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Gerald R. Rees Papers: Transcripts - MS 1007
United States Army
May 7, 1944
Airmail may not save any time going North, but your last letter is the second one I've gotten in less than 24 hours after it left the Toledo P.O. Almost as good as a telegram or phone call.
I went around the older part of Ft. Sill last night-we are in the newer, temporary part-and it hardly seemed like being in the army. Streets, sidewalks, flower gardens and brick homes, stores, theaters with lighted signs. One street lined with trees and officers' homes looked like a classy residential part of town. What a change from the camps in Texas. The church I went to this morning seemed like a civilian church, too; if a person could be sure of always being stationed in a place like this, army life could be pretty good.
As for the work we're doing here, it's largely a repitition of what I studied at C.C. N.Y. except that it's very efficiently organized to be taught in the shortest time. Field artillery surveying uses the same methods as any other surveyors would, with a few exceptions. Our instructors are all majors or colonels who really know their stuff.
Yesterday we saw an exhibition of what the artillery can do. We perched up on top of a "mountain"-one of the foothills of the Wichita range-while 102 heavy guns all poured shells into an area which looked as big as our back yard. Boy, what a noise they made. You'd hear a sound like thunder, about five miles away, then see a lot of dirt and smoke below us and finally hear the shells exploding. Loud speakers carried the various commands so we could follow what went on back where the guns were. First one gun would fire, and we could hear an observer from an airplane telling the gunner by radio how far he was from the target. Then, when they were sure they had the range, all heck would break loose on the target. There were several generals and other bigshots there, and so many officers that I felt rather exclusive being about the only private there.
It seems to be blowing up for a storm here. No telling from one hour to the next what the weather is going to be here.
United States Army
We've had some night problems, so there hasn't been any time for letter-writing this week. Night surveying is kind of fun; there are lights built in the transit to read the various scales, and they fasten lights on the rods that we sight on. Not very practical for work in the battle zone, of course.
Sunday was a very satisfactory day. Nothing to do but eat and sleep. Anita is a swell cook, and it was a treat to eat without standing in line. Lee was telling the truth about Altus; there isn't anything in the town.
The couple in the other half of their house has a 18-month-old baby who is darn cute; she likes Butch and Olaf, the dogs, very much.
That was the biggest family gathering you've had to handle for a long time, wasn't it? You must have had your hands full. Jack must have had the best time of all, with all the people around. I'd like to see him in the "gardening" business.
Let me know what luck you have with the garden. Wish I were there digging in it now.
The picture of Jack that Eleanor sent was really good. You said she would be away for two weeks so I'll wait to thank her for it.
I see by the Blade that Benny Aranoff and friends are spending their spring vacation in the work-house. A great improvement for Toledo.
Did you know that Jack Witte's collie, Laddie, died? He was my favorite dog. Mr. Witte is a warrant officer now.
Very spiffy stationery. But typing paper didn't hurt my feelings-it's what's inside that counts.
Field Artillery School
Fort Sill, Oklahoma
[May 21, 1944]
Today I have been in the army a year. Outwardly there's not much to show for it; practically no money saved, no rating, don't know much more about what's going to happen than I did a year ago. But there are different ways of judging gain and loss. I've had eighteen weeks schooling in a top-notch college, seen the best that New York has to offer, traveled over 7,000 miles in thirteen states and Canada, been home twice, and learned a new trade. I've learned self-reliance and how to take things as they come without worrying-which I certainly didn't a year ago. I've probably gained more than I would have in an equal time going to school at home, but I still wouldn't recommend the army as the way to earn a living.
This last week has been the most interesting so far in the course. One thing we took up is a little celestial navigation, which I have always wanted to learn. We took shots at the sun and the North star and learned how to compute our position and the direction of true north. I've finally found out what this sidereal or star time is and why it differs from sun time. It's reassuring to find out that there's nothing mysterious or impossible about astronomy; it would be fun to go ahead and study it a little more.
