About Me

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In 1943 I was drafted into World War 11 right out of Madison High School, Rochester, NY. This is my story as told in the letters I wrote home. They’re all here, all 192 of them. Spend some time with me as I describe my experiences in basic training and then off to war. They were written in an attempt to help me feel close to my family and to let them know what was going on in my life. It’s the first time I was away from home and I have to confess that I was homesick. My folks were Esther and Jacob Kaplow. We were four children in this order: Arnette, Ruth, Bob, and myself.


Ben is at Camp Campbell, Kentucky.  Assigned to Message Center, he describes his reconnaissance training and the muddy terrain.

January 9, 1944
Sunday Noon

Dear Folks,
This is the first letter I’ve written since the beginning of the week, cause I haven’t had too much time to myself lately.  Well, I’ll start off & tell you what I did all week.  Monday & Tuesday we had Message Center school all day & I saw “Higher & Higher” Monday night.  Wednesday, we stood by for an inspection of everything that was issued to us.

In the afternoon, we went over to the Message Center & monkeyed around with the M-209 Code Converter.  It’s an intricate little machine, no bigger than this sheet of paper.  The preliminary steps are pretty complicated but once you start coding & decoding, it’s simple.  Thursday morning we had another class.  Thursday night at 11:00 we left on a two day problem.  We rode about 15 miles into Tennessee & then we walked for about a mile. 

There we stayed until about noon the next day.  Oh, it was cold there.  And they don’t bother to put up tents here.  We were a reserve battalion, so we didn’t have much to do.  In the afternoon, I was attached to the Battalion Commander, a Major, as runner for my company.  I’m not supposed to be used as a runner but since the Message Center wasn’t working right then, they made me one. 

Well we started out on reconnaissance & pretty soon we were pinned down by the enemy.  The umpire goes up to find out the details & finds that we are practically surrounded.  The telephone wasn’t working so I had to hurry back to the Command Post & give a message.  By the time I got there, the phone was working.  Well, I ran a couple of more messages & then we started to retreat.  I stayed with the Major until about 5 o’clock & then our battalion started to march to the Division reserve. 

It was only about 4 miles but it took us about 3 hours on account of the muddy roads.  I never saw such mud.  When we turned off the road to go up to the assembly area, I don’t think there was a solid bit of ground in the whole field.  Jeeps, peeps, all kinds of trucks were stuck in the mud up to the top of their tires.  Some of the bumpers came off when they tried to pull them out.  We stayed in that area for a couple of hours & moved a mile down the road.  We stayed there from 10:30 until 1:30. 

Oh, it was cold.  I didn’t wait to rip my pack apart to get my shelter half, so I rolled up in a blanket that I had tied on top of my pack.  At 1:30 we moved out again.  It was only about an hours walk, but the mud made it very tiring.  At 2:30 we went to sleep only to wake up at 5:30 with a light covering of snow over us.  Then we went and had a hot breakfast, our first meal that wasn’t C-rations.  Then we got some good news from the Major.  The problem was declared over & we were going in early.  Boy, that was good news.  We got back to camp about 8:00 & I hopped into bed after shaving & showering.  Oh, did that feel good.  I went & saw Kay Kyser’s picture last night.  Wasn’t too good.  I’m not too tired today, but I could use a little more sleep. 

This morning at 7:30 I went on duty at the Message Center.  That’s where I am now.  I didn’t get any experience out on the problem & this is the first time that I’ve actually worked at this, outside of practice.  As you can imagine, I was a little apprehensive, but I think everything will work out all right.  I was all alone but I got my messages through.  We also have a little portable switchboard that we call the different companies with.  Now that I’ve actually been on duty, & talked with Majors, Captains, & Lieutenants over the phone, it’s not so bad. 

But the real test will come on the weekdays when calls come flowing in steadily all the time.  It’s not a bad job.  We wear O.D.s when we’re not out in the field, it’s warm, & it’s not physical labor.  The only bad point is the shifts.  They’re 12 hour shifts & the weekends are just like any other day.  I work a few night shifts along with the day shifts.  In fact, I’d rather work the night shift all the time.  You can sleep from about 11:00 at night until morning, if no messages come through & you have the whole next day off, whereas when you work the day shift, you have to fall out with the company the next day.  If that isn’t too clear, just ignore it.

