Remembrances: Darrel Carnell: Reply to Ripley Questionairre

These are answers to a questionnaire submitted by Wm. T. Ripley who maintains a web page devoted to the preservation and reenactment of military history. The page demonstrates a sincere interest in preserving the past and is well worth looking at, despite its annoying popup ads.

Dear Mr. Ripley:

I shall attempt to answer your questions in the order in which they were posed. My memory, like my body, is suffering the ravages of age and since the things about which you inquire occurred more than fifty-five years ago some recollections are more vivid than others. For example, I cannot recall the exact date on which I was inducted nor the exact date on which I was discharged but I will try my best.

o Name, rank, unit, and drafted of enlisted.

Darrel Carnell, most of the time a Pfc but was a Technician 5th Grade on discharge. The unit with which I served during combat was Battery B, 340 Field Artillery Battalion (105 m.m. howitzers), 89th Infantry Division. I was drafted and never volunteered for anything.

o Date and place of basic training.

Spring, 1943, Camp Haahn (Riverside, California) and Camp Irwin (Mojave Desert near Needles, California).

o Please describe to the best of your recollection the rations you ate in the field.

Basic field rations were K rations, with occasional C rations. We rarely received B rations in the field and our cooks were so lousy that K rations were preferred to their concoctions. D rations (a high energy very hard chocolate bar) were seldom seen. "A" rations, of course, were those served in established forts and camps. Breakfast K rations consisted of a tin of scrambled eggs and ham, biscuits, instant coffee, sugar, a packet of 4 cigarettes, a can opener (the most cleverly engineered device to come out of WWII) and olive drab toilet paper. Lunch K rations consisted of a tin of cheese, biscuits, some hard candy, a packet of instant lemonade and a packet of 4 cigarettes. Supper K rations consisted of a tin of ham and veal loaf, biscuits, two or three individually wrapped hard candies, a packet of instant bouillon and another packet of cigarettes. Ours was not a smoke free society.

The items designated "biscuits" were not the variety that one thinks of as light and fluffy, coming hot from Mom's oven to be slathered with butter. Rather, they were more like bland crackers and not particularly crunchy. I suppose they got the "biscuit" designation from the earlier C rations, of which two tins comprised a single meal. One such tin was designated the biscuit tin, which contained three or four of those crackers, plus the instant coffee, cigarettes, sugar, hard candy, toilet paper and other miscellaneous items while the second tin was designated the meat tin, which contained either meat and vegetable stew, ham and beans, a meat hash and other unpalatable items whose identity I have long since forgotten. While K rations were specific with regard to both the labeling, packaging and contents of the breakfast, lunch and dinner items, C rations made no such distinction other than the labeling on the meat tin.

o If the opportunity arose, how were they prepared. Please be specific.

Because I was the Battery Commander's jeep driver and since we generally made a reconnaissance first thing in the morning I fastened my tin of scrambled eggs and bacon to the exhaust manifold of my jeep to warm up my breakfast. I cannot now remember how (or if) I heated water for my coffee. Lunch required no preparation other than dissolving the lemonade in a canteen cup. For supper I sprinkled the powdered bouillon over the ham and veal loaf; again no other preparation was required. At some point near war's end a rock hard cellophane wrapped disc of dehydrated milk and cereal began to appear in the Breakfast K rations. According to its label it was packaged by a tile manufacturing company and when placed in a canteen cup with hot water with a little sugar, tasted for all the world like the hot Ralston cereal I had enjoyed as a child. When I was fortunate enough to draw a breakfast K with that cereal I heated my water in a canteen cup on a small collapsible stove fired by a tablet about the size and shape of an Alka-Selzer tablet and similar to the Sterno stoves of not so long ago.

