Stories of War - Fifty Years Later
A Personal Glimpse
'Twas the eleventh of December - how well I do remember
by J. Stratton
The Eleventh of December 1942 that is; and I remember it as well as if it were yesterday. HMS the Dilwara of India sidled up to the dock at Khorramrshahr, Iran to disgorge, among others, the Niobrara County unit of the Wyoming National Guard, Captain Johnnie A. Thon, commanding. A number were initiated to their new land by hitting flat on their back as we slipped slid out to the railway tracks to load on a train to take us out to our new home.
We were loaded in a box car like cattle with barely standing room, loaded with field packs, helmet, rifle, etc. A veteran uncle of mine had showed me a little trick which was of great help. By standing a rifle slanted behind and the nuzzle under the pack and back up the pack would be raised and most weight removed from shoulders which I learned quickly to do at any stop. I scrounged enough room in the box car to do this and it proved a life saver.
The ride to the staging area wasn't that long but were among the first to arrive and were loaded at once to stand and wait for the others farther down the line.
The staging area was being built by the British but was yet incomplete. The big flat must have been perfectly level as water was two or three inches deep all over it, with no drain ditches yet dug. The tents were the British desert tents and far superior to ours.
They were erected in three parts. Above was somewhat of a fly with quilted lining and 18 inches to two feet beneath was the top also quilted with lining. The sides, stiffened with bamboo poles, came in rolls. These were not up yet so we hurriedly put them in place and started a ditch around the tent, not to carry the water away but to build a little dam all around so no more water could enter.
A hole in the corner and water and sloppy mud pushed into it so we could bail it out with our helmets and things looked a little brighter. I found a piece of corrugated tin to mark my spot and a dozen fire bricks to make little piers and get my belongings up out of the mud. Quite a bed it was.
Then I stepped out of the tent just at the wrong time. The regimental guard hadn't yet been posted and it was raining again. Captain John came down the tent row needing a guard and I got caught for it. He started me walking a post in our camping area and later appointed a corporal of guard and two more guards for relief. However, I assume I was the first expeditionary soldier to walk a guard post in Iran.
Nearby was a pile of battered straw the natives were using in the mud bricks when there was enough sun. The ingenuity of the American soldier showed, and some went out and filled their mattress covers. One would have thought it was getting terrible hot in those tents as they were soon shedding clothing and slapping at hundreds of fleas and body lice.
As fleas are noted for carrying typhus, our medics soon set up a boiler and with some hand fly sprayers they loaded with kerosene, set up some tarps for a wind break (that wind was pretty sharp coming right down from Russia) stripped us off and sprayed us all over with kerosene and headed us toward the showers.
If your name started with "A" you had hot water but by the time the "Ss" got there it was bitter cold. Of course they had steaming hot water for our wool ODs. Guess it killed the lice but they would only fit small boys when returned.
To get back to the start of the narrative; Captain Thon had already been off the ship so as we started to disembark he warned us, "Be careful boys, this mud is slicker than any of that gumbo you've ever encountered at Lance Creek."
He led off down the gang plank to our assembly spot and when he turned to face us with his back to a water hole his feet went above his head right in that water. What with all his packs and accoutrements, as he floundered to gain his feet it might remind one of a big goose in a small puddle trying for take off. Of course it was hilarious to the many soldiers lining the deck rails and I think his brother officers had a little difficulty suppressing their mirth when finally coming to his rescue.
"Forgive me John, that was such a part of that story that I just couldn't suppress it. I know you would have liked it forgotten the next day but Wilbur Allsup has immortalized it in rhyme for half a century. He was a little more courteous than me by changing it to a shavetail lieutenant, or maybe it wasn't courtesy, maybe he was protecting those staff sergeant stripes he was wearing under your direct command."
Here is that poem:
The Eleventh of December
It was on the eleventh of December
How well I do Remember
As I came down the gang-plank of the ship
When I hit old terra firma
I know it wasn't Burma
And under me, my feet began to slip.
The mud was slick and gooey
And I saw a Second Looey
Go sliding in a mud-hole as he cried,
"I've sailed many a mile
Just to stack up in a pile."
And his barracks bag fell down there by his side.
At last we got unloaded
And the Persian mud corroded
Every man jack of us from head to foot;
But we had to put our bedding
In a mud-hole, where we did stay put.
As it rained the mud got deeper
Till it reached up to the sleeper,
So we got up in the rain and dug a ditch
Around the tent that was our hovel,
But we couldn't find a shovel,
So we used our steel helmets - it was rich.
They didn't give us warning
Till we got up next morning
That the mess hall was a half mile away.
But we didn't worry
For we were in a hurry
To taste the food; we hadn't eaten in a day.
So we slipped and slid and stumbled,
I think every man there grumbled,
And many of us fell down there in the mud.
But at last we reached the chow line
and followed it till nine,
then the KP dished me out my grub.
I turned away rejoicing
Even though it looked like poison,
and if you really want to know I think it was.
But, alas, I cannot prove it,
For before I could remove it,
I slipped - my breakfast landing in the mud.
You can see we had privation
But we still had recreation
With the jig-jig girls down at the Yankee Bar.
and they say this Persian likker
will kill young in a flicker
It beats drinking water, yes, by far.
But we'll take things in our stride
And take The Axis for a ride
Then go back to the good old U.S.A.
But I know I will remember
The Eleventh of December
When I'm home, and Persia's far away.
With all due respect to those of the military who served in Desert Storm, I can't feature the media making such a fuss about they and their families reuniting after three to six months. We were there in those same house flies, sand flies, lice, fleas, scorpions and dust storms for two and a half years and we didn't need any head shrinker to become civilians. Just that one 8x10 sheet of paper.
That train ride was somewhat of a sequel to our start when, with our field equipment and wearing wool ODs, we marched out to the tracks in Fort Dix and sweltered away the morning awaiting a train that didn't come. As our canteens were dry at noon they sent us out a little water for lunch and mid afternoon our train arrived to take us to Staten Island ferry and load on a trooper on Halloween eve. Forty two days alone in sub infected waters and our arrival the eleventh of December.
Quite a few of that old unit have gone on to the final review and I can think of only five of that whole company that now reside in Niobrara County; Gus Johnson, Wilbur Allsup, Speck Black, Captain Thon and myself.
Images & Attachments
|Obituary||Allsup, Wilbur (08/14/1919 - 09/29/2015)||View Record|