This camp is located in the extreme Southwest part of the state, about 10 miles from Tennessee, in fact, most of the camp is located in Tennessee. Bill Zanders is in the Signal Corps.  He was put in that the very first night we got here.  I guess he had some experience with his father in that line. We were supposed to have had an interview & been reclassified when we came here, but we weren’t.  It was just pure luck that I got into this job.

I received the box yesterday & everything arrived in good condition.  I’ll have to go to the Air Cadet board first chance I have.  Boy that was fast work on those letters.  You really surprised me.  Speaking of surprises, Arnette’s marriage almost floored me.  I think I’m getting paid tomorrow, so I’d like to get them a present, but I don’t know what to buy.  Perhaps you could advise me.  If so, get the letter to me by Friday night in case I go to town over the weekend.  Well, I think I’ve written about enough.  Keep up the writing.


National WW2 Museum

The National WW2 Museum in New Orleans has asked permission to link this blog and web site to the Museum’s Facebook and Twitter pages.  It’s such a tribute to Ben and an honor to be part of their great site.  Please view the link to the Museum, or visit in person.

Ben is at Camp Campbell, Kentucky.  He arrived there after a December furlough with his family.  Apparently he is no longer in A.S.T.P. but is now being trained for Message Center.

January 4, 1944

Hello Again,
Well everything is going along a lot better now than when I first came.  I’ve gotten to know some of the fellows & they’re not a bad lot.  Three other fellows who were in A.S.T.P. have come into our barracks.  And they’re sending a hell of a lot more to this camp.  That’s where the Army gets you.  If you can’t stay in A.S.T.P., they send you back to the infantry, even if you had basic in another type of training.  Some of them came from University of Kentucky and from Niagara University.

I think my job is going to be an interesting one.  We had school yesterday & I’m waiting to go again now.  It’s not actually school.  There are about ten of us from different battalions and a non-com lectures and explains the message.  We had a test at the end of the day and I got 99 9/10.  We learned one of the code systems yesterday, with more to come.  That’s what we’ll use whenever we go out in the field. 

The message center is a very important job, perhaps the most vital.  Because the troops have to keep in contact with each other in order to know where the enemy is.  It’s a hard job too.  The message center is operated on a 24 hour basis.  And the maximum time allowed for a message to be in your hands before you pass it on, with all the writing & recording in the log, is two minutes.

Well, I’ve got to go to school now.  Write soon.


Training Problem

Here is a description of a “problem” which is an Army method of putting into practice the theories soldiers have learned.  When Ben refers to the “hottest” day in this letter, he is referring to extreme training conditions. However, he will mention the “hottest” situations in future correspondence from the European Front.  “Hottest” there refers to the most extreme conditions of battle. 

Camp Campbell, Kentucky
January 2, 1944

Dear Folks,
Here it is, another “rest period” almost gone, ready to start on another problem.  I guess it’s official that there are only two more problems to go.  That’s good news.  I can’t tell you too much about the last problem, because I didn’t go all the way through it.  My luck is still holding out on these problems.  Although I didn’t get to ride a jeep this problem, I got a much better break.

We started the problem Tuesday noon.  It was a beautiful day.  The sun was shining & it was warm.  After marching about six miles, I was tagged a casualty.  (I found out later that it was arranged by a friend of mine.  A Jewish Sergeant).  When tagged a casualty, you are first bandaged up by an aid man that travels with the Company.  I had a head wound & a fractured arm.  I was then taken by litter to the Battalion Aid Station & loaded on an ambulance and taken to the Collecting Station.  From there you go to the Clearing Station.

My luck came when I was tagged because it was starting to get windy & cold.  Just when I got in the warm ambulance to go to the Clearing Station, it started to snow.  It was too late to be returned to our Companies when we reached the Station, so we stayed overnight & slept on the litters in a hugh tent and with fires no less.  It snowed all night and the next day it was cold.  They took us up to Regimental Headquarters, told us the general directions to our Battalion & told us to take off.