On the rather rare occasions when we had C rations the cooks heated water in a garbage can with an immersion heater and dumped in the cans (unopened, of course) to be warmed. During those occasions there was hot water available for the instant coffee. I can remember only one occasion in which I had access to a Coleman stove with which to heat a can of C rations (chicken and vegetable stew). The cylindrical Coleman stove was equipped with a cylindrical two piece storage container, half of which could be filled with water and placed on the stove for heating. Fill the storage container half way with water, add the unopened can of C rations and put the container on the stove to be heated. Pretty slick, but I got to use it only once.

o Did you "scrounge" for food? What type of items were sought?

Only two or three times during the course of combat did my unit have any edibles other than GI rations. Once we happened upon a hen house and a nearby hive of bees. The cooks used the eggs and milk from a browsing cow to prepare pancakes, over which we poured honey. On another occasion the asshole of the unit dispatched a calf with a sledge hammer between its eyes which the cooks used to prepare veal steaks. My buddy with whom I still visit two or three times a year got the calf's liver and cooked it himself in his mess kit. The same day the same asshole also slaughtered a couple of geese with which the cooks prepared a sort of goose a la king. Wine, especially around the Moselle and the Rhine Rivers, seemed to be in the cellars of every house. We had been cautioned that the Germans may have poisoned the water supply so we loaded up on cases of wine at every opportunity.

o Describe the uniform and equipment you wore in the field, weapon(s) carried.

Starting from the inside out, boxer style OD (olive drab) under shorts, OD undershirt, OD "long john" flannel underwear, OD socks (I guess they were wool, but might have been cotton), wool OD shirt and trousers, field jacket, OD wool knit cap (I can still hear the officers and noncoms bellowing, "The Wool Knit Cap will NOT be worn and an Outer Garment!), helmet liner w/ steel helmet, combat boots, overshoes if climate and conditions required. Those damn' overshoes were good for only two things: they kept the feet reasonably dry and they made you feel as though you were walking on clouds when you took them off! Kinda like the man hitting himself over the head with a hammer because it felt so good when he stopped! Somewhere along the line I picked up a rabbit fur vest from a German position we had overrun. The fur side was worn next to the body and it went a LONG way in overcoming the constant chill I had previously experienced. We had been issued overcoats (again wool and again OD) but I cannot remember wearing them in the field because they were too bulky. Of course, to all that add a web belt on which was attached two clips of carbine ammunition, a canteen with cup, a first aid pouch and a Marble's 5 inch (non-GI) knife.

In addition to my clothing, two extra items were always on my person: an extra pair of socks, one in each armpit and that breakfast ration toilet paper in my helmet liner. Socks were changed every day and storing the old ones in one's armpits dried them out. They were washed maybe once a month and they were filthy but they were DRY! I think that is the first thing I learned in combat and it should be the first thing learned by every foot soldier.

I guess I also carried photographs, letters and other stuff from home but I no longer have any specific recollection about them. I no doubt carried cigarettes, a pipe, tobacco, a lighter, pocket knife and other paraphernalia, as well.

I "carried" a .30 carbine. Well, I didn't exactly carry it because I stowed it in the canvas zippered rifle case on the dashboard of my jeep. I had picked up a German Mauser '98 the day we crossed the Moselle which was far superior to my issue carbine and kept it next to me on my jeep during the rest of the war. And I still have it!

o Describe a "typical" day in the field. Basically, what did you do?

My Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) number was 803, Bugler. The Field Artillery Table of Organization specified that the Bugler was also the Battery Commander's driver. During state side training I drove the captain in a 3/4 ton Dodge Command Car, a monstrosity if every there was one! It looked like a prototype of today's Monster Trucks and I don't think I ever saw one after we went overseas. Instead, jeeps took their place. So I was the captain's jeep driver. He, along with his radio operator and I, reconnoitered with the battalion commander and the other battery commanders just about every morning for new positions in which to locate our howitzers as we advanced. Advancements during the latter days of the war were rather rapid and sometimes we'd reconnoiter two or three times a day.

After new positions were selected we'd return to lead the battery from the old positions to the new ones. Which suddenly brought to mind the lingo "CSMO" meaning Close Station March Order.

