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On our way to War


OUR SONS AT WAR

by,
Lee McCollum
1940



ON OUR WAY TO WAR

WE had hardly settled down in Camp Kearney when we were placed in "quarantine." That was about the best thing we seemed to do. Twice before at the camp which we had just left we had been quarantined, and here we were again right in the middle of it. A soldier's life isn't as easy as it looks on those recruiting posters. You can take that from one who was learning, and learning fast.

If adventure means being yodelled out of a sound sleep by a bugle call and working from five in the morning until ten at night, doing everything except fighting, then I'll take prunes for mine.

Just when a guy's muscles are getting hardened up so he stays put on his legs, then some officer or colonel slaps him in quarantine, because the army is afraid of a bug they can't even see. A fine business ... ! Sitting around in a tent that holds eight men and about two tons of fine sifting red desert sand. Some life ... huh!

Only thing that a guy can do in a spot like this is to join a quartet. Every squad has two of them, so that's nothing new. We had one like every other squad, except that ours was the best. We sang such stirring songs as "Keep your head down Fritzi Boy …, K…K…K . . Katy . . . Beautiful Katy, I'll be Waiting for you at the K . . K . . K . .
Kitchen Door ... . . . . 'You're in the army now, you're not behind the Plow . . . You'll never get rich . . .Just doing your hitch . . . You're in the army now and that old standby, "Sweet Adeline."

My specialty was "Silver Threads Among the Gold" and I sure knocked them for a loop with my old top-tenor. We must have been pretty good, because one night when we were singing extra low, the major sent over his top-sergeant to ask us if we were the owners of those "God-blessed Blankity ... blank ... gorgeous voices?"
We said, "We was. .
Then the top-sergeant said very gently, "Follow me! "

The next thing we knew we was in the guard house. The major said we were disturbing the peace and sleep of some real soldiers.

We knew the major was only kidding and that the whole thing was a frame-up by the other quartets who were jealous.

We hadn't been in the guard house but four days when an orderly came in and told us to get back to our company "toot-sweet," that we were leaving for France that night.

Naturally we thought it was just another "army rumor." This time we were mistaken and we rolled our packs and loaded on the trains bound for some unknown destination. By a zig-zag route over first one main trunk railway line and then another, we rode east-ward for seven days and nights.

Before we boarded the trains our quartet had their heads shaved by the company barber. What I mean he didn't leave a hair standing! As the troop train rolled across the nation we took our rightful place as the major's official quartet.

At every little town where we stopped we would give our lungs some exercise. The first stop was at San Bernardino, which was better known to us as San Ber-doo. There we were met at the station by a swarm of beautiful young California girls. Boy, there were some honies in that bunch. They were acting as canteen girls and meeting all the trains. They would pass out cigarettes, home made delicacies, and once in a while a kiss or two. That is, if you were good looking enough to come up to their new standards of what it took to be a hero.

Did we go to town with our songs? And how we did! I sang four encores to "Silver Threads Among the Gold," myself! We finished our stirring repertoire of songs with the sure fire number that ended with the words . . . "with your hair-cut just as short as . . . with your hair cut just as short as . . . with your hair cut just as short as mine!" Then on the final bar we would all four of us bow as gentlemen should, and with a courtly gesture sweep off our hats, exposing our bald domes.

We crossed high and dry Arizona and New Mexico, where we saw many wooden like Indians draped in colorful blankets, together with a scattering of cowboys and a few girls at the desert stations. Then we swung north into Colorado, and there again we met beautiful young ladies who were helping us "win the war."

Our first stop of any importance was La Junta, or La Hunta, as it was called. As usual, our humble and meek quartet, who by now figured that they were "some pumpkins," put on our singing act. The rest of the troop on the train must have been waiting for this to happen. No sooner had we finished our "finale song," and were sweeping our hats from our baldheads, than it happened. Without warning about forty of the soldiers piled on top of us and bore us to the ground.

The next thing we knew both the doughboys and the canteen-girls were giving us a watermelon shampoo, seeds and all, from the famous La Junta melons, which the girls were passing out to the soldiers. The sweet, sticky juices ran down the tight fitting collars of our woolen khaki shirts and stuck to our bodies like glue. It felt like a bunch of ants covering you from head to feet. There was no way of taking a bath until we hit our destination, and we didn't even know where that was or when we would land there.

That tamed us down for the rest of the trip. One of the quartet said he wondered if the major himself had wired ahead and fixed up that surprise for us. That he "had seen him sending a lot of wires all along the line." Personally, I don't think any major would treat his quartet that way.

About the fourth or fifth day we landed in Chicago, on the South Side. There wasn't a white man in sight except ourselves. For exercise the major had the whole troop doing double-quick time up and down the thickly populated streets adjoining the troop trains.

There again we were met with the cheers of the bystanders. Only here the cheers were interspersed with some good old-fashioned "Down South" dialect, and such expressions as these . . . "Man, lookah at them thahr solduah boys . . . umh . . . umh . . . ain't they scrumpshus? . . . jist lookah at them boys strut . . . umph . . . umph . . . man . . . ain't that sumpfin? ... Go gits the Kizer, boys ... we uns is right back of you . . . don't forgit to bring home the bacon ... and . . . save the rine foh me . . . won't youh, honey-bunches ... !"

They meant what they said and we sure got a kick out of them. After about two hours of this, we loaded, and the trains started rolling again. We continued eastward, and many of our boys who had been born and raised in the Far West and Pacific Coast States got their first glimpse of the great factory districts of the East.

I will never forget to my dying day the reception we received as we passed through the town of Bethlehem. The whistles of the great steel factories never stopped blowing all the time our train was slowly passing through the city . . . Boy, did we get a thrill out of that! How proud we were to be Americans, and that we were in uniform and on our way to fight a war
to end wars-at least that's what we thought then.

Later we were to learn that the blowing whistles of the steel mills of Bethlehem was a form of patriotism that could very well be likened to the spouting of some of the patriots and Liberty bond salesmen.

We were to learn also that the patriots who held truest to their words and ideals were those who made few promises and had little to say at the time of our going.
As the shrieking whistles of the steel town faded in the distance, one of our quartet said ...

"Hear that, boys? . . . that ain't nothing . . . just wait until we come home ... wait until we come home . . . then you'll see a real reception!"

That poor devil never came home, but he never lost his illusions.

On the evening of the seventh day we landed at Jersey City, New Jersey. Within a few hours we were transferred on ferry boats to Long Island, and many of us got our first glimpse of New York City. Waiting at the docks were trains that took us to Camp Mills, located near Garden City, Long Island, a distance of about twenty miles from the lights of Broadway.

Completely tired out from our long ride in the overcrowded troop train, we were led to our new headquarters, where we were to rest and wait for a boat to be readied to take us to France. As we lay there three thousand miles from home, we wondered . . .

"How long before we are loaded on the boats?"
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