December 8, 1943

Dublin Core


December 8, 1943


Letter from John Waller to Geraldine Rowbottom, sent from New Orleans, Louisiana to Sarnia, Ontario. Post stamped December 11, 1943. This is the first letter from Waller after his recruitment to the United States Army. He lists his post as Company B, 717th Railway Operating Battalion, Army Services Forces.




Letter Item Type Metadata


Dec. 8, 1943

Pvt. John C. Waller 42028154, Co. B - 717th Ry. Opr. Bn., New Orleans, 12, La.

Service Club, New Orleans Staging Area, New Orleans, Louisiana

Dear Jerry,

Thank you for being so prompt in replying to my letter. You're perhaps wondering what's been the cause of my delay and I will attempt to explain.

Te begin, I have now completed my basic training course. Understand that I mean the basic basic, if you understand what I mean. In other words, I now get advanced basic. Very simple, night wahr!

I've been away to another camp at Slidell, a small town about forty miles from here. I enjoyed it there, especially the air, which was much fresher than it is here. Between the camp and New Orleans lies Lake Ponchartrain, a small lake connected to the Gulf by a canal. We crossed this in small cruisers. My gang were on a 65' Chris Craft motor yacht. Boy, that was a beautiful boat! I wouldn't mind riding on it every day.

The camp at Slidell consists of twenty-nine rows of tents. Each tent was equipped with a wooden floor, six cots and a stove, so I can't really say we were roughing it. However, there were no electric lights and we ate all meals out of our mess kits, sitting on the ground. It was quite a job finding your mouth a breakfast time, because we are at 5 A. M. Each nite we went to bed about 8 o'clock and 'chewed the fat' for a couple of hours. There was absolutely nothing else to do.

The purpose of the camp is to teach you to fire the various weapons you'll need, also to qualify with the rifle. We fired the Springfield rifle for our marksman score. I made a sharpshooter, for which I'll get a medal. It's an iron cross with a wreath and the word sharpshooter hanging on a chain beneath. A marksman score is 134, sharpshooter 168, and expert 186-200. My score was 172. (Range was 200 yards.)

We also fired the carbine, which is the weapon we will carry overseas. It's a very light rifle firing a fifteen shot clip. All you do is insert the clip and pull the trigger. A gas mechanism cocks the piece and ejects the shells. We had quite a bit of details while there, but I won't go into detail on them.

I've been over the obstacle course every week since I entered the army. It isn't troublesome for young fellows, but some of the older men have a little difficulty. You start off by climbing an eight foot wall. This is followed by a series of climbing and jumping obstacles. About the middle of the course is a tunnel which would stick anyone the size of my uncle. Even I have trouble squeezing through. Down the home stretch are some four foot hurdles and a stream which you have to swing across on a rope. I've seen more than one take a dunking. The last obstacle is hardest. You have to go hand over hand on overhead bars stretched across a small pond. Some of the bars are at least three feet apart, so you can see it's no joke. This life is making me feel better physically though, and also adding weight. I've gained about twelve pounds so far.

Another feature of our basic was the infiltration course. The course is laid out over a field of rough terrain about two hundred yds. long. Land mines are scattered about the field and go off as you crawl along. There are about five barbed wire entanglements to cope with and at the end, three .50 caliber machine guns fire live bullets twenty inches off the ground. The purpose of the latter is to teach one to keep his head down., also the rest of his body. Most of our casualties in Africa were caused because the fellows didn't keep low enough.

We arrived back here last Sunday afternoon. The trip across the lake was made in open motor driven lifeboats; the same kind the navy uses on its fighting ships. Between the lake and docks at Slidell is a winding canal which gave the cruiser, on the way up, only about twenty foot clearance on either side. The lifeboat was only about forty feet long, but whereas the cruiser navigated without any difficulty, the guy in charge of our lifeboat sent us aground three times. The first time instead of turning a right corner he went straight ahead, landing six feet out of water between two trees. The next turn he sideswiped a cruiser docked at the side of the canal. The last grounding was really inexcusable. There was at least one hundred foot clearance around the last turn and the guy pulled in close to shore and we were stuck again. How he ever got in charge of a boat is more than I'll ever know. Back in New Orleans it took the guy ten minutes to dock in a slip twice the width of the boat. I've been with my dad when he docked in a cross wind with only twelve inches clearance.

Sometime before Xmas I'll probably go to another camp. We were activated upon our return to this camp, as you can see by my new address. That means we are ready for technical training. If everything goes right we should be overseas by next summer, however you can't be sure.

It is now the ninth. Yesterday afternoon we had a showdown inspection of all that has been issued to us. This morning our name and serial number has to be stenciled on each piece. In our morning formation, the lieutenant told us we'll be sacrificing regular drill for the next few days in order to get everything in order. He sounded like he thought we would be very sad about it, but he doesn't know us. That's why I'm getting a chance to finish this epistle now. The lieutenant also said they has a surprise in store for us.

Tomorrow night our old company is holding a party for us. I don't know just what it will be like except that it's an all male affair. You seldom see any of the opposite sex here in camp. They come to the Service Club dances, however each fellow has to have a pass and they're hard to obtain.

I suppose you know that Dean & Bruce Johnston, Don Hallam, and Lyle Goring are all over in England. Dean and Don are going to have their furloughs together over there. Lyle is returning to Canada sometime after Xmas.

Probably you've been to Toronto by this time. I'm sure you would have a good time there as I've been in the city many times. They don't have any churches there like the St. John the Devine in Buffalo constructed entirely of Italian marble. I've never been in a church with such an awe-inspiring atmosphere as that one. You don't dare to speak above the lowest whisper, at least that's the way it makes me feel.

I'll stop for now. You may receive another narrative of my travels soon. Merry Christmas to you and a Happy New Year!

As ever,


P.S. I don't know what the complimentary ending means exactly. I imagine it's used for lack of something better.


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