Hurrah for Sunday, the soldiers' day. Am breathing the first free breath of the past seven days. Am lying on my side on my bunk, covered with a cotton comforter, while writing this. Also am eating a delicious apple saved over from chow this morning. Porter's "Night and Day" is coming over a nearby radio. It's virtually impossible to fully understand, for anyone but one in it, the blissfulness of a day of relief from this training ordeal. I didn't write this past week simply because I did not have the time. To think of the hell we go through here, and it's only a fraction of that encountered in actual combat! They drive us like slaves, and we live like animals, except that between the mud, dirt, wet, and cold, we must clean ourselves, clothes, rifles, and barracks. Let the air corps have all the glamor; they're the ones who need it. They're giving us night problems every couple of nights. That takes our spare time in the evening. There's always something to take away the evening hours, it seems. Night training has been somewhat neglected in the past, and they're making up for it now. We go out on a hike of several miles into the hills, leaving about 8 o'clock and returning at midnight or later. Out there we pitch tents, build foxholes and hasty field fortifications, do compass and map work, patrolling and scouting, etc. Even have classes, that is, by lecture; all so as to become accustomed to operating at night. This past week I learned about the Browning Automatic Rifle. Taking it apart, nomenclature, function, and firing it. It fires faster than the machine gun-550 rounds a minute-except that a soldier has to load it every 20 shots. Think of it, a shoulder weapon, or, as usual, mounted on a movable bipod, that fires 20 30 cal. cartridges in the press of a finger almost. Loading only takes a second or two; you pull out the empty magazine, get a full one with 20 more rounds out of your belt, and push it up into the receiver of the rifle. The gun weighs 21 pounds and is carried by the B.A.R. gunner of the rifle squad. I made a fair score on the range with it. All day yesterday I was on K.P. Went to make-up school last night for what I'd missed while on K.P. Was table waiter Wednesday. Had big important full dress inspection Friday morning; so spent all of Thursday evening shining aluminum, cleaning rifle, etc., getting ready for it. What a life! I was about dead last night. Tired! Started coming down with a cold. Still have a fair amount of it yet today. However, we slept late (7:15) this morning and feel better. I'll be all right I think, if I take it easy today. Been all right anyway if we'd gotten a hour or two more of sleep all last week. There's a cold epidemic sweeping camp-since some days ago. 7 or 8 of the men from my barracks are in the hospital now. They say this coming week will be really a lulu. Be out all night, I hear, once, and then up again after a few hours sleep. Got down to 14 degrees above zero on Monday of last week. Coldest day in December in 19 years in Texas. We were learning to disassemble, sight and aim, and operate the B.A.R. (Browning Auto. Rifle). I'm not kidding, it was painful. Could write volumes of what we do and learn day by day, but don't have time for that much writing. Hope this doesn't bore you. Guess one letter a week is all I can guarantee writing. Never read much anymore, except on Sundays. Don't wear my glasses now. They'd be an awful nuisance, and I don't need them for this kind of life. My hair is cut to a maximum of two inches (by regulation). My face is tanned to swarthiness almost. My muscles are firm and hard, and I feel as tough and strong as a mule. My S.O.S.'s on the "food shortage" here produced excellent results. Got a box of cookies from Evelyn yesterday. A box of candy from her about a week before. Between those two I got a box of candy, homemade, from the Brosys and Gardners, one from each. We had fried eggs, raisin bread, butter, grape jam and coffee for breakfast today. Quite a feast. Can hardly wait for the next financial report. Enjoyed greatly the two letters I got from you this past week. Hope Elaine doesn't get a cold. Watch her well in this cold weather. How is your cold now. Improved I hope. Hope Elaine isn't too naughty. Bet she's cuter than ever, eh? I can't buy Gus a Christmas present. It's physically impossible. You must believe me on that. Can't get away from camp until the stores are closed on a Saturday, it seems. Wouldn't buy a pencil in Mineral Wells. They're bandits without guns, preying on soldiers. One battalion will be out on bivouac Christmas eve. We might-wouldn't be too surprised. We get so we expect anything. Give Gus a present for both of us. I'll write to explain why I couldn't send one myself. Hope this forgoing letter isn't depressing to you. I have it tough here, it's true, but I'm more or less used to it. Sorry won't be able to see you Christmas. But there's a great day coming. Take it easy. A Merry Christmas to all of you.
