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.


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