In convoy the battery commander always led the parade so I was always the lead jeep. When I wasn't driving I was digging a slit trench in which to seek refuge from enemy artillery fire.

o Personal hygiene. o Did you trim your nails? How? o Did you cut your hair? How? o How/where/when did you wash yourself? Your clothing?

We were clean shaven at all times since a wound in a bearded face would be difficult to treat. I always managed to get some water in my helmet with which to perform my morning ablutions. I guess I used fingernail clippers with which to trim my nails and the only specific recollection I have of a haircut is that performed by Freddie Sabbatini at war's end. I think we had only one shower during the entire time we were in combat and I can remember only one disastrous time in which I laundered my clothing. Only once or twice had we slept under a roof and on one occasion I slept in what appeared to be a young girl's bedroom. I enjoyed the change from sleeping on the ground but upon awakening I found that I had been infested with body lice. I scratched and picked at lice for a day or two until Easter Sunday of 1945 when we were billeted in a house in Barstaadt, Germany which had a built-in laundry tub on the first floor. The tub had a fire box under it an it was obvious that the whole contraption was used to supply hot water for laundering. Well, I thought, I'll just use boiling water to get rid of those lice. So I stoked the fire, added more wood, stoked some more until the water was near boiling and then dumped in my shirt, pants, undershirt, shorts, long johns, socks and everything else that had come into contact with my body. That hot water killed the lice, all right, but it also reduced the size of my woolen clothing to that which would have been a tight fit on any of Snow White's Seven Dwarfs. My memory is pretty hazy on this point but I guess I managed to get a new issue of clothing from the Supply Sergeant although I cannot now imagine from whence he obtained it. On the matter of personal hygiene, there is one thing that bears mentioning: I am not circumcised and cleanliness under the foreskin of the penis is essential for a number of reasons. So every morning I sneaked off somewhere for a little privacy and managed to wash my penis. The rest of my body was no doubt filthy, but my penis was clean!

o When paid, was it US or foreign currency? How much per month?

We were paid in the currency of the country in which we were located. In the United States we were paid in dollars. In France and Germany and Austria we were paid in military script in denominations of the local governments, e.g., Francs, Marks and Schillings. All payment was in cash. I have no recollection of how much we were paid. I think at the time of my induction the basic pay of a private had only recently been increased from twenty-one to fifty dollars per month. Whatever it was, it was never enough!

o Did you repair uniforms, or just not bother with it? How often could divisional and rank insignia be found on uniforms?

I have no memory of repairing uniforms, but if a uniform was badly damaged I suppose we turned it in to the Supply Sergeant for a replacement item. I believe that divisional and rank insignia was always displayed, although I heard of some officers removing their insignia of rank in situations where sniper fire was anticipated.

o Attitudes on souvenir hunting bearing in mind you had to carry it? Did you hunt for souvenirs?

Everybody was on the lookout for souvenirs. The only deterrent was fear of booby traps. I picked up a Pistole '08 (Luger), a Mauser '98, a roll film camera, Wermacht helmet, bayonet for the Mauser, assorted ceremonial German daggers and other assorted knick knacks, including beautiful Zeiss poro prism opera glasses. My collection was quite limited; other guys had enough to outfit a flea market.

o If you were wounded, could you describe the circumstances?

I was lucky and escaped unscathed except for the body lice mentioned above.

o What types/brands of gum, candy and candy bars were popular in the 1940's?

I particularly remember Clark Bars, Fifth Avenues and Zagnuts, along with the old standard Hershey Bars, Heath Bars, Milky Ways, Three Musketeers.

o What types/brands of alcohol were popular in the 1940's?

By the time I had my first drink of hard liquor in Austria at war's end it was some home grown moonshine allegedly made from green potatoes. The only American beer I remember was that which I had in Corvallis, Oregon by the name of Lucky Lager. I'd give anything for a case of that now. I never drank more than a glass of beer at a time until we pulled back to France in the spring of 1945 where the beer was very weak and watery and never had any effect on me. But when we moved back to Austria in the fall of 1945 I found that German beer was worlds apart from the French beer in both taste and impact! It was pretty heady stuff and made its effects known in a hurry to inexperienced and unsuspecting kids like me. That German beer was GREAT!

o What entertainers were popular in the 1940's?

