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 5 of Louis Solberg’s book, “Keep Them Rolling” (Company 314) (A World War II Story 1941-1945).
June 9, 1942 — We had our pictures taken for our passports; those close-up shots didn’t do anything for our looks. Afternoon, we had a class on map reading in the mess hall.
You make a lot of good friends at a time like this. I often felt I knew some of the men better than my own brothers.
When we left Fort Benning, we just had two officers, Lt. Welch and Lt. Jackson. At Fort Dix we picked up Lt. Porter and Lt. Martin.
One morning we were standing reveille in the rain. A few men didn’t have their raincoats on. Lt. Welch said, “That stuff coming down is rain, and it’s wet, and you have raincoats to put on when it’s raining.”
Another day a couple of men had their heads shaved. Lt. Welch said, “The next man that has his head shaved, I’ll scalp.”
June 29 — We are getting ready to move. We packed our barracks bags and sent them ahead. One A bag and one B bag. The most needed things went in the A bag. We laid around most of the day.
While shaving that night, B.T. Davis was standing beside me shaving and said he wished someone else had his stomachache. Little was I to know we wouldn’t see B.T. again for many months. But he didn’t go on sick call, because he didn’t want to get left behind.
At midnight, June 30, they started to pay the company. They had to wait until the last day of the month. Early in the morning, we set out with a full field pack on our backs, carrying our rifles. I remember we hiked out and caught the train and rode to the “port of embarkation” in New York. We got on the ship “Argentina” in the afternoon.
Our company was put down in the “hold” on the water line. We had a kind of canvas shelf to sleep on. They were fastened to a steel post on each end and a berth on each side about eight high. There was just room enough to crawl in. The men below and the men above were just inches from you. Each of these had as many berths on the other side of the post. These were end to end, just room enough to walk between.
I suppose there were between eight and ten thousand soldiers on the ship. We weren’t down here very long before it got pretty warm from being so crowded, so we climbed up to the deck and spent most of our daylight hours on deck. All the while they kept loading the ship, using big cranes on into the night.
When it got dark, we went down to our berths and went to sleep. In the wee hours of the morning, July 1, 1942, the ship was towed out of harbor in the Atlantic Ocean.
When daylight came most everyone was on deck.
We pulled out to sea and headed north and were soon joined by more ships. Leaving for nobody knew where or if we would ever return. The future looked bleak. Germany was winning the war.
When darkness settled in we again retired to our quarters.
When we left, we had the portholes open because of the heat. The first night we were told to shut all portholes or they would machine-gun them.
Not a light could be showing.
The next day we were still heading north and picked up ships all along the coast of the United States and Canada, until we were a great Convoy.
About the third day, it had cooled off so we were wearing our overcoats on deck.
We were fed two times a day and had a certain time when we could eat. I am sure there were so many passengers that some were eating at anytime of the day or night.
After the third or fourth day, we ran into thick fog, so thick you could hardly see the ships on either side of us.
The ships would change their position in the Convoy at a signal from the command ship. We were accompanied by Navy ships. Some with small planes hanging over the water, and at times they would take off with a blast and circle out over the ocean to look for German submarines. They would return and land in the water beside the ship and be picked up again.
When we were up toward Iceland, the fog was so thick, each ship would drag what looked like an A frame made of 2×4 lumber to ruffle the water so the ships behind could see it.
July 1942 — The Allied Nations lost more ships to German submarines than any month during the war.
We were on the ocean twelve days and nights. Toward the end of the voyage, ships started dropping out of the Convoy. In the evening of July 12, our ships alone pulled into the Clyde River in Scotland. We sat on board for three more days, while the British unloaded men and supplies.
On the night of July 15th, we boarded a small ship, named the New Orleans. In the dead of night, we crossed the Irish Sea, everyone below deck. The next morning, we put into port at Belfast, North Ireland.
This was a very interesting place to see as they did all the draying with horses. One big Clyde horse to a flat racked wagon. They seemed to be very gentle horses. While they were waiting to be loaded, they usually were munching oats from a nose bag.
One other thing about the Belfast area. Every time they had an alert for an air attack, they would run up many barrage balloons. They looked like dirigibles tied to a cable with cables hanging underneath to keep the Germans from dive bombing the city.
They loaded us on some buses, and we started out through the country. I suppose about twenty miles inland to Upper Balinderry, North Ireland.
This was a new camp, nestled in under some big trees, just outside of a small town. The church was just back of the camp a few yards. It was the Church of Ireland. We attended it a few times.
It is very pretty country, and very quaint, flowers in every front yard and hedges along the roads. There were trees along every fence row. Most of the fences are made of hedges. They fill in the empty spaces and grow thick enough to keep the cattle back.
It was cold and cloudy here. Remember, this is the middle of July.
We lived in Nissen huts, at least a dozen men to a hut. We kept the fire going all night. We slept on canvas cots. Each of us had two army blankets, and they also issued us each two British wool blankets. We used them all, and I put my overcoat over the top.
About all we did here was drill and go on hikes. I enjoyed the hikes as we could look over the country. They had a lot of nice Shorthorn cattle.
The change in climate was so great we wore our overcoats every morning for reveille. It rained so often you never went to town without your raincoat, whether there was a cloud in the sky or not.
The crops they raised were oats and hay, also potatoes and mangos they fed to the cattle. The mangos were similar to sugar beets.
When we got here, the Orangemen were busy celebrating William of Orange Day. They started a week ahead, and they had men standing around town banging on drums day and night for a week. We could hear them at Camp.
On Sunday, it wound up with a parade that ended at the church.
We kept a guard posted at the gate of the camp. A couple young boys used to stand by the guard, banging on cans with sticks.
It seemed funny to see the cars and trucks driving down the left side of the road. They were all small cars, mostly Austins and some Fords.
Many cars ran on natural gas. They used to have a gas bag on the rack on top of the car. It reached from bumper to bumper. As they used it up, the bag would collapse. You could always tell how much gas they had left.
(In Part 6, Louis remembers the bicycles that people rode in Ireland and how the Irish fed hay to their animals.)