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You can hear the infantry cussing when we pass through in the trucks

17 Feb

February 16, 1944


Dear Mom

We are finishing up the first phase of our maneuvers today. It has lasted two weeks and we’ve really had some hard times. It turned cold as everything the other day and rained on top of that, we really got stuck in some mud then. There are about 20 trucks and five jeeps in the battery and all but one truck was stuck. It took two days to get them all out. Still, these maneuvers are not as bad as the field problems we had out on the desert.

My furlough has been moved up some because three of the men in our section went AWOL and two went to the air corps, but I don’t know when I’ll get it, probably about June. I would kinda like to have my one year service ribbon to wear home and maybe I will but I still want to get home as soon as I can.

I found out the other day that there is one other boy in ‘C’ battery that is born the same day as me and we are the youngest men in the battery. I used to think we were having it tough in the A.A. but the infantry sure does a lot of walking down here. You can hear them cussing when we pass through in the trucks. We are working with the infantry and the field artillery down here. The infantry goes in front, then the field artillery, and we set our guns around them to protect them from aircraft. It’s right interesting and good training.

Guess I’ll close for this time. We are getting a rest period before we start the next phase and if I get a pass I’m gonna try to call, but I don’t know whether I’ll get to a town or not.

Love to all, Tom


All we do is set up guns as fast as we can

24 Oct

October 16, 1943

Camp Irwin, California

Hello Hiker,

I heard about your blistered feet and dad’s. They ought to have you two in the army.

About that army equipment you wanted to know about. I can get those sleeping bags for $10 but you wouldn’t hardly use it much because it’s too big to carry on your back. If there is anything else you should want, let me know, I can probably get it for you. But of course, if you should want a 40 millimeter AA gun or a 50 caliber machine gun it may take a little time to get it.

You say you’re in charge of drilling in the troop now, what kind of movements do you give? “Left flank”, “to da rear”, “right oblique”, “left oblique” etc? We don’t get any drill anymore. This AA isn’t much like the Infantry; we don’t take exercise or drill and while we’re out here on the desert we don’t even stand retreat. All we do is set up guns as fast as we can. They call that artillery drill. Out here we set the guns up along a line in holes and fire on the target all day. Most of the targets are pulled by planes. We have ground targets pulled by trucks and rockets that fly through the air real fast.

Guess I’ll close for now.

So long, Tom

Whenever we move, we ride trucks

22 Oct

October 12, 1943

Camp Irwin, California

Hi “Zoot”

Here’s a couple of match covers for our collection. I’ll try to get one from every town I’m in and you take care of the east coast.

About that sleeping bag, I do get to keep it. I don’t think we are allowed to take them overseas with us and whenever I get through with it you can have it. It’s not made to carry on your back. It’s a Coast Artillery sleeping bag and it rolls up in a bundle too large to carry on a hike. Whenever we move we ride trucks. Each gun section has two truckers so we don’t do much walking. Anyhow, you can have the sleeping bag whenever I am through with it.

We have been doing right much firing lately and getting right many hits too. We fire at a sleeve pulled by a Vega Ventura. This morning the pilot got to playing around and he would go up to the end of the firing line and fly all the way down the line about ten feet over our heads at about 175 mph.

Guess I’ll close for this time. I like to hear from you.

So Long, Tom

We had a muzzle burst on the gun

22 Oct

October 12, 1943

Camp Irwin, California

Dear Mom

I got Aunt Emma’s box today and it was a real nice box. I don’t know how my three day pass is coming along. I talked to Sgt. Call this evening and he said I may not be able to get it til we get back from the five day field problem, so I may not get to call you all.

We had a little accident the other day on the gun. We had a muzzle burst. The barrel was hot and the projectile (bullet) exploded just as it left the barrel. One of the men was burnt pretty bad. It tore the sleeve off my fatigue jacket and the Captain’s nose started bleeding. My arm was sticking up above the director and it didn’t hurt me at all except it did sting pretty hard. Things like that don’t happen very often, that was a bad shell or it wouldn’t have gone off so easily.