We took off, right for the nearest barn.  What would you say if you knew your son was acting just like a beggar?  What else would you call it when you go up to farmers’ doors and ask them for something to eat & if you can sleep in their barn that night.  We didn’t want to find the Battalion until the problem was over, because it was so cold.  So we slept in the hay that night & ate in the farmer’s house next morning.  They were well to do people, owned a lot of land.  The old man was the only Southerner who I ever heard admit that the South was wrong in the Civil War.

We then took off for the Battalion.  We found the water truck & they took us to where the kitchens were, back of the lines.  We stayed with them all day until the problem ended Thursday.  Friday was one of the hottest days we’ve had since I’ve been on maneuvers.  I didn’t get to go on pass this weekend, but last night we went to the Rear Echelon, supposedly, but really went to Lebanon & got a shower.  It rained a little last night but the sun is out now.

Once again, my thanks for sending a box,  Exactly what I wanted too.  I’ve exactly nine more letters to write.  I don’t know how I’m going to do it but I might as well start now.


Happy New Year

This is Ben's first letter home in 1944.  Basic training will continue until he ships out in August.  He is now at Camp Campbell, Kentucky.  He arrived there to continue his basic training after a December furlough with his family.  Making a telephone call home in 1944 was difficult so letter writing became very important.

January 1, 1944
Saturday Night

Dear Folks,
Happy New Year!!!  I hope you spent a nice New Year’s Eve.  As for me, I didn’t wait up to see the New Year in.  I went to a lousy U.S.O. show and then up to the service club where nothing was doing & then on to the barracks.  Half the camp was stinking drunk.  I guess they can buy liquor at one of the outside gates.

Well, I’ve finally been assigned, and I think I got a pretty lucky break compared to some of the fellows that were put in rifle companies, heavy weapons and mortar platoons.  They say that the job I’ve been assigned to, although it’s no cinch, is one of the easiest in the headquarters company.  I’m in the message center, up in Battalion Headquarters.  It’s where all the messages come down from higher headquarters & we have to pass them down.  I haven’t been over there yet but it’s where all the officers are.  You know, the Colonels & Majors & Captains.

It may sound like an easy job to you, but get that idea out of your head.  There will be plenty of opportunities to goof off, and if I do, it’s just too bad for me.  I might possibly go to school for a couple of weeks, but nothing is definite yet.  Nothing around here is very definite.  It’s not at all like Camp Croft.  The job gets tougher when we go out on maneuvers, cause it’s the nerve center of the whole thing.  I hope I can make good at it.  There is one other fellow from U. Conn that has been assigned here with me.  He’s a Jewish fellow from the Bronx.  He’s a nice fellow, life of the party and all that, but he was the number one goof off of Company B at Croft.  I hope he makes out all right here.

Haven’t done anything since I got here except wash the floor once.  Just been taking it easy.  We went over to look up another Jewish fellow that came down with us.  He’s in another regiment, assigned to a mortar squad.  I really feel sorry for him, because he’s a fat kid that could never make the hikes back at Croft.  He’s really disgusted with life.  I guess it was just fate that I wasn’t put there.   We’ve been trying to figure out how they assigned us here, because there were three of us whose names were one right after the other on the roster, & we all got put in different regiments & as there are three regiments, I was lucky enough to get into the best job. 

Please send my laundry as soon as possible cause I’ll need the fatigues & winter underwear.  I guess I’ll have to put on that long underwear after all when we go out on the field. I’m up at the service club now, but nothing’s doing.  Nothing to do around here, except see a movie, & there aren’t any good pictures to see.  Could have had a pass to go into town tonight, but as we have K.P. tomorrow, decided not to.  There are two towns, both about 20 miles away, one in Tennessee & one in Kentucky, each with about 11,000 population.  Absolutely nothing doing there either.

Well, that’s about all I can think up.  I’ll keep you informed, if I have time to write.


Write soon.  Tried to phone twice, but it takes too long.