Yesterday they had a big slam-bang exhibition out in the mountains. They reconstructed a battle on some Italian beach-head. There were even some bombers and fighters from the Air Corps. The whole idea was to show us how the infantry, artillery, and airplanes all work together in one fighting team. There were more two and three-star generals than you could shake a stick at, and colonels were a dime a dozen. It was all described by loud-speakers, and just like sitting in a stadium at a football game. From the mountainside where we were, we could look down and on all sides for several miles. The artillery put on the best show; those guns were almost unbelievably accurate. The Air Corps came in for a lot of Bronx cheers and ridicule, though. There were some dummy tanks about a mile from us, and they were supposed to come and destroy them. First the fighter planes came and strafed them with machine guns, but we could see the bullets striking 'way beyond the target-a complete miss. Then bombers came over, but instead of flying over the tanks, they headed straight for us! It was a ticklish feeling, but fortunately they didn't drop the bombs. So they circled and tried again, this time finding the garget all right, but the bombs all over-shot the mark. They shook the ground and tore up a lot of dirt, but didn't phase the tanks. About this time several big-shots from the Air Corps who had come to watch got up and left, with sheepish grins on their faces. We all had a good laugh at their expense, but it was in fun; everyone knows that the airplanes will have a lot to do with winning the war, even if it takes some good artillery-men to finish the job.
United States Army
Since you were good enough to send an airmail stamp, I'd better write in a hurry. I'm sorry that such a thing as a birthday should get you all worried. First of all, my address will be the same; I'll go back and even sleep in the same bed as before. Should be there by next Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest; school is over here on Saturday and I have three days free before reporting to camp. Will probably go over to Altus Sunday, and maybe stop over for a day in Ft. Worth.
When you reminded me that I had a birthday, I realized that I had very few desires. The best present you could ever send is one of those traditional birthday cakes, if rationing and the price of eggs doesn't make it prohibitive. Someone might send me a large box of perfectly plain light-weight stationery if they were so inclined. Or some air-mail stamps. Or one of these folder-type leather picture frames the size to fit the picture of Jack that Eleanor sent (about 4" x 6", I think). I've given up pleading for a picture of you and Pop; lost cause, I guess.
To introduce something besides the "gimme" note, you also have me puzzled. Is there some foolish thing you've been hankering after lately, that you haven't already gotten? If so, please send the good word along.
While I think of it, do you ever see a pocket-sized Old Testament? I've kind of wished I had one, but don't even know if they make them.
'Nough of that for this year.
United States Army
[May 26, '44]
Air mail is funny-your Sunday letter just came. It's too bad about these tankers coming in at night and making Pop get up at odd hours. Now I'll bet he wishes he was being paid by the hour again...
Please don't go imagining things and getting all bothered because Anita doesn't write to you. She works all day out at the air field besides her painting and housekeeping; she probably has trouble keeping up correspondence to her own family, and it's pretty hard to write to someone that you know only through a third person. You'll both like each other very much when you meet.
The last few days have provided a lot of interesting side-lights to the regular routine. We have been working out in the Wichita Mountains Wild Life Refuge, which extends for about 60,000 acres to the west of the fort. It is quite a sensation to be busy looking through a transit, and glance around to see a herd of buffalo grazing near your. One animal is funny to watch-the prairie dog. As long as we keep our distance, they sit by their holes yapping at us like a pack of terriers. But if we go near them, down they go. So we watch them through the telescope, at the expression on their faces-like a lot of neighborhood gossips leaning over their back fences. The whole region is really beautiful country, a combination of granite mountains, plains, and little lakes scattered around. Wednesday another guy and I were on top of a hill measuring angles to other mountain tops, and finished quite a while before the others; we had spotted a good-looking lake in the valley, so we went down and took a swim. It's things like that that make surveying a good job.
Today was our last field work in the course. Tomorrow will wind up the whole thing and either tomorrow night or Sunday morning I'll go over to Altus. Tuesday I'll spend in Ft. Worth and had planned to shop a little, but I'm afraid that it's going to be Memorial Day with all the stores closed. Phooey.
Time for lights out now. Last letter from Ft. Sill.
Fort Worth Service Men's Centers
Welcome Service Men
Fort Worth, Texas
First I've got to tell you what was waiting for me at Altus Sunday noon. Lee had coached Anita on the dishes which were my favorites, and they had fixed a huge birthday dinner. There were two large and beautifully fried chickens, roasting ears, and strawberry shortcake. We did nothing all day but eat and listen to the radio and then eat some more. It's the first time in a long while that I've been able to eat fried chicken till I couldn't hold any more. Anita doesn't have much of a kitchen to work in, but she certainly does wonders with it.
Yesterday I came down and took advantage of Ft. Worth's hospitality. They have a large four-story building in the center of town devoted to a Service Men's Center. I stayed there overnight-they provide clean linen, towels, and anything else you need-and have generally been doing as I pleased. This morning I slept till ten, listened to some records at a music store, and browsed through the very good library here. Now I'm waiting for a train back to Brownwood, and should get there around 6:30 tonight. It's fun to travel this way, with the army buying the tickets.
Have missed the Blade for a few days; I hope it's waiting for me at camp so I can get caught up. Maybe some mail, too.
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