32: Exactitude In All Things Military.

Camp Pendleton, California
September 27, 1943

Dear girls,

This has really been shameful of me–not even to have written you a note, just to tell you that I got back safely and on time.[1] Which I did–the trip was relatively uneventful, except that I met a cute little girl who helped pass the time. Of course, compared with the plane the time seemed to pass very slowly–and somehow the scenery wasn’t anywhere near so exciting as the Southwestern route.[2] I actually don’t remember very much about it–being engrossed in “How Green Was My Valley” most of the time–you were right, Gretch, for all of our kidding about it; it is a fine, sensitively written book, with an unusually simple, masculine flavor.

A lot has been happening here–an uncanny amount of work is being required of us platoon leaders by a stepped-up training schedule, and by a new high of exactitude in things military. Difficult to describe this last to a civilian, but the result is the multiplication of the minutia of the duty–and a doubling of the hours. Actually, for the last ten days, though we haven’t been out in the field but a few days, I’ve been at it from six thirty in the morning till ten every night. My mortars fired the range Thursday, and acquitted themselves with credit–especially so when the brass showed up. Lt. Col. Dyess, the Bn. CO, Col. Hart, CO (Commanding Officer) of the 24th Marines, and Major General Schmidt, CO of the 4th Division, which is composed of the 14th, 23rd, 24th & 25th Regiments.[3]

They stayed for about an hour, and I had to explain every little detail of the mortar techniques we were using. The General is quite a boy–there are only two men in the Corps who outrank him–Holcomb the Commandant, and Vandergrift of Guadalcanal. He wasn’t exactly chatty–he asked one question, and cleared his throat twice. Colonel Hart, though, I like very much. He reminds me very much of Daddy in his looks, though a somewhat older and slighter man, very distinguished looking with an aura of command and leadership about him. Lt. Col. Dyess is also a good man, and the spitting image of Charlie Gleaves–looks, size, red hair, personality and trace of a Southern accent. The men call him “Big Red,” both respect and fear him. He rules with an iron hand, though he is human in individual cases.

Yesterday, the 24th formally came of age–at a Regimental parade, which is a very involved and precise sort of a military square dance, the regiment was presented with its colors. It really was a tremendously impressive ceremony, which I wish that both of you could have seen–everything was out there, all our artillery, vehicles, all our weapons, men in greens, plus full field equipment, helmets, leggings, packs etc.–4000 men passing in review, the 24th Band, an excellent 25 piece band, playing the 24th Marines’ March, a 21-gun salute from the 75mm howitzers, quite the most impressive thing of its kind that I have yet seen. All the visiting potentates were very enthusiastic too–pronounced it one of the finest parades they’d ever seen, with not a man out of line or step–no mistakes, etcetera.

And then after the party the Regiment threw and caught a great big reception; everybody who was of any importance in Marine circles here on the coast, and a lot of naval and British personnel were there. The champagne punch, composed of champagne fortified with gin and brandy. At all these military parties and receptions it is quite au fait; in fact, the accepted thing to get thoroughly stinko, and of course your son and brother was no backslider. To such an extent that I tottered into bed at 2:30 PM, not even waking until seven this morning. Military parties are really very interesting, for the first half-dozen; quite uninhibited, a very heavy emphasis on liquor and other men’s wives, primitive in spirit, with no complexities requiring witty conversation of intelligent exchange of ideas, and in peacetime they say that the atmosphere is even more definitely pronounced. I can see some excuse for it, and enjoy it from time to time, but with it the goal instead of the relief, I should imagine that it would get very boring.

Starting Wednesday, we go out in the field for two weeks, moving all the time, never sleeping two nights in the same place; we will cover about 175 miles in the time, do a good bit of firing; I will be an umpire for Battalion problems for several days. Then on to maneuvers on a larger scale, and actually things do seem to be underway for us to move in the next couple of months. Of course, I’ve been saying that for quite some time now, but I really think we are getting close to it now. I only wish, however, that we had gotten a hold of these new men three or four months ago; they need a lot of work; not only on knowledge, but on the even more important business of discipline and attitude. Getting these new men in has made me realize just how good a working team we had built up with the old men. It does take time, and we will have to take that time either here or out of the States, for we have about half the outfit which is still somewhat of an unknown quantity.[4]

It seems almost months already since I saw you; it really was a wonderful break, though you did give us a bit of a scare, Gretch. I don’t like to think of those four days before I got there–good to hear that you have gained back a little of all that weight you lost, for a while there, you know, you were almost transparent.

Amazingly enough I’m sleepy again; I’ve had a heavy cold which I can’t seem to shake, so haven’t been feeling too sharp all week, and on top of it yesterday noon…




[1] Phil was on furlough from 1-15 September and evidently went back to New York; this might have been an emergency leave on account of Gretchen’s recent illness.
[2] Referring to his trip West with the battalion in March.
[3] Aquilla J. Dyess, Franklin A. Hart, and Harry Schmidt. This was quite an audience for the mortar section.
[4] It was–and to some degree still is–common for East Coast natives to deride the “Hollywood Marines” who went through their initial training in San Diego. Graduates of Parris Island were particularly harsh. However, there was no difference in the grueling nature of training at the recruit depots, and the “Hollywood Marines” were every bit the equal of the East Coast men.

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