A World War I Veteran Returns to visit Camp Upton

Middle Island Mail

April 9, 1941

 Upton’s Transformation Over ’17 Is Revelation to a World War Vet

   “Now this,” observed a visitor, waving a hand at Camp Upton’s new Administration building, “is nothing at all like it was in ’17, I trained here with the old 77th,” he continued, biting the end from his cigar, “the 307th Infantry.  Boy, which was an outfit.”

   The Lieutenant nodded understandingly, his eye on the Legion button worn proudly in the visitor’s lapel.

   “More than 20 years ago, young fellow, but we turned out soldiers in those days.  Haven’t been back since then, but I just got a hankering to drive out and see the old place once more.”

   “Of course,” he continued patronizingly, “headquarters was located about a mile from here, headquarters Hill we called it – you ask any of the old 77th Division men, they’ll tell you all about Headquarters Hill. Up there overlooking the barracks.

   “We had big round bellied stoves in each barracks – the same as now I suppose – and cracks so wide in the walls the wind would blow your socks off.  Why I remember – “

   The Lieutenant interrupted gently, “I’m afraid, Sir, you’ll find conditions a little changed since your time, but suppose we take a look around camp, and you can see for yourself.”

   “Now this,” explained the Lieutenant a few minutes later “is one of the Selectee barracks.  Each building is heated by an individual furnace with the temperature thermostatically controlled.  Upstairs is the sleeping quarters for 63 men.”

  He cast an appraising eye over the comfortable living quarters and snorted.  “Looks like you’re trying to make sissies of those boys, this isn’t soldiering, this is luxury.”

   The Lieutenant piloted his companion to the huge processing building just across the road, where the trainees receive uniforms and equipment on their arrival at Camp Upton.  The Old Timer watched the outfitting of a selectee with open eyed amazement.

   “Beats all,” he muttered, as a tall ungainly farm youth was told that specially tailored trousers would be issued him because his size was not carried in stock, “in my day we only had two sizes in the Army – too large and too small – and you took it and liked it.”  He paused and pointed a curious finger at a small packet being issued.  “What’s that?”

   “Toilet kit,” explained the Lieutenant.  “It contains a razor, tooth brush, tooth paste, soap and a comb.”

   “Humph,” grumbled the visitor, “back in ’17 I was here three days before I had a chance to comb my hair.  Say, what’s the idea of all these little booths?”

   “Personal interviews are given each man,” explained the Lieutenant, “today’s Army is trying to utilize the special talents of each individual.  There are trained interviewers in these booths to determine just what service each man can best render his country.”

   The visitor shook his head distrustfully, “That’s no way to run an Army.  Why, I remember back in ’17 our top kick had a famous trumpet player detailed as a truck driver and all the time the Captain was looking for a bugler.”  The visitor laughed at the incident and then sobered, “just don’t seem right,” he muttered, “the idea – letting every man do the job he knows best.”

   “Now over here,” said the Lieutenant proudly, “is one of the new 1000-man mess halls.  We have two of these and one 500-man mess hall.  Let’s look through this one.”

   The visitor brightened.  “Mess hall, hey” Boy, do I remember back in ’17 – slum gullion in a mess kit; K.P. duty every fourth day.  Sure will make me feel homesick to see the boys peeling spuds.  I’ll bet the mess sergeants are just as tough as the used to be.”

   The visitor fell in line with the trainees and was handed a shiny new tray, divided cafeteria style into compartments.  He passed before a modern steam table and was served portions of food by a white uniformed attendant.  He returned to the long clean table with a dazed expression.  “Sissies,” he grumbled, “who ever heard of mess cooks wearing clean white coats?”

   “Well anyway,” said the visitor, “these trays may be an improvement over eating from a mess kit, but they’re harder to wash.  Why, “he went on warming to his subject, “we used to have two G. I. cans of boiling water to douse the mess kit in, and by the time the last man was ready the water looked like soup.  Must be that much worse with these big trays.”

   “Not exactly,” corrected the Lieutenant, “as a matter of fact, once the men finish eating they just turn their trays in and they are electrically washed by a machine for that purpose.”

   “Hah!  Electric dish washers.  I supposed you’ll be telling me that you have electric potato peelers and electric potato mashers and electric water coolers.”

   The Lieutenant nodded.  “That’s right, we have.  No reason why the Army mess shouldn’t be as modern as the average hotel kitchen, is there?”

   “Well, no. But it just isn’t soldiering.  A man ought to expect hardships in the Army – makes a better soldier out of him.”

   The visitor watched the approach of a pair of stalwart men.  They swung along the road with purposeful stride.  Their salute was given with snap and precision.  “Now that’s what I mean,” said the visitor, “those old timers know their stuff.”

   The Lieutenant nodded.  “Those men,” he said, “arrived at Camp Upton for their first military experience just five days ago.  Labor saving devices in the mess halls releases more men for military training.  Your can see the results.”

   The visitor nodded slowly.  “Maybe I’m wrong,” he mused, “maybe those days back in ’17 weren’t so good after all.”



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