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“It’s a Rifle, Not a Gun!” April 14, 2014

Posted by nrhatch in Exercise & Fitness.

Dad enlisted in the Army and reported for duty on June 27, 1946, at age 18.

His enlistment, at the end of his first year at Northeastern University, coincided with the end of World War II, just before the Korean War.


Dad survived 8 weeks of basic training at Fort McClellan in Alabama during the hottest part of the summer, arriving on July 11th and leaving two months later:

“Arrived here early this morning to start basic training in the infantry. It is really going to be hot here this summer.  We started drill today. They have issued us gas masks, packs, battle helmets, etc.  I think we get rifles tomorrow.  On the way down here, we went to Cincinnati, Ohio; then came south.  I have been in 13 states since I enlisted.  We had troop sleepers so the trip wasn’t bad except that it got awful dirty. So did I.”

When writing Aunt Pete and Uncle Webb on July 21st, 10 days after arrival:

“The food on the train was rather poor or the helpings were small.  I don’t suppose they could do much better though as long as the train traveled day and night.  Anyway one rather amusing incident occurred.  The train stopped at a small station.  (We weren’t allowed to leave the train).  A lone man was standing on the platform with his arms loaded with groceries.  It was in Kentucky I think.  One of the fellows asked if he had any cigarettes.  He tossed a pack into the car. When they tried to pay him, he threw in a package of doughnuts and said keep your money.  “I was in the army for four years and I know that they are starving you on the troop train.”  Enough for now.

P.S. They really didn’t starve us.  We just could have eaten more.”

On July 16, he wrote his dad:

“Basic training officially started yesterday.  We have had classes in personal hygiene, diseases, sanitation, the M1 Rifle, map reading, the general orders, etc.  We have done quite a lot of drilling and they have had us out on the obstacle course some.  My watch lasted exactly one day of this training before the crystal came out.  One fellow dropped his rifle today and has to carry it with him all the time for one week. One of the sgts. didn’t like to have me call the rifle a gun.  At least I didn’t get extra detail.  It really isn’t bad here except that they keep us busy all day with very little time off.  Everybody’s shoulders are sore from carrying the rifles.”

_0001 (3a)

Lights out!

Aah . . . that’s better! 

Continued tomorrow . . . Dry Fire in the Pouring Rain


1. Pix Under the Oaks - April 14, 2014

My Grandad called rifles/guns “shooters”. Guess the Army wouldn’t like that.. 🙂 CH was assigned to Ft. Rucker, Alabama for flight school. It was interesting. Can’t imagine your Dad being in the Army back then.

nrhatch - April 14, 2014

I’m guessing that calling ’em “shooters” would have gotten “extra detail” for your granddad. Did you know CH when he was assigned to Ft. Rucker? Or did you meet later. Mom didn’t mean dad until they’d both finished college.

Pix Under the Oaks - April 14, 2014

Yes I knew CH then. We had been married 2 years when he decided to go to flight school. It was a nail biter.. 🙂 We had both finished college in 1974. CH did his Reserve Officer Training Corp(ROTC) classes during college and his first assignment was Ft. Polk, LA… bleh! I could really feel for your Dad in those hot humid climates he was in!

nrhatch - April 14, 2014

The south is a tough place to be in the summer, especially without air conditioners. One thing that surprised me in dad’s letters is that he slept at night with a blanket . . . or two! I can’t imagine temps dropping low enough for that.

It’s fun to look back at all the water over the dam, eh? You made it through LA and AL with CH.

2. Carol Balawyder - April 14, 2014

How lucky you are to have these historical documents. You dad sounds like a really nice guy. 🙂

nrhatch - April 14, 2014

Dad was a nice guy. He had his idiosyncrasies, but he was kind, decent, honest, and . . . patient with his four young hooligans.

3. suzicate - April 14, 2014

What a treasure these letters about your dad’s days must be for you! We found some in a trunk that my uncle who was killed in war had written to his mother. I found them so interesting.

nrhatch - April 14, 2014

Echoes from the past! Especially keen since your uncle didn’t return home after the war.

My grandfather had letters from two uncles who served during the Civil War ~ both made it home. Dad used those letters and others to flesh out his genealogy research. My older brother has the Civil War letters but sent me letters of more “recent vintage” to go through. I’ve put the best of the bunch with dad’s autobiography.

suzicate - April 15, 2014

One talks about how he never fears death because he is certain he will return home.

nrhatch - April 15, 2014

I expect that believing that he would return home helped him get through the “dark nights.” It’s hard to face challenges and obstacles when the struggle seems pointless.

4. bwcarey - April 14, 2014

interesting dialogue, it captures the innocence of war, they are never prepared

nrhatch - April 14, 2014

Dad had a few hair raising moments in Korea, but not hand-to-hand combat. He was luckier than many.

5. Grannymar - April 14, 2014

I love the ground level stories. My late husband was injured in Burma during World War 11, his father before him was was in France for World War 1

nrhatch - April 14, 2014

We just watched The Book Thief, set in Germany during WWII ~ a look at the high price we paid for Hitler’s delusions.