Bob Hope, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Betty Grable, Harry James, The Pied Pipers, Glenn Gray, Frances Langford, Jerry Colona, Der Bingle Crosby, Kaye Kayser, Vera Lynn and a skinny young kid named Frank Sinatra.

o What brands of cigarettes were popular in the 1940's?

Lucky Strike, Chesterfield, Camel, Twenty Grand, Phillip Morris and probably others I have forgotten. I don't think that Pall Mall or Marlboro had yet entered the scene, but maybe they had. For years before the war Lucky Strikes were packaged in green wrappers but early on in the war the packaging changed from green to white and billboards, newspapers and magazines were covered with ads announcing that "Lucky Strike Green Has Gone To War!" The rumor was that the green dye was needed for military camouflage paint but I suspect that the real purpose was just to eliminate the cost of the dye.

o What types of reading material was popular in the 1940's?

I think that Pocket Books had just entered the scene, perhaps because of the demand of the troops for cheap, disposable reading material. Forever Amber was a big hit at the time because it was one of the first novels to give guarded descriptions of sexual escapades. GWTW was just too long for a GI to read.

o Did you have any contact with the enemy, and what impressions did they give?

My contact with the enemy was with prisoners of war and in general I thought they were a decent lot much like myself. I extended acts of kindness to them and they reciprocated in kind. They were wearing German uniforms for the same reason I was wearing an American uniform - they had been drafted and had no choice I the matter. I was surprised to learn that their army was much like ours; each had its share of good officers and bad officers. The same was true for non commissioned officers. The same senseless regulations, hurry up and wait, the right way, the wrong way and the army way. All armies seemed to be the same Of course, I never had immediate contact wit the enemy where we were looking at each other through the sights of a rifle.

o What was your most prized/valued item in the field? Example: Ernie Pyle said his Zippo.

I guess my most valued item in the field was that rabbit fur vest I mentioned above. After that was my pipe, Zippo and wrist watch. And therein lies a tale: Zippos could not be found in state side post exchanges or civilian stores in 1944 because, as Zippo's advertising went, they were "all being shipped to our boys overseas." I really wanted a Zippo and when my unit received word that we were being shipped overseas I thought that I would finally have a chance to get my Zippo! Well, I got overseas and I still could not find a Zippo anywhere. So I wrote to the factory in Bradford, PA, told them of my long wait for one of their lighters, that I had finally made it overseas, was still without one of their lighters and would they please send me one. A few weeks later I got a brand new Zippo straight from the factory with their compliments! I lost that lighter years ago but have never forgotten Zippo's generosity in sending one of their lighters to a kid in Germany.

o How did you feel about the enemy? Hatred, just another soldier, etc.? See above.

o What were common service sayings? "Hey Mac!". "SNAFU", etc.

Profanity and vulgarity was not the exception in conversations between GI's; it was the norm. It was a rare sentence that did not include at least one of the words made famous in George Carlin's monologue. We often discussed the problem of reintegration into normal society where it would be difficult to ask someone to "please pass the peas" instead of the usual "gimme the goddamned fucking peas." We felt that we had to be on constant guard to avoid such lapses. Common sayings that should be recorded before they are forgotten:

GI - Government Issue. Used to designate both persons, property and concepts. Soldiers, themselves, were referred to in the collective as GI's. Also sometimes used to refer to diarrhea, as in the GI shits
OD - Olive Drab, the color of clothing as well as equipment SNAFU - Situation Normal, All Fucked Up
FUBAR - Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition
The Eagle Shits - Payday
Shit On A Shingle (sometimes abbreviated SOS) - Creamed chipped beef on toast
Choking the Chicken - Masturbation
Maggie's Drawers - Complete miss of the entire target on the rifle range
Kilroy Was Here - Written on every fence, wall, building and everything else from London to Berlin, generally with a sketch of a guy peeking over a fence.
Drizzling Shits - Diarrhea
Short Arm Inspection - Medical inspection of the penis for venereal disease, accompanied by the command, "Skin 'em back and milk 'em down!"
Shit, Fuck - All purpose adjectives appended to all sorts of things and activities, such as in "What the Fuck are you talking about?" The f___ word was the workhorse of our vocabulary. It was in nearly every sentence as either a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb or as a complete sentence! A truly all purpose word without which most conversation would have failed.

