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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Tales from the old-timer

Basic Training August 1943

On May 4, 1943 after school at Peshtigo High I went down to see Bud Eklund and signed up for the draft, as it was my 18th birthday. Bud ran a local insurance agency and was also a prominent member of the American Legion, as well as functioning with Selective Service. There was a big war going on against Germany and Japan, and the government had closed all enlistments, as bodies were needed for less glamorous branches of the armed forces. It was considered more heroic to enlist, but this was no longer possible, so I volunteered for the draft, the next best choice.

I was signed up by July 14 and was actually called up for Aug. 5. A classmate who had the same birthdate as I did, was not called for the draft until December of that year. On July 14 I rode the “400” down to Camp Grant, Ill. for actual induction in the Army. From there I was sent by train to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, a Field Artillery Replacement Training Center where I was enrolled in a 17 weeks basic training to be a field artilleryman replacement.

Every Saturday we had a stern and complete barracks inspection, carried out by our officers and the Barracks Sergeant.

I had gone to the Post Exchange and bought a package of cookies, which I had placed, nicely centered and unopened, in my foot locker.

“Take his name - cookies in his foot locker,“ barked the lieutenant as he stopped by my bunk, where I was standing at attention.

I had to report to the Battery Commander for being “gigged” at inspection.

“Private Thibodeau reporting as ordered Sir,” I introduced myself.

“Thibodeau I thought that being from Wisconsin you would make a good soldier. Do you know why we allow no cookies in the foot lockers?” he barked.

“Yes, Sir. Cockroaches, Sir,” I responded.

I had no carbine, as they were short of them in Battery B, but I watched the other men as they cleaned and polished the little rifles non-stop as the days went by. Finally I was issued one, and just before inspection I ran an oily patch down the barrel. That was a no-no, and the Lieutenant at the next inspection barked out “Dirty rifle, take his name!”, and there I was, gigged again.

I had become a ____Up, (term not suitable in a family newspaper) and was gigged a third time for a dirty mess kit. I had to do KP the whole weekend for punishment.

We went out on a field exercise about the 16th week, and our Battery Commander was running a sort of quiz show. “How many horizontal crosshairs does the gunner on a 105 mm howitzer have in his sight?’’ he barked.

“Three,” said one man. “ Four” said another. “Five” said a third.

All were wrong. Finally I raised my hand and said, “None, Sir.”

“Why not?” demanded the Captain rather challenging me.

“Because he is not concerned with elevation of the gun, only with deflection, Sir,” said I. And I was right for once. Deflection means traversing left or right.

More than three years later I was sent to Fort Bragg to be discharged. The old first sergeant, Travis Barker, was still there, and recognized me after all that time.

“Thibodeau, you were the only man who had things right at the field exercise that time,’’ he smiled.

I had been sent overseas as a Field Artillery Replacement, landing in England for about 3 months before the Normandy Invasion. I was lucky I was not an Infantry Replacement. A new Replacement in an Infantry Company was usually assigned to be a Scout.

Might have been real proud when they wrote back home to the folks. It sounds like a promotion, until reality hits. According to a War Department Circular I read once at Camp Campbell, Kentucky an Infantry Scout’s duty was: “Walk boldly and aggressively forward until fired upon.” You can imagine how long a new Scout would last until he was killed or wounded. He was very lucky if he lasted for a week over there in Normandy.


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