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Ivan Merriman Lewis - The Army 1945         [To Print]


I was inducted in the U.S. Army because I made the decision to change jobs. I was working for Hugh Richey at the time and wanted to change to Albuquerque because of work paying higher wages than I was getting where I was. I was working on Jake Barth's ranches building stock tanks for 50 cents an hour. I could make 75 cents an hour on leveling land for farmers. So I quit my job and made the move to Albuquerque.
I was working for a contractor who was paying the wages. That's where I first met Bill ______ who became a good friend and later took a job with the Union at Phoenix. It was early in the year 1945, that I did this. (It turned out that Hugh could not get a replacement for me to work with him, and it made Jake Barth mad because he couldn't get his tanks all built, so he decided to have me inducted into the Army. I already had four children, but he did it anyhow).

So -- here came a letter in the mail from Eddie Schuster of the Board, giving me a call to be inducted. It was dated 5/5/45 to go into the Army 5/18/45. So I had till the 18th to move and get ready to go. So I quit and moved again, back to St.Johns. The 18th came and another fellow from St.Johns, Anastacio P.Chavez and I boarded the bus for Phoenix. (The first free bus ride I got). We arrived on time and sat at a bunch of desks filling out papers till around 10:00 when the guy in charge told us that whatever we did till 3 pm be back here to catch the next bus to Ft.McArthur, Calif.

So, I went over to Mesa to see my sister-in-law Josephine Farr and her children. After visiting there till about 2:00. I caught a bus back to Phoenix. We hardly got out of town when it broke down. So I caught the next bus as it came by, and it got just into Phoenix, and it broke down. So there came a mechanics truck looking for the first bus that broke down. He stopped and I got off and told him of the predicament I would be in if I didn't catch the bus to Ft.McArthur and would he take me to the bus first, and then he could go on to find the first bus. (It was only about ten blocks away, so he did it). The bus was waiting, so I was sworn in and then got on, and then off we went. There were three buses broke down in a row.

Now I am sure that if I had stayed on the first bus, I would have been all right. If I had stayed on the second I would have been all right, at least I would have an excuse as far as being AWOL is concerned. But, no, I would have to push it to the end. This was an Saturday night, and you will see that I didn't need to push it, because that Monday morning the word came down that anyone over 30 was not needed and would be sent home. I argued with the General and he said I was needed and that was that.

Anastacio P. Chavez was right behind me as clothing was issued. The thought occurred to me that his number was one more than mine. I saw him in the Post Office a couple of years later and walked up to him and said, "Well, if it isn't Anastacio P. Chavez, serial no 39869655, how are you?" He said, "How did you know my serial number, how did you know my serial number?" I just laughed and said, "Oh, I remember things like that." I never told him how I remembered that.

We shipped out the next day for Camp Wolters, Texas. It took us more than one day to get there. I remember someone coming up with an accordion like mine. He couldn't play it, and I could. We had a lot of fun with it one night. We finally made it to Camp Wolters and got out there. We were disembarked there into long barracks each holding 4 platoons. I was in the 4th platoon, upstairs. Each bed had a foot locker, where we kept our private stuff, and a cot where we slept, a window that we kept open at night. Our beds ware made up by us so tight that you could bounce a quarter on it. It was kept clean by sweeping each day and by water each week. The showers and the latrines were kept downstairs. They were to be kept clean enough that you could eat off them. (Although nobody ever tried it.)

We "fell out" every morning and had rifle inspection. Lining up for inspection. Each with his rifle at his side at parade rest. There were procedures to go through to get it up to inspection, where the rifle could be picked up by the officer without any trouble at all. In short we learned to be soldiers.

We were out on assignment one day, hitting targets with mortars. I was in charge of a company throwing mortar's at a target out in the field. (Dummies, of course.) The officer in charge was supposed to give each one a card to keep score on. This was our last problem and he said just throw them out and tell how close you can come. I was telling my men "right a little, left a little, there, there." I was up on top of a wash. My crew was down in the wash. I heard a voice being cleared behind me. I looked up and saw a General and a couple of officers with him. I was trained to stand at attention in such a circumstance, but I stayed down, and answered his questions.

"Where is your score card, soldier?"

I said, after frantically looking all over for it, "I don't know, Sir, it must have blown away."

"You are supposed to keep track of it, you know."

"Yes, Sir, I know." The fellows were frantically trying to cover the bases from there. The Lieutenant was trying to cover the bases from inside the wash. Anyway, I held them there as long as I could. When it was all over and we met back at the seating the Lieutenant said "Thanks for helping me out."

I had only been there 10 days when I got a telegram that Dwyn, my daughter, was ill in the hospital at Phoenix. The man who told me was conducting the exercise, he said it would be all right if I took ten days off and went to see her and took care of things. So I did. I took the train to Phoenix and back. I went to the hospital to see her. She was all over hives from head to toe. I felt sorry for her and her mother. I stayed there a few days and went back.