There are no doubt many, many more expressions which can be expanded upon by guys with better memories than mine.

o Nicknames for the enemy?

Germans were referred to as Krauts, Jerries, Heinies

o How/when/where did you sleep? How often?

We usually slept in a sleeping bag on the ground either in a trench or inside a 2-man pup tent. I carried half the items necessary to erect that 2-man tent and my buddy Paolicelli carried the other half. Before pitching the tent we each dug parallel slit trenches on each side of the site where the tent was to be erected. After the trenches were dug we erected the tent between the trenches so that if we came under fire during the night we could just roll into the trenches, Polly into his trench and me into mine. If we happened to be bivouacked in a wooded area we covered our trenches with logs and soil to protect against tree bursts of incoming artillery. If an incoming artillery shell hit a tree the shell would detonated high in the branches, showering everything below with shrapnel and in those cases we slept in the trenches and not in the tent. I guess that 90% of the time we slept in the pup tent, 5% to 10% of the time we slept in the slit trenches an only on rare occasions did we sleep under a roof and then it was always on the floor except that one time when I became infested with those body lice. Unless we had guard duty or some other nighttime mission, we generally slept from a couple of hours after sunset to sunup.

o Any unconventional uses for items?

An unconventional use that immediately comes to mind is the use of condoms, both a muzzle covers for rifles and as elastic bands to secure the bottom of trousers so they would blouse over the top of combat boots. And of course the use of the jeep's exhaust manifold to heat breakfast rations.

o Was there a need for discipline in the field?

None that I can recall. We were a pretty well disciplined group of men. o What do you miss the most?

The camaraderie of the guys with whom I served.

o If you saw combat, could you please describe a particular time in combat?

I guess the most terrifying experience I had was the day the Battery underwent heavy counter battery fire from a battery of German 88's. We were in a kind of an elongated bowl and I had just started digging my fox hole when the shelling started. Although the hole was only six inches deep it was the only shelter I had so I lay in it on my stomach and placed my helmet on my butt. The shelling was coming fast and heavy with each round sounding nearer my hole. The round on which I thought my name was engraved arrived with the sound of a freight train ripping through canvas accompanied by a heavy blow to the small of my back. I thought my spine had either been severed or laid bare and that I was dead. When the shelling finally stopped I cautiously reached back, expecting my hand to be swallowed by a gaping hole. But I felt no hole; all I felt was the fabric of my shirt. I reached with the other hand with the same (non) result. I then asked my buddy, the captain's radio operator, to check me out. Same results - a dirty shirt and no blood.

I had that day received a package of chocolate chip cookies from my mother and had placed them next to the hole I was digging when the shelling started. When the shelling ceased, the box of cookies had also ceased to exist, having been blown away by that incoming round of artillery. The shell hole was less than two feet from the hole in which I was laying. I was pretty well shaken the rest of the day and when the captain ordered me to drive the jeep to the crest of the ridge so that he could "draw some fire," I refused to do so and told him to draw his own goddamn fire.

o What was the funniest thing that happened to while in the military in general?

