improve the Louisiana landscape - Today we repaired and rebuilt bridges – Temperature 140° in the sun believe it or not. So much for that – by now, I know that I can stand anything.
New Orleans was wonderful – aside from the fact that it was my first glimpse of civilization in some time. The French Quarter is like a different world – you’d never believe it was the United States – filthy with atmosphere, intrigue – more like Paris.
After knocking down six widows and 3 orphans, I practically purloined a cab and arrived at Grand Central in six (months) ha! I mean minutes. ... I arrived at 3:30 AM and found mon pѐre and my dog waiting for me at the station and after a warm greeting from both – we jumped in the car and before you could say “Jake Rabinowitz” I was home and again, receiving warm greetings from mon mѐre – Whereupon, she plied me with viands until I could eat no more and we went to bed. At six in the morning I was awaked [sic] by a bugle playing reveille – I punched myself – I must be dreaming – but no it was true. The army has taken over the University and the schoolboy-soldiers are stationed in all the fraternity houses which surround our abode – so, I gleefully thumbed my nose out the window and slipped back to dreamland.read more
Chapter Two of “A Comedy of Errorts” [sic] takes place here at Camp Forrest. Instead of arriving at about 7:00 this morning – we left the train at 1:00 AM, tired, sleepy and disgusted. As we stepped off the train our feet encountered a very soft, sticky substance, which, upon careful reconnaissance we perceived to be mud – but, such mud – what texture, - what suction – what clinging power. ... Seeing as how we were so “on the ball” and arrived earlier than expected – there were no trucks to greet us. So – we bent our weary backs and walked five miles to our new barracks – where we arrived at 4 A.M. – At the barracks – we were pleasantly surprised to find that there were no beds. This amazing phenomena was, of course, greeted with cries of joy by my confréres and I.read more
Last night, Sam and I went to Tallahoma – a town two miles from camp. The place is small, dirty and crowded with soldiers and people trying to milk the soldiers – overcharging everything. A disgusting sight.
You should see the stores – First a harness shop and then next door – a fancy woman’s dress store. I wish you could have seen the styles – the God-awfullest creations I’ve ever seen. Sam and I stood and laughed for fully 15 minutes.
Once again, I am out of the office and in the line. In spite of Sgt. Gluckin’s protests our puerile C.O. insisted that I was needed more in the field than in the office. I don’t mind so much – the weather is warm, the mud is gradually drying and at last we are doing something a little different than we’ve done before – we are in the middle of something big – something which I cannot divulge. Not that I want to sound mysterious – but, rather I wouldn’t want to put it on paper.read more
Our secret (sh-h-h-h) mission training starts in earnest tomorrow – and it’s being made a secret to the extent that we are not allowed to carry any documentary evidence that we are the 603rd Engr. Cam. Bn. – no letters, insignia, etc. – in fact nothing to show that we are Engineers, let alone Camouflage Engineers.read more
I have made an amazing deduction. It is a technique for inducing dementia praecox, paranoia and sundry other variations of nervous breakdown. All one has to do is apply for membership in the 603rd. ... In the Army there is a name for an order such as this – it is aptly descriptive, but it would require a very lengthy explanation and besides it is much too vulgar for your delicate, shell-like ears. It is enough to say that I have calculated that situations such as this, the cumulative frustration in combination with aggregate stupidity can upset the strongest reason. Applications to the 603rd can be procured at the nearest delicatessen or your neighborhood insane asylum.read more
I find myself comfortably settled on my uncomfortable bunk – amidst the quiet of an almost empty barracks. ... This is the only time I don’t mind being in the barracks – it gives me the privacy which is always lacking in the Army – and to say it is unusual would be the height of understatement – because for the past year and a half – privacy has been a non-entity for me – it’s been impossible to be alone for even a moment. ... What shall we do tonight, Helen? – Shall we go dancing or go to a movie – or stay in and listen to the radio – or, shall we just stay in? Come to think of it – it’s cold out, the weather is miserable – and look at all the privacy we’ve got. And in case we want to dance – we can roll up the rugs – I guess I decided that.read more
I haven’t received a letter from you since Sunday – and it seems like three weeks rather than a mere three days – but I know it’s on account of the traveling you’ve been doing. But now that you’re back let’s have no more of these long interims between letters – remember what the poster in the Post Office says * – WRITE TO A SOLDIER EVERY DAY!!!read more
I’m glad you like the sketches, but it seems funny to be showing you my etchings by long distance – I’m sure it would be better if I could explain them to you in person. But if I were there in the flesh I am also sure that we would probably throw them into a corner and let the explanations go until a later date – much later. ... Due to an extra amount of work today I find that I am “sans une object d’art” to add to the collection – but I promise to make up for it soon. I see you are hanging them in the parlor. I was sure they would be placed in another gallery – namely, your famous latrine!read more
So – you think I sound sad and blue – Well, you should see and hear the rest of this outfit – they all look like a bunch of pall-bearers – and as for their morale – it’s down around the soles of their shoes – but my will-power is of rugged material – and nothing around here can put a dent in it deep enough to do any permanent damage. So, don’t think I’m wilting – It’s just that I wish this were all over – I’m impatient – We’re wasting a lot of valuable time –read more
Tomorrow – we have another inspection of equipment and the barracks has been a madhouse of preparation. All our time lately seems to be given to cleaning equipment for some sort of inspection. However, tomorrow’s promises to be a lulu! A General with nothing else to do – will come by my bunk to see if my mess equipment is clean, and will inspect all the various impedimenta I’ve ever been issued, look at my rifle, etc.
