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Texas : Feature : Columns : "They shoe horses, don't they?"

WORLD WAR II MUSINGS

by Robert G. Cowser
By 1942, almost all of the young men in the United States were in uniform. Most of these men were in hastily expanded training camps, three of which were located near Saltillo, the town nearest our farm. Camp Maxey, near Paris, was no more than forty miles from us; Camp Cook at Gainesville and Camp Fannin near Tyler were somewhat farther. When I moved to Tennessee in 1970, I learned that one of my neighbors had been stationed at Camp Maxey during World War II. He told me that his duty was to guard German prisoners of war at Camp Maxey. Hardly any of the people living a few miles from the Camp knew these prisoners were there.

Both my brothers-in-law were trained at Camp Claiborne near Alexandria, Louisiana, about 250 miles away. My sisters found living accommodations in Alexandria and worked temporarily as saleswomen. At the Post Exchange, one brother-in-law bought t-shirts with the statement “My brother is in the Army” on each and gave the shirts to my younger brother and me. Influenced by technicalities, I found myself explaining to those who commented on the shirts, “Well, actually it’s my brother-in-law—not my brother-- who is in the Army.” One brother-in-law was discharged in late 1942 because of a knee injury incurred while he was training in the officers’ training corps. The other entered the service in November, 1943, and served with an engineers’ battalion in France and Germany. He helped lay the temporary pipelines under the English Channel and in France so that fuel could be transported to the front lines.

Although my father was past fifty when Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was required to register with Selective Service. I went with him to the Chautauqua School, a frame structure located about two miles from our farm house. When it was built in 1920, it was a model for other communities planning a new school. It had four classrooms, a large cloak room and a recessed front porch that served as a stage when the weather permitted. A year before my father went to register, Chautauqua School had been consolidated with the Saltillo School. Classes no longer met there, but there were still piles of textbooks in one of the rooms. Desks had been shoved into the corner of the largest room.

I stayed quietly in the background while my father gave a local woman the information the government needed: date of birth, marital status, number of dependents, occupation, etc. A few months later I returned to the same building with my father in order for him to apply for rationing stamps. Gasoline, tires, and sugar, among other items, were rationed.

We listened hopefully for news of progress of the Allied Forces from Gabriel Heatter and Walter Winchell and other sources. Though the battles took place on other continents, the War loomed near us.

© Robert G. Cowser
"They shoe horses, don't they?"
Guest Column, May 7, 2010
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Robert G. Cowser
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