One of the boxes from Mother’s files has her brother’s letters from the 1930s and 40s. This brother is the one who died in the Battle of the Bulge.
The one I scanned and transcribed today has the personality that Mother always told me Vernon had. Here is the text with a few editorial notes from me. I had to look up Feather Merchant and the days of the week for 1943.
Post Mark: 1943 Mar 8 1 P.M. Fort Knox, Ky.
Saturday Night [Editor's Note: March 6, 1943)
End of 10th Week
Dear Folks: My last letter to you left me awaiting the Commando Course I believe. Here goes from there.
The course is much too complicated and long to describe in detail so I'll just hit the high spots. We were on the course every morning at seven. From the starting point we run (as long as we can hold out) over an obstacle course about 1/2 mile long over a hill that I would call a mountain. It goes straight up nearly from the middle to the peak. When we get to the top there is a 20 ft long wall staring us in the face that has to scaled. We climb that and jump 6 hurdles ranging from two to four feet high. Next is a 10 ft. stretch of barbed wire which has to be crawled under on your back or stomach. from there we run to another wall 7 ft. high which is solid board so you have to jump, grab the top and pull yourself over. Then we hit a 15 ft. slanted log wall that must be climbed over. That brings you to a small ditch leading down the mountain at the center of which is a smoke mine that fills the gully and makes you breakfast come up double time. After we get through the smoke we climb a 15 ft. rope ladder, up one side down the other, run through & down a creek and fall exhausted back where we started. That is done first thing every morning to limber us up. I failed to say that every so often one of the instructors holler[s] “Grenade” and throw a grenade at us. We hit the ground and stay there until it explodes. When they burst two feet in front of you it really makes you hug the ground–
After the obstacle course we spend two hours at each of the following places–an infiltration course, a village, combat firing, Judo and demolitions. Each are as long and complicated as the one I described so you can imagine how much fun it is. On the Infiltration course we had to crawl on our stomachs for 120 yards through land mines, hand grenades, bob wire, etc, while rifles and machine guns fired two feet over our heads. If we raise up we are shot. That sounds unbelievable I know but no body raises up so no one gets shot. The guys that do the shooting really know what they are doing so it is not as dangerous as it sounds.
I gained more confidence, and learned more ways to kill others and save my neck, in those three days than I ever dreamed was possible. If I can put to use in combat what I learned, I’ll never have to worry about the other guy getting me. The only catch is they know the same tricks!
We had one cold day, dry, yesterday it snowed a couple of inches and today it rained until three when it started snowing again. You can imagine how nice the ground was to crawl on. It’s all over now but the soreness (I walk like I’m 80) and I wouldn’t take any thing for the experience but have no intention of going through it again in the near future. By the way, this course is brand new (three weeks) and I don’t know how much information is supposed to be given out about it so the less you say to any one the better. We are never supposed to say any thing about our training but this was so good that I couldn’t keep it.
All the physical hurdles are over now. Next week is “Suitability” week and if I get over that I will have an even chance to graduate. Every Day They Send more before the “Board” so all of us have the shakes wondering who will be next. If we get a “Suitability Board” we are as good as through as they just can’t be beat. I would hate to flunk out after going this far but even if I do I learned a lot that will serve me well later, knowledge that I would have never received in my old outfit.
If you have any money left, use it. I m broke but I think the plan has been changed and I will be paid the 10th, if not I can manage.
Everyone here under 5’6″ is called a “Feather Merchant”. Fewer of us were hurt or couldn’t take it than the big men (on the course) and they are burned up. They were the first on the Course and it nearly killed them. The first day we came in they were all ready to razz us but we bounded up the stairs two at a time (even though I thought every move was the last). You should have seen their faces fall! Big men just can’t take it.
Editor’s Note: slang : one in a position that involves little effort or responsibility or that calculatedly evades effort or responsibility : loafer