19 December 1943
Here's that letter I promised to send you (see below). Nice picture of O.K., isn't it? Wrote Marie and Jess Gardner a letter today, thanking them for the candy. Also asked them to thank the Brosy's (I'd written them about 2 weeks ago). Now I owe a letter to Gus, Evelyn, and to Mrs. Beebee or one of the gang in Harrison Co. Can't seem to keep up with them. Write. Tell me about Elaine. Got your postcard today after I'd mailed a letter to you. Expect the letter you mentioned will come tomorrow. Love, Melvin
5 December 1943
Dear Melvin, (a letter from Orville Knowlton to Melvin)
Nothing could be more natural on a Sunday evening than a cup of good coffee and seeing you in the smoke-haze eminating from my pipe. Needles to say, the pastoral setting calls for an over-due letter. So, look out! Arlo breezed in from Camp Gruber last Sunday AM for a 24 hour stay. He brought a girlfriend along and we had a good visit. If Dorothy could have been here for Thanksgiving we would have had quite a bang-up time. It was quite cold when they were here and it was funny watching them shiver. In fact, I was darn cold myself, but didn't admit it. Mrs. Chase and Marcella finally got moved into their new room. Painting did wonders for the old inner-sanctum of the Hyde mis-administration. The ceiling is done in cream color, the walls in Buff, and floor a pea-green. But the effect is simple beautiful. I am planning on having our room done also before long. Dean Chase, at Dow city, is getting better, and he promised me a few days ago that he would paint the room for me. I don't think the paint will cost much, and the room sure needs it. The Draft-Board Room only cost $80.00, work and paint included. I doubt if the paint comes to more than $10.00. I don't think I wrote you that Eleanor, Loty's sister, died on the 2nd of November. She took sick about the time you left with infection of the blood stream showing up in the form of abcesses. The baby, Sherilyn, has been with us since August. Guess the army is building you up in muscle, Vim, vitality, etc. etc. etc.! When you get thro, the "Village Smithy" of poetic fame will have nothing on you! We'll have to spot a chesnut tree when you come so you will feel at home! Don't feel too bad about losing the corporal ranking for you now have less to worry about. We'll never know the difference 50 years from now anyway. Michael Murry, the CO att. will leave for the Navy school as soon as they call him. He was given a commission. A mistake, however simple, will make a commissioned officer quite rosy in comparison. Dr. Floyed Sarff leaves for the Army Dec 15th drafted. Esther Artist said REN was drafted for Dec 1st but haven't heard if he has gone or not. (Yippee!! Hope so!) Well, the panty-waist pain next door still hangs on like death to a dead n-----. (and I do mean dead). Working loudly, yelling at each other as usual. It's the court-house laugh provoker! It seems they understand each other! The Relief Load is down to 50 cases even as Nov. 30, 1943. I'm just drifting along now waiting for A.D.C. to take over half of the case load about Jan 1, 1944, and about 2/3 of the present total cost. I don't know what will happen then - I doubt if they will keep my office open for only 25 cases after Feb 1st. If they do close my office, they will probably consolidate in name only giving me the whole works for a while. If that happens, we will just sit tight until you get back. I should be ready for a county 11 by next September anyway. So don't worry. We'll try to preserve what headway we (you and I) have made until you can take up again where you left off. The Board is growing dissatisfied with the personnel and the time will come when a good opportunity shows up. Loty and I hung wall paper in grandma's kitchen yesterday - and am I stiff - can't even reach around to wipe! That's bad, eh? Well, guess I'll quit. Pipe is empty, and the smoke haze is clearing - the coffee pot is empty - and there's Walter Winchell on the radio.
The gang (Chases, Eileen, Loty) enjoy your letters very much. It saves time for you to write one of us. Try someone else next time V12: Mrs. Chase, or Marcella, or Eileen; so they won't feel I'm hogging it.