Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Good Morning, America, how are you?

The song is a generational thing for me. From a personal family series called "Letters Home" that I put on the internet some time ago:

The time finally came when my dad finished basic training at Fort Campbell. Still a teenager, he went off to Europe as part of the 141st Tank Battalion in the US 3rd Army to help oppose Russian troops that had deployed along the Iron Curtain. 

Back then, interstate troop transport meant trains because there was still plenty of WW II troop transport rolling stock. He left Fort Campbell headed for New Orleans to embark on a troop transport ship to Europe--he and about 4,000 others:
July 22nd, 1952
Fort Campbell, KY

Dear Mom, Dad and all,

By the time you get this letter I will be on my way.  We are leaving thur. noon for New Orleans and will get there about 10:00 Fri. morning (by Pullman). [1]
Friday afternoon at 4:30 we are leaving New Orleans for Paris. [2] From France we are going to Bremershaven Germany. From there someplace in Germany. We will be on the boat 18 days. 2 Bn. of Air Force are getting off in Paris. [3]

I got the $10.00 Sunday morning. You can take it out of my next check.
I suppose Jr. is out of the Army now.[4]
I got and sent back that form from the Motor Vehicle Dept., so the licence should be coming. [5] You can put them in my box because I won’t need them.
I can write on the ship if I ain’t too sick. I don’t think it will affect me any. I guess this is all for now.


[1]  At the time, troops traveled by special Pullman cars on overnight trains. Given Appalachian geography, it's likely that he first headed west to Memphis and then linked up with or transferred to a train heading south along the Mississippi flood plain to New Orleans.

I am reminded of the Steve Goodman song The City Of New Orleans (made famous by Arlo Guthrie):
Night time on The City of New Orleans,
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee.
Half way home, we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness
Rolling down to the sea.
[2] Apparently he didn't realize that Paris wasn't a seaport. :)

[3] One battalion is approximately a thousand men. Unlike the Army, the US Air Force was based in France during that stage of the Cold War. A NATO directive stipulated that all air bases be located west of the Rhine, out of the zone of occupation, for strategic reasons (link).  American air power also had a long historical connection with France dating from the First World War. Lafayette Escadrille was a squadron of American volunteers during WW I. Race car driver-turned flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker flew French-made airplanes like Niewports Nieuports and SPAD VIIIs (pictured below).

[4] Refers to his older brother, then fighting in Korea. My uncle was not out yet and in fact wrote to my father later. I have his letter as well and published it in the series.

[5] He lost his billfold as described back here


Sixty Grit said...

Typo alert - that should be Nieuport. My older brother was a model airplane fanatic and I learned that word back in the 1950s.

And don't get me started on the other Fokkers, some of which were Messerschmitts.

BleachBit-and-Hammers said...

Wonderful that you have all those letters.

chickelit said...

Thanks, Sixty

AllenS said...

I was drafted into the Army in June of 1966, and had to report at the Minneapolis train depot. Our first stop was St Paul about 10 miles away, where more of us young men loaded onto the train, then onto St Louis MO where we got on buses for the trip to Ft Leonard Wood MO.

I went to Viet Nam with my unit (3rd Battalion 503rd Infantry, 173d Airborne Brigade) on the USS Weigel (sp?) a troop carrier ship. We left Oakland CA and the trip took 17 days to Viet Nam. I know that because I still have my meal ticket with 51 punch holes in it. I never missed a meal or a battle.

Great story, chick.

AllenS said...

Here it is.

virgil xenophon said...

The ICRR ran right hometown where it stopped in Mattoon, Ill. It was 15 min from my doorstep in Charleston to the depot. I spent my first two yrs at LSU w.o. a car (common in those days) so took the City of New Orleans going and coming for two years, Thanksgiving and Christmas inclu. Due to scheduling I took the luxury over-nite sleeper Panama Limited once and the milk run-stop-at-every-wide-spot on the track La Louisianne twice (18-hrs-they threw a 2-piece fried-chicken box-lunch aboard at Canton, Miss, headed north, you ordered it when you got on at Hammond, Louisiana, late morning, lol)

(My Aunt Elsie said she'd buy me a new car if I got straight "As" the first two yrs, I did and got a brand new full race 1964 Dodge Barracuda-metallic golden bronze w. matching interior--that huge classic Hurst Shifter, racing suspension--the works. I chose the 'Cuda over the equally new Mustang because the hatch-back design allowed me to haul a ton of stuff down to school that would have never fit in a Mustang. Goodby ICRR :) )

*FWIW Hammond calls itself "Strawberry Capitol of The World" and the Southeastern Louisiana Univ. football Lions play their games in "Strawberry Stadium"

PS: I prefer John Denvers version of the song. YMMV..

virgil xenophon said...

***",,,ran right past my..." YIKES!

virgil xenophon said...

PPS: And I'm not even a big fan of John Denver. Country Roads is about the only other thing of his I like.

rhhardin said...

I used to hear the whatever the night version of the Phoebe Snow is go by, the diesel sound travelling many miles at night.

There's a poloroid of the Phoebe Snow from probably the early 50s, here.

Sixty Grit said...

The IC ran right through the sleeply, dusty little Delta town I used to live in. I always appreciated that song. I like Arlo's version and the late Steve Goodman's, too. Saw Arlo perform it, and other songs, back in late 2001 or early 2002, whenever it was he was in town. He was still willing to admit to being an American back then, although I imagine that has changed by now.

His daughter, who was in his band, seemed to be somewhat musically talented, his son-in-law was a leech, a guy who was willing to take advantage of someone else's talent and fortune, an opportunist, a talent-free grifter, a hack punching above his weight class. But he was certainly full of himself and covered his inadequacies with bombast and a big mouth. We all know people like that.

deborah said...

What a great post, chick. The Lafayette Escadrille is fascinating. It's cool you have your dad's letters.

It's a moving song with great lyrics. The verse you highlighted always stuck out for me, and probably most people.

deborah said...

Allen, isn't it cool we can look up stuff like that?

AllenS said...

deb, I tried to find a picture of us on the dock in Qui Nhon VN with the boat in the background, but couldn't find one. I have the picture, but it's a book.

Dad Bones said...

Arlo's version is the first one I heard so many years ago. That's a poignant story, chickelit, and describes an American tradition - as does AllenS's story - of youthful G.I.'s traveling to a war zone.

deborah said...

Cool, Allen. I'd like to see that :)

chickelit said...

@AllenS: It's amazing how you parallel my own father's experience - draftee and all - though displaced in time by 15 years or so.

My dad never saw combat, but his older brother did: He wrote to my father (they're both dead now, so why not remember/celebrate them): link