The nights are cooler now and it’s pretty damp. The desert is getting a little greener too since the rains have started. As far as weather is concerned it’s pretty comfortable out here now.

Love to all, Tom

I am working as the “director” on the gun

9 Oct

October 5, 1943

Camp Irwin, California

Hi ya Zoot,

How’s the drapes coming along? Here’s a few more match covers to add to our collection. Some of the guys in this battery failed out of the Paratroops so I got hold of that one from Camp Toccoa.

What kind of planes are you building now? They still drill us on aircraft identification a lot. ¬†Some crews have shot down their own planes in combat and they don’t want us to do that. I’ve got so I know most all the American planes but not the British and German.

I am working as the “director” now. The director turns the gun by remote control. There are two telescopes on it with cross hairs in them, one works it horizontally and the other vertically. I am on the vertical. Johnny Burkart, a drummer from South Bend, Indiana, is on the other scope. We get the target in the cross hairs and hold it there with handles which turn the box, which turns the gun. It’s very accurate and the gun’s not much good without it. We fire at a sleeve towed by a plane. The sleeve is 1/3 the size of a “messerschmitt” and it’s pretty hard to hit, but our gun section has made several hits since we’ve been firing out here.

We’re still living under field conditions in pup tents. Our Battery area is made up of two streets and we’ve named them Hollywood and Vine after the two main streets in Hollywood. We’ve named our tents after famous restaurants or places in our home town. ¬†They’ve got the Riviera (New York), Ratskeller (Roanoke), Mayflower Lounge (Washington), Palladium (Hollywood), Brown Derby (Hollywood), and mine is the Cavalier after the restaurant in Roanoke. I’ve got a dry cell and as soon as I get the bulb from home I’m going to rig up a light in my tent. Even if it is pretty hard to live out here we have a lot of fun. They bring out drinks and candy from Irwin.

Guess I’ll close for now.

Signed, Tom, alias Zoot alias The Duke

P.S. I hope you get Eagle pretty soon. I’m trying to get Pfc myself. I was acting corporal for about a week before I got my new job but I like this better than that even if it doesn’t have a rating.



We are training on gun crews now

17 Sep

September 17. 1943

Camp Haan, California

Dear Mom,

I got a letter from my cousin Audrey you told me was out here. She wants me to come over Sunday. I am going if I can get a pass. We will be moving out for the desert Monday and I may not be able to get one. I will be out there for two months this time. Two months is what the schedule calls for but it may be longer. I expect we will be living in pup tents the biggest part of the time too.

I’ve been to town on passes almost every night this week. I went to a dance the other night. I guess all the fun will be over for awhile starting Monday but maybe I will get a chance to get into Barstow once in awhile while I am out there. Here is one thing I don’t think you understand, I am not getting Basic Training. We are training on gun crews now that will stay just like they are for the duration of the war. We don’t even have rifles or even fired a rifle but one time. We have had a few training films and classes and some hikes but that was all the basic we had. We are training for Anti-Aircraft only now, on the 40mm gun.

Hugh Ferguson has been writing to me and I enjoy his letters a lot. He is going through a lot too from what he says. I guess this war is hard on all of us. The news has been looking better and I hope it won’t be long.

I will close for tonight. Here is a picture of a gun crew just like the one I am assigned to.

Love to all, Tommy

American anti-aircraft crew photo

We have been doing sighting and gun drill all week

17 Sep

September 17, 1943

Camp Haan, California

Dear Pop,

I missed sending a card last night. I was on K.P. The town where we put our exhibition on was Victorville, California at an Air Force base near there. It is getting a little cooler here at nights. We have been doing sighting and gun drill all week and it’s been pretty easy. Lately I have been working as a tracker on the director. That is a machine that sights the plane through telescopes and gives the right vertical and lateral leads. The director turns the gun by remote control. I will write again tomorrow.

Love, Tommy

Postcard to Pop 1943