Keep Them Rolling: World War II letters from Louis Solberg

COLFAX — Louis Solberg, who passed away in 2008, grew up in Albertville, owned a farm north of Colfax and later on farmed on the Rusk Prairie. He and his wife, Alda, who passed away in 2006, operated the farm in the Town of Otter Creek during the 1940s and 1950s.

Here is Part 2 of Louis Solberg’s book, “Keep Them Rolling” (Company 314) (A World War II Story 1941-1945).

May 14, 1941 — Just got back from my first day on guard duty. We were on two hours, then four hours off and on for twenty-four hours. I got so I tired I could hardly walk. There were thirty men on guard and one-third of us walking our post at any given time.

June 16 — We went to the rifle range, some experience. Ninety of us shot at one time. We lined up in a prone position and they gave the order to start firing. I had my rifle sights lined up and was ready to fire when shots rang out on both sides of me and made so much noise, I had to get my sights on the targets all over again.

We were supposed to fire ninety shots each, but when you were not used to those rifles, they kicked like a mule. I only got seventy-four of them fired off, and my shoulder was black and blue. After this, we started to clean our rifles every day. They got very dirty after they had been fired. We used a brush and laundry soap to clean the barrels. After we got them cleaned and wiped dry, we oiled them so they shone. The next day, we looked down the barrel, and it looked like it was starting to grow hair. We went after them again with the soap and hot water.

It took three days before they would stay clean.

June 23 — We left Camp Lee with Company H, 7th Regiment. They split our company up, and some went in each of a half dozen places. We left our barracks at 12:30 and they hauled us down to the 7th. Not too many of us from K Co.

I remember Floyd Drauden, Lawrence Johnson, Bill Heil, Jim Grigsby, Harold Huey, Norman Simpson, Solt, Smith, DeGrieve and me. There may have been a few others. I don’t remember after forty-one years.

Fort Benning, Georgia

June 24 — We got to our new station about 2:30 p.m. I enjoyed the train ride. It’s always nice to see different places. They put us in new wood barracks at Lawson Field. That was an army airfield.

We from K Co. wanted to all get in the same barracks, but they wouldn’t let us; so we had to make new friends.

This place was built right in the woods. Our first job was to cut up some of the trees and carry them off to make room to park our trucks.

They used a caterpillar to pull up the big trees and anything under six inches they just drove up the tree with one track and pushed them over. We cut them up with a cross-cut saw and piled them up.

This area was full of poison ivy. I had never gotten it before, so wasn’t careful to stay out of it. Well, I got it about all over except my eyes. No fun!

We used to watch the paratroopers jump from planes when we had time in the evenings. One night they caught one guy’s parachute on the tail of the plane. They flew around ever so long, and I never did find out what happened to the guy. I suppose he was a casualty. The papers never mentioned it.

Quartermaster Regiment

By the way, we are now Co. E 53rd Quartermaster Regiment. The men were divided between the warehouse and the shop. Some were to learn to be mechanics, and some went to the warehouse to learn to stock parts.

Three fellows and myself were to be tire repair men, but they only had a few tire irons and some hammers to work with so it never did amount to much of a job.

When we had to be on guard here, we had a tent for a guard house. The mosquitoes were so bad, we each had a net we hung over our cots and tucked in the bottom to keep the bugs off.

Sgt. Marcott was First Sergeant here and Colonel Gee was Battalion Commander — a tough old army man that everybody in his right mind stayed clear of.

July 22 — I started to work in the carpenter shop. I liked the work, but we had to keep track of all the lumber we used in each thing we made, so that was a pain in the neck.

July 24 — I went back to the motor pool as a driver. Most of our trucks are to go on maneuvers with F Co. and they needed drivers.

July 27 — We got up at 3:30 a.m. and had breakfast at 3:45; then they took us up to the main post where the trucks were parked. We finally got started at 5:15 and were in Alabama by six and arrived at our first leg of the Louisiana Maneuvers at 2:30, somewhere in Alabama. We parked in a big field and pitched our tents.

I enjoyed driving in Convoy. When we went through a town, we would close ranks, and if the first truck got through an intersection on a green light, we all followed it just like a freight train. Everybody had to wait until we cleared.

The Convoy from Fort Benning was nine miles long when it spread out. Think of a train that long.

Private First Class

By the way, I got a promotion to Private First Class for being one that went on Maneuvers and also a raise in pay from thirty to thirty-six dollars a month.

July 28 — We got up and ate breakfast, and Col. Gee called everybody together and said, “We will be ready to leave at 8 o’clock, and tonight we will be back in Fort Benning.

We arrived at about 4:30 at F Co. quarters and had supper and were back with Co. E that night.