I wonder if we will ever see a generation that does not suffer casualties from war? A lasting peace.

6. Judson - April 14, 2014

I pushed and prodded my Dad to write down his recollections and over about a 20 year period he gradually put things down on paper for me. He died in 2012 at age 87. Now it’s one of my dearest possessions. Particularly his stories of his training and service overseas in WWII.

nrhatch - April 14, 2014

I’m glad you managed to get your dad to record some of his recollections for you, Judson.

My dad spent countless hours on genealogy research on his and mom’s ancestors. As a result of that interest, he wrote a short autobiography of his life about 20 years before he died ~ with charts of trips taken for business and pleasure, furniture made, vegetables grown, etc. He gave copies to the 4 of us for Christmas one year. A nice way to remember what he found significant in his life.

7. jannatwrites - April 14, 2014

I enjoyed reading these. I had to chuckle at, “They really didn’t starve us. We just could have eaten more.” – nice way to spin the reality!

nrhatch - April 14, 2014

I enjoyed quite a few of dad’s postscripts. That one included. It reminded me how often I’ve said, “I’m starving!” . . . when I wasn’t even close to wasting away to nothing.

8. Booksphotographsandartwork - April 14, 2014

So nice that you have these letters that your dad wrote. My dad is writing books for us about his life, mostly in the Air Force. We get once each Christmas. Boy have I have been surprised by some of his experiences that I knew nothing about.

nrhatch - April 14, 2014

What a great Christmas present for you guys ~ especially nice to receive while he is still alive to answer any questions you have about his surprising experiences.

I’ve enjoyed reading some of dad’s anecdotes about things that garnered his attention as a teenager.

9. I am J - April 14, 2014

Don’t you love having all this documentation of your family history to enjoy now? And thanks so much for sharing it with the rest of us. I am enjoying it very much.

I believe in the next few decades, the young people of today may regret not having some snail mail letters or notes or journals to hold in their hands and enjoy. Somehow, a flash-drive and computer just isn’t the same. Seeing the actual handwriting and yellowed paper is something special that modern technology lacks. But then, they don’t even teach cursive in 17 states anymore and the kids of today won’t be able to read or write “Old English” anyway so I guess it’s a moot point.

Sigh…I have the distinction right now of being able to read and write “Old English” and can’t understand a word of the new “text-ese”

nrhatch - April 14, 2014

Glad you’re enjoying it, J. This short series has been a fun share for me.

I agree with you ~ handwritten letters and e-mails are not the same thing at all. Instead of Love Letters, they’ll have Digital Downloads of Desire.

Maggie did an interesting post about how digital life is transforming the way we read and process information:


I am J - April 14, 2014

Thanks for the lead to Maggie’s blog, Nancy. I just visited it and commented on her excellent post. I now have a new blogger and NaNoWriMo friend. 🙂

nrhatch - April 14, 2014

Awesome! I thought you would enjoy her posts and her writing in general.

10. diannegray - April 14, 2014

These are amazing stories, Nancy. You’re so lucky to have such a detailed record.

nrhatch - April 14, 2014

Most of the best stories from his time in Korea didn’t get sent home in letters ~ too confidential. But I’ve enjoyed the insights into what he did choose to share with the folks at home.

11. colonialist - April 14, 2014

Those sorts of records are precious, indeed.

nrhatch - April 14, 2014

It’s been interesting to perceive how dad viewed the world as a teen ~ especially in his role as big brother to my aunt.

12. Nancy Curteman - April 14, 2014

Two interesting pieces on young men in service. It’s hard to imagine an eighteen year old embarking on such an adventure. Your dad’s letters are really treasures. I have my dad’s discharge framed on my credenza and his old Navy blues in my cedar chest.

nrhatch - April 15, 2014

At that age, I headed off to college, feeling very “grown up.” But it’s not the same thing at all. I was only 7 hours from home and knew I could head home any time I wanted without going AWOL.

I’m sure you’re glad to have his Navy blues tucked away ~ when we see them . . . we remember.

13. Three Well Beings - April 16, 2014

I’m impressed with the detail he, a guy, included in letters to his father. They are really a treasure, full of insight into his daily life and the things he was contemplating. If he referred to the rifle as a gun, then that tells me he probably wasn’t a man who had previous experience with firearms. I always think of the young men who enlisted and were prepared for war, knowing they really didn’t have any experience to qualify them. They got it during those weeks of basic training. It’s a daunting thought. These letters are really a treasure, Nancy!

nrhatch - April 16, 2014

Letters contained details because phone calls were few and far between. I think my dad only called home once during Basic.

I’m not sure why he called it a “gun.” He did hunt in Vermont with his father using a rifle. And his father carried a rifle with him on his mail route everyday . . . just in case.

So it may have been nothing more than linguistics. Think of all the names we have for submarine sandwiches (heroes, grinders, subs, hoagies, po boys, etc.) and soda (pop, coke, cola, soft drink, tonic, etc.) depending on geography.

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