‘Everything moves fast’
Third in a series.
At the top of his Aug. 25, 1944, letter home, Lt. William Alvin “Andy” Anderson scribbled only “Somewhere in France.”
“Of course, I can’t go into details about it,” Anderson wrote to his wife, Faye, “but I can say that I have never seen such complete destruction. People in the U.S. (who are) striking would go back to work if they saw how the Allied Forces are working over here.”
Recently arrived from England, Anderson hardly had time to catch his breath. He had been shipped over as a replacement officer, just as Allied Forces were liberating Paris.
“Everything moves fast,” he said. “I never saw Army trucks travel so fast and in such vast numbers. The job is really being done in a big way.”
For roughly 15 months back in the States, Alvin and his wife, Faye, were thinking he might get through the war without seeing combat.
His poor eyesight, possibly combined with his expertise in weapons training, had seemed to hold him back at every turn.
Just when it looked as though he were headed with other “Bushmasters” to the Pacific Theater, the Army reassigned him to Company G in the 5th Infantry.
By Jan. 28, 1943, Anderson found himself at Camp Van Dorn, Miss., and being prepared for a new kind of training — the 71st Light Division Experiment.
But the new assignment meant Alvin and Faye, married Aug. 3, 1942, could now be together for weeks and months at a time — first in Mississippi and later in Colorado, California and Georgia.
It also led to Faye’s eventually quitting her job in Washington, D.C., and as Alvin shipped off to England, her decision to live in Branford, Fla., with her parents’ big family.
Even while he was in England, Anderson thought his eyesight would keep him from going to the front lines. An Army eye exam on June 14, 1944, at Fort Benning, Ga., put the vision in his right eye at 20/200; his left eye, 20/100.
So on July 29, 1944, he went to see an Army physician in England. “The major said, ‘I don’t know why in the hell they sent you over here,’” Alvin wrote.
The doctor told him to return the next day, and he could see what he could do.
“I don’t know what the outcome will be,” Alvin said. “Maybe these people over here will get the job done. I hope I will get that settled.”
Alvin would not mention his eyes again and soon he was a replacement officer marching to the front lines.
When he first arrived at Camp Van Dorn in early 1943, Anderson was the only officer in his company, “and there is no one to help me with anything,” he said.
He was serving as the company’s commanding officer, the supply officer, the executive officer and as a regimental instructor. He also was assisting the battalion commander.
On his way back to the States, the Army cut his salary by $15 a month, but then raised him $46 a month.
He told Faye of listening to the Hit Parade on the radio, hearing Dinah Shore on Eddie Cantor’s show and devouring a speech to the nation by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Meanwhile, they made plans to see each other Feb. 22 when he was supposed to have 15 days leave. They hadn’t been together in six months.
In Washington, Faye seemed to be battling sore throats all winter. She also was becoming less and less happy at work, especially since Anderson was back in the States.
The head of her department, a Lt. Roby, tried to make her feel guilty after she told him she was planning to leave Washington to be with her soldier husband in Mississippi.
He spoke with her an hour.
“He said I had a job here to do, and it was my duty to stay, and everything you could think of,” Faye wrote Alvin on March 30, 1943. “He said I’d be sorry, cause you might be transferred soon, and I wouldn’t have friends there that I had here.
“… I don’t like for him to say it’s not patriotic for me to leave and all that. I wish I’d had never come here, never.”
She underlined the word “never.”
“He said a woman’s place was home, not following her husband around. I wonder if he thinks I’m home when I’m here. I’ll let you know what happens, if I live through it.”
Alvin was incensed. He wished he could talk to Lt. Roby.
“He has no grounds to talk to you like he did,” Alvin said. “I wish I would have been there. He would have a thick lip and a sore spot on his ‘can.’”
Faye said Lt. Roby changed his tune within a day and advised her to ask for three months leave without pay, with the leave starting April 20.
In Mississippi, in a letter dated March 30, Alvin reported he had found a “real nice” apartment for them in Magnolia, 47 miles from the camp.
Several of the officers from the regiment lived there, and three of the men had cars. The cost was $25 a month, and the apartments were furnished, had a gas stove, heat and an electric refrigerator.
Magnolia was about the size of Live Oak, Fla., Alvin’s hometown, and it had a movie theater and several churches.
“Darling, your happiness is my ambition, “ Alvin said.
Meanwhile, Faye was looking up train schedules and the best way to get there — on “The Tennessean” or on “The Southerner.” She asked Alvin to send her the apartment’s address so she could send a box of things ahead of her.
Washington’s cherry blossoms were in full bloom by early April.