They said that Col. Gee wanted to go on maneuvers so bad, he jumped the gun and was ordered back.

August 9 — We moved to the main post. There are two big brick barracks on this block. We got two rooms on the second floor and two rooms in the attic. I got to go to the attic, which was not finished. This is just a short way from the shops.

Garbage dump

August 19 — I was on detail driving truck for the 48th Quartermaster Regiment, today a colored regiment. We would pick up a truck and usually a Corporal and then go to the guardhouse and pick up a half dozen prisoners. We would do odd job hauling, sometimes pick up garbage and take to the dump or some other pick up jobs. I think we ran around half the post that day.

We used to dump over the bank of the Tuskegee River. I think it was about 200 feet down. They would have you back up ‘til the back wheels were right on the edge. This particular day, I had an old Dodge truck and the pedals were round and not very big. When he told me to stop, I hit the brake and my foot slipped off the pedal and the back wheels rolled over the edge. I managed to hold it there until they got another truck with a chain to pull it out.

Sunday, August 24 — The two companies were invited out to a rest camp for a Barbecue by Col. Gee. We had a good dinner and some entertainment. They brought in two truck-loads of Georgia peaches to entertain the guys.

Co. E took over the shops when Co. F left to go on maneuvers for about three days. The Captain said, after Co. F took over again, that Co. E did more in three days than Co. F did in a week.

Furlough

Sunday, September 20, 1941 — I just returned from a seven-day furlough, back to Wisconsin. It was nice to be home and see everyone and be out on the farm again. I missed it so much.

I guess it was at Fort Benning that I really got well acquainted with Floyd Drauden. I think he was undoubtedly the smartest man in our company.

It seemed like the farm boys hung together. I guess we had more in common than with the others.

We surely had some heavy rains down there. It came down by the bucket full.

Football game

Saturday, October 4 — A bunch of the boys went up to Atlanta to see a football game. I drove one of the trucks. There were eight of them. It was always fun driving in Convoy. If the first truck went through an intersection, everybody followed him, and the traffic waited. However, if the light turned red before we got there, we waited.

On this trip the lead truck stopped for a red light on short notice. The next two trucks managed to get stopped in time. I was about the fourth in line and didn’t quite get stopped in time and bumped the truck in front of me. Those in back of me each bumped the one in front of them — Bang, bang, bang, bang! Thanks to good bumpers, the trucks didn’t suffer any damage.

We left at 7:30 in the morning and got to Fort McFerson at 11:30, had dinner, supper and breakfast there. About half of the guys went into town and the rest of went to the game. As I remember, Duke played Georgia Tech. My first and only football game. It was so hot, the players all dressed up in their football gear, didn’t give off a very spectacular performance. To me it looked about like a bunch of chickens after a handful of corn.

We slept in the armory at Atlanta and left for Fort Benning in the morning.

Car wreck

October 4 — Beno and Blinco worked in the shop and had been working on a Dodge Command Car and decided to road test it without permission and wrecked it. I never knew them before this, but Blinco got thirty days in the guardhouse and Beno went to the hospital in bad shape. The Captain told them they had bought a Command Car and it would be taken out of their pay.

Later on I was driving a Command Car and went to the hospital and picked up Beno. I brought him back to the Company where he picked up his things, and I took him to the guardhouse. There he had to serve thirty days for his part in the wreck.

Command car

I drove the Command Car for some time. When I drove that, I was on call twenty-four hours a day for one week. The next week I worked in the motor room.

I enjoyed driving because I got to take some of the officers to town on errands. I was to take anyone that asked me, wherever they wished to go. Well, I guess too many unauthorized guys got me to take them around, and Captain Supinske then gave orders to check with him before I took anyone anyplace.

I used to take Captain Hebble, who was the personnel officer, around quite a bit and got to know him quite well. He used to get the Kentucky boys together in the mess hall, and they used to play some musical instruments. Many nights when I came in late from taking someone someplace, they would be in the house day room whooping up the “Wabash Cannon Ball.”

October 9 — I drove Captain Hebble into Columbus to a dance they put on for F Co., didn’t get back in until 12:30, had to be up at five to pick up the officer of the day.

Getting out

October 17, 1941 — Quite a few of the men over twenty-eight and some of them married with dependents have been getting out.

We just got a bunch of replacements from Camp Lee. They had high hopes of getting a promotion here, but don’t stand much of a chance. There were a lot of good men here and no promotions to get. About the only way to get promoted is to transfer out into a new company. I think most of the men would rather stay together. One of the new men looks like he was only a kid. I felt sorry for him but he got along o.k. Everybody called him “baby dumpling.” I don’t remember his name.

(In Part 3, Louis Solberg recalls an army wedding.)