14. All As Green As Grass.

Wednesday night
(December 16, 1942)[1]

Dear Girls,

Well I really do feel like a Lieutenant at last–believe it or not, but I’ve been commanding my men (“my men”!) for three days now and what a bunch! Most of them are young kids, under twenty and some seventeen, and they are all as green as grass.[2] Just got out of boot camp, and not a one of them is even a PFC. I don’t have any sergeants or corporals, tho I should get 3 sarges and 4 corporals. If I don’t get any, which I probably won’t, I’ll have to make and train them. I got my weapons platoon and it is, understandably, known as one of the toughest jobs going–though it will be a long time before I can get around to giving them all the special training they need.[3] I’ve been giving them a lot of close order drill, checking equipment and issuing it, give my first lecture tomorrow. There is really a hell of a lot of work to this–I’m dog tired at the end of a day–it is really wearing to be on your toes every minute, as you must be with 40 men watching you all the time–making a hundred decisions a day.

But so far I am really enjoying it; much more than I have anything else in the Marine Corps. Because it requires so much, it just makes it that much more interesting.

Here it is all of nine o’clock and I am so sleepy I can hardly stay awake–guess I won’t fight it, but toddle off. And at last the stove is fixed and the hut is nice and warm.[4]

No pay yet, but the food is very good.


No letters yet of course.

Editor’s Notes:
George Smith, a sharp seventeen-year-old from Fishtown, Philadelphia, entered the Marine Corps with a quick sense of humor and a sense of his own invincibility. He was almost through Parris Island when his training was cut short; Recruit Platoon 832 was packed off en masse to New River. They were told they were lucky; they would be the nucleus of a new “special super-unit,” the like of which had never been seen. Smith and his buddies in Hut #10 were still learning the ups and downs of Marine life, but they knew how to turn out for a “field day”–a meticulous cleaning of quarters, gear, and person–especially when told that they would be inspected by their new “battle-hardened” officers the next morning.

Hut 10 - home of Able Company's Weapons platoon at New River, 1942. JJ Franey, George Smith, Howie Haff and Howard Kerr stand out front; Merle
Hut 10 – home of half of the Weapons platoon at New River, 1942. JJ Franey, George Smith, Howie Haff and Howard Kerr stand out front; Merle “Mother” Geesaman peers out through the door.
“That morning our 14 man hut sparkled,” recalled Smith. “At 0900 the bugler sounded inspection call, and shortly after we heard the inspection party approach.” A split second before the door opened, Hut #10 snapped to attention to welcome their new platoon leader.
“A fresh faced long drink of water in new officer greens and white gloves squares himself in the hatch, shoes barely inboard the threshold. He raises his arm over his head and passes his hand along the door sill, brings his hand down to eye level, stares, and then says loudly ‘DUST!’ Then he steps back and is gone, leaving half of us laughing hysterically and the other half dumbfounded.”
Thus did Weapons Platoon, Company A meet Second Lieutenant Philip Wood. “We all agreed we weren’t too sure about our LT being ‘battle hardened,’ commented Smith, but when they found their names on the weekend liberty list, “we were damn sure we had a good one. And was he ever!”
George Smith, David Spohn, Jeff Jowers, Kermit Shaw, and Tom Hurley outisde Hut 10, New River, 1942.
George Smith, David Spohn, Jeff Jowers, Kermit Shaw, and Tom Hurley outisde Hut 10, New River, 1942.
Phil shortly received a pair of badly-needed NCOs. Corporal John Yaniga, whose record book dated back to 1926, lent some much needed experience to the platoon, his tales of China service told with an accent that betrayed his Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. Corporal Kermit Shaw trailed Yaniga in service time, having enlisted three days after Pearl Harbor. However, his ability to “motivate” young Marines as a Parris Island drill instructor made him an effective leader. The teenagers under their command resented the discipline enforced by “Old Horse” Yaniga and “Redneck” Shaw, but given how much they (and their platoon leader) had to learn, they would have to grin and bear it for the time being.
[1] Three days after the previous letter.
[2] Compounding the difficulty was the fact that many of the enlisted men had their boot training cut short. Most of Phil’s platoon had only been in the service for about two months, and the basic knowledge they should have gained at Parris Island was incomplete–to say nothing of the more complicated jobs of gunners.
[3] The weapons platoon manned .30 caliber M1919 Browning machine guns, and 60mm M2 light mortars. The officer in charge had to be proficient with deploying, spotting, and controlling the fire of these complex weapons and their crews, which was no easy task. Phil’s job was made more difficult due to his lack of experienced NCOs.
[4] Oil-burning stoves heated the pasteboard huts; they were a fire hazard, but much appreciated in the bitter cold. Enlisted men occasionally had trouble getting enough oil to heat their huts; Phil would later turn a blind eye to his men “borrowing” oil from his stove.

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