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

March 4, 1942 — One thing the boys were always in a hurry for was the Chow line; you had either to run or get run over. Our company had 299 men, and Co. F. had 225, and we ate together in the same dining room. It was just like throwing a basket of corn to a bunch of hogs.

We have been getting some machine gun instruction lately. We had to be able to take them all apart and put them back together again.

March 9 — The last day of the year I was supposed to serve. Little did I know that it would be more than three and a half years before we would get out.

I tried to write everyday, and it seemed sometimes I could have written everything I knew on a postage stamp.

Bivouac

March 19 (Thursday) — Our Company and Company F went on an overnight bivouac. Our Company had 30 trucks and I imagine Co. F had nearly as many. They used every available truck they could find. I drove an old one and a half ton Chevy truck. We no more than got a good start when the oil pressure on my truck dropped to nothing. I pulled off the road and waited for the mechanics in the maintenance truck at the end of the line. They stopped and asked what was wrong. I told him we didn’t have oil pressure. He asked if it was heating up, and I said it wasn’t, so he said just get in and keep going. I lost my place in line, so we pulled in after F Co.

It got dark on the way, and we drove awhile with lights, then they turned all the lights out, but their blackout lights and we drove the rest of the way like that. Just little slits of light showing so you wouldn’t run into anyone. If you got too far behind, it looked like the tail lights on each side were going one way, and the other going the other way. One guy ran in the ditch along side the road, and I went by him without even seeing him.

We pulled in under a bunch of trees about eleven o’clock and slept until morning. I just threw my shelter half on the ground and left my overcoat on and rolled up in my blankets and laid down for the night.

We got up at seven and had breakfast, then loaded up and left for our Company area about nine. We got back before dinner.

Motorcycles

“Big Assembly Job Here”

“140 motorcycles being assembled”

Company E and F are assembling a shipment of 140 partially disassembled 1940 model motorcycles from the Harley Davidson Motorcycle Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. These vehicles are equipped with machine gun racks and ammunition carriers which are attached to the front forks. Upon completion, the 4th Motorized Division will receive 120 of these vehicles … This is the largest assembly job since the 53rd Quartermaster Regiment has taken over the operation of the District Motor Maintenance Shops.

Transfers

March 27 — Lt. Hutchinson is relieved of the Command and went to start a new Company at Conlin near Atlanta. Lt. Welch took over Command of the Company.

We have some new civilians at the warehouse, trying to learn how to run it. The first two could hardly write their own names so you could read it.

April 3 — Col. Gee is being transferred to Washington D.C. I hated to see the old boy go.

I got a promotion today, Specialist Third Class, with a raise to $60 per month. We got free mailing privileges, too, so I save three cents on every letter.

April 19 — We went on a convoy today. We left at 7:30 a.m. and got back at 5:30 p.m. It was nice to get off the post and see some country for a change. I especially enjoyed seeing them working in the fields with one mule each and a middle buster.

April 22 — When we woke up, Drauden was in McCaftery’s bed. McCaftery must have been on furlough. So I guess most of the older men who were coming back to our outfit were back now. As much as Floyd hated the army, he was glad he got back in our Company again.

May 6 — We just got back from an overnight bivouac at the Quartermaster Rest Camp. We played ball and threw horseshoes. We slept in pup tents on the ground and felt the lumps for two days after. I never knew until later, when I talked with a civilian who worked in our warehouse, he used to be in the infantry. He said they used to dig up the ground where they laid down so it wasn’t so hard.

May 7 — Today, instead of drilling in the morning, they took us down to the obstacle course. Among other things, we had to go over a seven foot high plank fence. (I wish I were able to do that today.)

May 24 — Sunday. I just got back from a week’s furlough home. It was great being home again and especially being on the farm again. I met Einwald in Chicago and ran into Hassett on the train coming back, so I had company on the return trip.

Camouflage

May 29 — We took the trucks today and drove out a few miles to a woods and learned how to camouflage them. The rest of the company hiked out. After we got the trucks camouflaged, we laid around until the rest of the guys got there. We then went down a creek, and there we had a “gas attack” drill with our gas masks, so we could practice getting our gas masks on in a hurry. They showed us how to make a boat out of our shelter halves so we could float our packs and rifles across a river without getting them wet.

May 31 — Something is in the wind: they sent telegrams to all men who were on furlough to return immediately. Those that hadn’t had theirs yet don’t get to go. They took everyone who had swimming trunks to the pool to learn to swim if they didn’t know how. I didn’t have trunks so I didn’t go. That night, Johnson and I went into town and got trunks for Drauden and myself so we would be prepared for the next lesson, but we never did get to go.

June 2 — We left the warehouse for the last time about 2:30 and turned in our summer clothes. From now on, we wore our wool uniforms, and you can imagine how hot they were in Georgia.

Fort Dix

June 3 — All packed and ready to leave for we didn’t know where …

We left Columbus at 8:30 p.m. all night riding on the train. The next day, I had K.P. on the train. It wasn’t too bad, as everybody had to use their own messkits, so we only had kettles to wash. We carried big kettles of food from car to car and dished the food out to the men. The cooks used the baggage car to cook in. It was an interesting trip. I enjoyed the scenery.

On the troop trains, we always had a bunk to sleep in at night. We loaded in alphabetical order as usual, and the seats faced each other. The bottom made up for two men and the top for one. I sat with Simpson and Satterfield. We had our full field packs and those World War One helmets.

Satterfield had never learned to take care of himself, although he had spent some time at Duke University. To make a long story short, he lost his helmet somewhere, and he tried his best to steal someone else’s on the train, but couldn’t make it.

We arrived at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on June 5, about 6:30 p.m. after a forty-six hour ride. We had no idea where we were going until we got nearly there.

Some of the boys went right through their home towns, and their folks didn’t even know it.

I saw the Capitol today from a distance. The train stopped for a while just outside of Washington.

When we got to the station, they loaded us up on some trucks and hauled us to the fort and stopped in front of some barracks that we would use while we were here.

Everyone had his pack on his back and his rifle in his hand, and we unloaded from the trucks. When Satterfield hit the ground, his pack wasn’t buckled tight and all the contents slipped out and fell at his heels. He picked them up and walked over to the side of the barracks and started to cry. Nobody had time to look out for him, so the Company Commander put him in a replacement pool and got someone else to take his place.

The first night most of the men went to town, and those who lived near went home.

The next day, we turned in our old helmets, as we were to get the new kind. We spent most of our time here drilling and going on hikes.

(In Part 5, the army begins the process of obtaining passports for the soldiers.)