Monday, August 15, 2005

JOSEPH FRANCIS LEE’S WAR MEMOIRS, part 1

Joseph F Lee, RIP
August 21, 1913 – August 27, 2004


Discovered by myself, his grandson, JL Pagano, on Wednesday, May 19, 2004. The following was written in a copybook bought in Eason’s bookstore, presumably the one in downtown Dublin. I imagine the memoirs were composed around the time I was travelling in America and when my grandparents lived in an apartment in Danes Court, Clontarf, and thus would be between the years of 1992 and 1994, when Mr Lee was aged 79-81. I have attempted to copy it word for word.

I will be away on vacation for both his birthday and his anniversary, so I would like to publish this on my blog over the next few days by way of commemoration.



My army experience began at Camp Devens in Massachusetts in the Spring of 1942.

It was an induction center which means that new recruits who went there were processed and made ready to be sent to an outfit where they would be trained. Uniforms were issued and tests were taken there. It was all very unreal for things happened so quickly. We were given tests and shown movies far into the nights and then awakened early in the mornings. There were all kinds of rumours and the best part about it was that we were not there very long.

From there I was shipped out with a group and we ended up at Camp Bowie, Texas . The trip took about three days and many of the newly made soldiers had their money stolen as they slept. Apparently it was a common problem. The regular crew who accompanied such shipments made a practice of stealing as the new recruits slept. Anticipating no such thing on the first night recruits left their wallets hanging by their bunks in their pockets. I didn’t have much money but was lucky enough to keep it under my pillow. The thefts took place only during the first night, of course. While they were reported, no money was recovered. Some guys really lost a lot for they carried with them more than was wise.

Too, on the trip, one of the recruits went mad. He began to scream about an invasion from outer space. At first people thought that he was joking. He wasn’t and became quite violent as time went on. Officials on board the train contacted proper authorities and he was removed at one of the stops. In the meantime he had to be restrained and I helped to do it. It took a group of us to hold him down and I was one of them.

The trip was not boring for the experience was so new. We were pretty crowded and there wasn’t much to do except talk among ourselves and look forward to stops at regular intervals. I believe that it was in the station in Memphis when little black kids danced for us on the station platform. They expected coins to be thrown at them and they were.

At some of the stops especially as we got closer to Texas there were groups of ladies who served us coffee and cakes. I still have a nice warm feeling when I think of it. They were there because they cared and their smiles were grand.

I remember Fort Worth and the siding there where we were made ready for transportation to the camp to which we had been assigned. It was my first experience with “Latinos”. There were many little Mexican children around and to me they were complete foreigners with their dark skins and to me unintelligible language. In Texas, though, the “foreigners” soon became a familiar sight.

Arriving by truck at Camp Bowie we were assigned to quarters and kept busy from the time of arrival. Just as I was becoming familiar with my new outfit – a Tank Destroyer Battalion, I found that I had been wrongly assigned and belonged to a different one on the same base. The change was made without much real trauma and I settled down to basic training, army style.

My biggest problem was not getting paid for two or three months. Apparently my wrong assignment had fouled up my records. As a consequence I was soon without funds as I had brought only a couple of dollars with me. I was too proud to ask “Mom” for money and so I just went without and kept away from the PX . When I was finally paid I remember going to that place and eating ice cream until I was almost sick. I have never had a special desire for ice cream except at this time. Texas was hot and dry and ice cream was wet and cold. It was lovely.

After my first pay I also learned a bit about rolling dice. I found out about the hard numbers and the easy ones. On the hard ones there were two chances to get them and on the easy, three. On one experience there was a person betting even money on the hard numbers. I watched for this kind of “sucker” and bet against him. Before long I had amassed a fortune of almost a hundred dollars. As a consequence, I splurged and bought dress shoes and all sorts of toiletries. It was good that I did when I did for my winnings were quickly gone by losing to a more astute player than I.

Mom came to Texas and lived with a family with whom we were friends in Nashua. He was a doctor at a camp close by. I would not recommend the experience for anyone else. Basic training brings worries enough without the extra ones created by such a situation. We survived, but I would not recommend it.

Then came ASTP – the Army Specialized Training Program . It was intended to train specialists who had above average intellectual ability. Let me say now that one deserves no credit for intellectual ability. The credit belongs to ones parents and to the genes which produce the ability. Anyhow, I was sent to Louisiana State University there to remain until I was assigned to a university to study French for which I had qualified. The assignment was to the University of Wisconsin and Mom and I travelled with a group to Madison, Wisconsin.

(to be continued tomorrow)

4 comments:

Buffalo said...

I find this absolutely interesting and appreciate your sharing.

Question, when the black kids were dancing.....did his journal call them black, colored or something else? I thought, which is dangerous, black was not a word used until much later - another generation later.

You are damned lucky to have such an important record.

JL Pagano said...

Funny you should mention that, Buffalo, for it was as I was transcribing the memoirs that I realized my grandfather was writing them specifically for me rather than posterity as I first thought.

The text is written verbatim. He used the word "black" but I'm sure as you suggest he had written the account closer to the time it would have been different.

I hope you enjoy the rest of it over the next couple of days.

The Michael said...

Thanks alot for sharing this wonderful slice of real life with us, J. You do your grandpa a great honor by allowing us to share his experiences. I imagine that short of you getting the whole thing published, this might have never been seen outside the family. Thanks to our blogs, these things can be shared wonderfully easily. Thanks again, and I will keep an eye out for every chapter of his experience.

shandi said...

I'm with Buff and Micheal, this is great stuff. I'm glad you copied word for word... I can really get a sense of what you're grandfather was like. Must have been an amazing person. Looking forward to part 2. Hurry hurry!!!