– And all this stuff has to be layed out on the bunk in a certain manner. – A razor a half-inch out of line can spell the doom of the careless soldier. Ah, regimentation, that’s the life.
This has certainly been as active a week as I’ve seen in a long while. As I wrote yesterday – today we had more airplane strafing which consisted of jumping in and out of trucks – digging fox holes, etc. – Now, tonight we’re again getting ready for a complete inspection tomorrow morning – and after a week’s use in the muddy terrain hereabouts – our equipment is in a pretty sorry state – necessitating many hours of cleaning tonight – So once again it will be the wee hours before I get to bed.read more
I received a wonderful long letter from you last night out in the wet woods – I couldn’t wait till morning to read it – so I took it down the trail to the Message Center tent – and read by the light of a small lamp. I found the letter to be a real long one – and just chuck full of good things.read more
I think I’m getting “barrackitis” – these surroundings are beginning to pall on me – very dull and uninteresting – Today – I feel a creative urge – something that I haven’t felt much since I’ve been in the Army – I would like to paint or play the piano – I have neither the paints nor the place to paint – and it’s impossible to play at the Service Club without someone asking for “Mares Eat Oats”, “The Beer-Barrel Polka”, etc or other interruptions which come from playing in a room containing a few hundred people, – and including a radio and photograph all trying to outdo the other in volume.read more
I suddenly remember that I last saw you exactly two months ago. It’s unbelievable time is such a funny thing – it seems like a year – only two short months and they pass so slowly. Also, – it is practically sixteen months that I’ve been in the Army. You can imagine how long it feels. All I have is a faint memory of what civilian life is like with its freedom and comforts. I can dimly remember what it is like to relax completely – an impossibility in the Army.read more
This camp and vicinity is undergoing an amazing change. Up to now it has been practically deserted – but in the past few days – thousands of troops have been pouring into here. They’ve been coming in so fast that in some cases the barracks haven’t been prepared for them and it’s not strange to see tents pitched and men practically sleeping in the streets.read more
My movement orders finally came through – but before you get scared – let me explain that I’ve only moved from the second floor down to the first – where I am now ensconced in the area designated to the first echelon of Headquarters Platoon. This is the big news of the day.
This has also been a lucky day as we were supposed to go out on bivouac this morning for a full week and it’s been postponed – so perhaps we will have a full week in camp for a change. We’re really fortunate in being in because the weather is truly foul – cold, rain and sleet and we all got out our prayer rugs, faced Mecca and gave thanks for our deliverance.
Right now – I am waiting to gather my new equipment. I can look out the window of the Orderly Room and see the men standing in line with their bags of old equipment – waiting to be reoutfitted – and as it takes between 20 and 30 minutes to go through the rigamarole – I figure that it will be the wee hours of the morning before the job is completed. So – I’ve figured that instead of standing in line for hours – I’d spend it to better advantage – e.i. – writing to my peachy girl.read more
You see – we had our second typhus shot – today – producing that same weak, loggy feeling – so I decided to take on a little bunk fatigue, and closed my eyes and fell into a doze – that half-asleep, semi-dream world – And, of course, as usual whenever I go to bed, the first thing that popped into my mind was you. But this time, my imaginative powers were so strong that you were right there lying beside me.read more
Again – by pure guesswork I think that we’ll land someplace in New Jersey. My next letter will no doubt be censored – but if these calculations are correct I will let you know by putting a comma after – Dear Helen, - if I’m not in N.J. it will be Dear Helen – (with a dash instead of a comma). I know you won’t mention any of these facts to anyone – if you know where I am, you will keep it under your snood.read more