“It seems like a long time since I’ve seen you, Alvin, dearest,” said Faye, who had been switched to a day shift. “It will make me feel better to think that if you go overseas, and I want to, I can come back and work.”
In mid March of 1943, Alvin was still concerned about his eyes. He did not want them to be an excuse for his not going into combat.
He asked Faye not to tell anyone, but he feared he might be placed on “limited service” status.
“Well, I am ashamed of it,” he said.
Alvin could not wait for her arrival. Their apartment — really their first place together — had a front porch swing.
“All you have to do is walk in with your clothes, and you are home,” Alvin said.
He expressed concern, however, that she would be alone in the apartment at least four nights a week.
The couple finally got to know each other over the spring and summer in Mississippi, until Alvin was transferred to Camp Carson, Colo.
By July 29, 1943, he had found them another apartment — two big rooms, a hall and front porch in Manitou Springs, Colo.
The Major and Mrs. Donovan were on the second floor; The Colonel and Mrs. Gibson, the third floor. Another couple they knew from Magnolia lived across the street.
Everyone was looking forward to her arrival, Alvin said, adding, “If you don’t come soon, I’ll be nuts.”
The $50-a-month Colorado apartment was about 12 miles from Camp Carson. The couple had purchased their first car, which Alvin called a “luxury liner.”
“I like it, and I know you will,” he says. “It runs so smooth, it just seems to glide along.”
The couple missed being together on their one-year anniversary. They didn’t know it then, but they would miss the next two, also.
“Though we haven’t been together much during the year we have been married and lots of things have happened,” Alvin said, “it has been the happiest year I have ever lived.”
Faye didn’t travel across the country from Branford, Fla., right away. On Aug. 14, she went to High Springs to see Dr. Whitlock about her infected tonsils and strep throat.
By Aug. 29, 1943, her throat and neck were better, though she still had swelling and lingering chills.
In this last letter either Alvin or Faye would write to each other in 1943, Faye informed him she was making reservations for Colorado.
Should she mail the toaster?
In early 1944, Alvin “Andy” Anderson once again found himself part of some of the Army’s toughest training maneuvers.
The 71st Light Division Experiment was exactly that — an experiment. It proved, in the end, mules were no match for machines.
The division was activated July 15, 1943, at Camp Carson. The 5th, 14th and 66th infantry regiments made up most of the personnel — 9,000 soldiers and 1,800 mules.
They trained first in Colorado, depending on mules, not motors, to carry their equipment, such as 75-mm howitzers.
Later, in a famous 21-day period of maneuvers on the Hunter Liggett Military Reservation near Camp Roberts, Calif., the 71st Light Division took on the mechanized 89th Division, and failed miserably.
People who endured the maneuvers at Hunter Liggett claimed it was tougher than any combat conditions they ever saw later.
Men suffered from colds, poison oak and exhaustion. At one time, 1,500 men had to be hospitalized.
The Army decided mules weren’t the way to go, and wrote off the whole experiment.
Alvin and Faye were separated again when Alvin took off for Camp Roberts and the 21 days of hell.
He wrote her on Feb. 26, 1944, saying he was just waiting for the orders to move out. Faye had moved in with Major Donovan’s wife, and they lived about 70 miles away.
“Up ’til now, we’ve had it easy out here,” Alvin said.
On March 24, 1944, Anderson wrote Faye that he was still sitting in the same spot, waiting for the 89th Division to attack.
Anderson reported on March 28 he was hungry, depending on C-rations. All the food Faye had sent was long gone — “Boy, did it hit the spot,” Alvin said.
Major Gen. Robert L. Spragins told the men they would have to be out of the Hunter Liggett Military Reservation by April 26, but Alvin thought it would be sooner than that.
After this maneuver, Alvin promised to force the Army’s hand on his eyes — either they would classify him for combat, or give him limited service.
“I am pretty sure it will be limited service,” Anderson said.
By June 9, Alvin Anderson was back at Fort Benning, Ga., working late every night as duty officer for the company.
“I don’t know what they are trying to do to me, give me a test, I suppose, to see if I’ll crack up,” Alvin said. “But they are wrong.
“I guess the company hasn’t run smoother in years.”
Despite his latest eye test June 14, Alvin was soon on the move, and the couple knew he was headed overseas.
They said their goodbyes June 23, 1944, at Fort Meade, Md.
“Darling, I will remember you in that little black skirt and pink blouse,” Alvin said. “You were so beautiful that day. I can shut my eyes and see you now.”
Alvin, who for years had welcomed the chance to enter combat, now would be just as happy if he never saw the front lines in Europe.
You see, Faye was pregnant.
Read Part Four.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.