Shortly after war's end I was driving the lead jeep in a convoy when it sputtered to a stop. I had, as usual, screwed up and neglected to either check the gas tank (did those jeeps have gas gauges?) or to fill it with enough gas because while we were leading the battery on the highway I had to pull over to fill the tank. The Captain waved the rest of the vehicles by as I got the gas can from its carrier on the rear of the jeep. To fill the fifteen gallon gas tank located beneath the driver's seat it is necessary to fold the seat out of the way, unscrew the gas tank's cap, screw the flexible spout onto the gas can and then pour the gasoline into the tank. Van Loton was too impatient to fool around with the flexible spout so he used his hand to divert the flow of the gasoline from the can into the tank. I mean he just tipped that can up and let the gas gush into the tank, using his hand to keep most of it from sloshing onto the floor. Most of it got into the tank, but a goodly portion slopped onto the floor of the jeep and soaked everything stowed there, including some edibles that his fraülein had lovingly prepared for him. Well, my buddy Paolicelli the radio operator looked at me with that shit eating grin of his and I looked at Paolicelli with a grin of my own but we could scarcely laugh in the captain's face. So instead we told each other dumb jokes just to have an excuse to laugh. And laugh we did, for days afterwards.

The spilled gasoline was even funnier to Polly and me because Van Loton was notoriously ungenerous with his food parcels. When either Polly or I received goodies from home we shared it with the captain and with each other. There was never any question as to whether we would share it - it was a given that we would. Van Loton, on the other hand, kept his goodies to himself. While on Task Force Crater our column was stalled on a narrow road with a wooded rise to our left, a stream and woods to our right and miles of stalled vehicles in front of, and behind us. While we were sitting there somebody on the radio announced the presence of one or more Tiger tanks at map coordinates so-and-so. Van Loton always had his map open and because we weren't moving at the time I found the Tiger coordinates on the map and then discovered to my horror that we were not more than five or six hundred yards away. The distal end of my gastrointestinal tract started puckering up and I was wondering whether we'd get out of there alive. We couldn't advance, we couldn't retreat, we were hemmed in by trees on our left flank and by that stream on our right flank. We were trapped! Van Loton had just received a parcel from home in which there was a whole carton of Life Savers. He had never before shared anything with either me or Polly, but I guess the seriousness of the situation dictated that he be a nice guy for a change. He said, "Carnell, would you like a Lifesaver?" I, in my innocence, thought that he was going to give me a whole package of Lifesavers from his large carton and allowed as to how I sure would like a Lifesaver. So he took out a package of Lifesavers, opened it, thumbed one loose and offered it to me. He gave Polly one, too. And that's all he ever shared with us - one lousy Lifesaver. And that is why Polly and I thought it was so hilarious when his fraülein's goodies were saturated with gasoline. Served him right!

o Describe your trip overseas as compared with coming home.

My trip overseas on the SS Bienville was pure misery. Crowded, cramped, smelly, cold, hungry, frightened, apprehensive and just about everything else to make one's life as unbearable as possible. The first couple of days I was terribly seasick and when someone told me that sucking on a lemon was a sure fire way to overcome that malady I eagerly sought out some lemons. The cure didn't work and I could not stand the sight or smell of lemons for years afterwards. But somehow I overcame the seasickness and managed to survive the voyage although I swore I'd never come home unless and until a bridge was constructed from Europe to the USA.

The only thing different about the trip back was the absence of apprehension and anxiety. The seasickness on going over was but a small preview of that experienced on the return trip on the SS Meteor. It was a Victory ship and for some reason or other, I got the topmost bunk immediately next to the ship's hull on one side, the ship's galley at my head and the overhead six inches from my face. It was very cold and with the galley's exhaust fan blowing on that cold hull, condensate formed on the overhead and it rained on me during the entire voyage. I was violently seasick for the first couple of days, after which I crawled into my bunk, pulled my raincoat over my head and didn't get up to eat or to drink or to pee or anything else for about a week. I must have been pretty weak and out of it because the first thing of which I was aware was the first sergeant carrying me in his arms to the sick bay. I was hoping that the medics would just let me die, but instead they infused me with a glucose IV which miraculously brought me back to life. My recovery was both immediate and dramatic! I even had something to eat and was ready to be up and at 'em but the medics kept me in the sick bay until just before we docked in New York.

That was the last sea voyage I ever made.