When I got back I had to start over again because I would be too far behind the bunch I started with. So I was assigned to a new barracks and started over. I was upstairs again. I had to wait a few days for them to start over. The company was not fully formed at that time.

There was the "Obstacle Course" which I had never thought of that needed repair. We went out with this soldier each morning to work upon it. This particular morning I went to the tool shack with him to get something to work with. There were about 7 or 8 of us besides the boss who led us. We had opened up the door and were talking about repairing the "Obstacle Course" and he picked up a hand grenade that was lying on his bench. As he picked it up he said " How many of you have seen a device like this to kill people with?" Everyone shook their heads, no. So he was explaining that if you are called upon to throw one you better be sure that you are throwing it in the right direction, for the right people you want to kill, or mess up.

While he was explaining this he was tinkering with it, explaining how you are to hold it and what to do with it, pulling the pin and holding down the trigger with one hand and putting the pin in the other. If at the last minute you decide not to throw it then you put the trigger back into the grenade, like this and he fumbled it and dropped the trigger, and said you have about 6 seconds to throw it or put the pin back in. Anyway, he did not run away from it. He just stood there and watched the guys scatter as they ran away. He still stood there holding the grenade, and I stood there and watched him.

He said, "How come you didn't run away?"

I said, "You knew where you were going to throw it and I was waiting to see where you were going to throw it. Maybe outside while you stayed inside at the last moment and I wanted to be where you were."

It was a dummy grenade; he stooped down and picked up the trigger and put it back into the grenade. "Well," he said, "you were the first guy that didn't run from it, you're the first guy that did the right thing."

Well, we went about repairing the damage done to the "Obstacle Course." (I have forgotten what the Obstacle Course consisted of. I remember that it was a course that tested what you had learned during training.) It was a high wall, 8 ft. tall that you had to go over. It was a rope that you grabbed and swung over a pond of water. And some increasingly high poles that you had to walk on top of, etc.

Let me apprise you that the U.S. did not keep a large army until after Germany's victory over France. Until then, most Americans believed that their land was in no danger. In War Time, all countries have armies that are raised by drafting all able-bodied men. Here's what my CERTIFICATE says: Infantry replacement training center, Camp Wolters, Texas. Pvt. Ivan M. Lewis 39869654, Company "B" 64th Infantry Training Battalion, 11th Infantry Training Regiment. Has successfully completed the prescribed course of training 2 July 1945 to 27 October 1945. Specially qualified for: Rifleman (745) Signed by Harry L. Twaddle, Major General, U.S. Army, Commanding. So There.

The Infantry is the largest arm in the USA ground forces. Infantrymen do a great part of the actual fighting in all wars. Infantrymen travel not only by foot, but also by truck, automobile, and by railroad. The weapons used by infantrymen are M-1 rifles, carbines, automatic pistols, antitank guns, rocket launchers, mortars and recoilless rifles. On "Bivouac" we marched with full pack and rifle weighing about 90 lbs. We were marching along toward the area to be treated so that we most nearly approximated battle conditions. We were employed in setting up camp in a cleared area that had a latrine set up. (There was no top set up, just the bare seats.)

There was a setup whereby two of us had a half tent, hooked together they made a pup tent. The platoonguide and I had such an arrangement. He had put a sheet into his pack. Well, we went to bed with this sheet over us as well as the top blanket. In the early morning hours he got up to go to the bathroom, 'Latrine,' and he took the sheet wrapped around him and went. Just as he was coming back A. Jimenez had to go. He saw this white sheet drifting along, and let out a yell that woke up the Sergeant down the line and here came the Sergeant and here came the Jimenez man, his feet hitting the dirt, and a yell every step.

Well, Sergeant Wodjtuowicz tackled him just outside the tent "Door," he held on while the Mexican was trying to get away. The poor fellow swore he saw a "Spook" in white drifting along. Well, the Sergeant held him captive while he told his story. Meanwhile the platoon guide had got back in bed his sheet not showing, while he and I were holding our sides laughing. Meanwhile, we never told the sergeant or anyone about the sheet. The poor guy still thinks he saw a "Spook."

We had a guy named Joines who gave me a lot of trouble as platoon leader. The first time we were due for a 'leave,' he didn't have his bunk made up according to regulations. I told him that he had to make up his bed correctly or we couldn't go on leave. He just looked at me and said "blaaaaa" to me and I didn't take it too well. I stood him on his head and that didn't do any good either. So me and another guy made his bed so it would pass inspection.

Another time was while we were in Maneuvers, we had a half day to shave and make ourselves clean enough to pass inspection for the clean up. He would not shave, so I reported him to the Sergeant. He said send him up to the tent and he would take care of it. So I told him to report to the Sergeant up to their tent. (The Lieutenant and Sergeant had a big tent, about 10x10 ft. The Sergeant was a barber in normal life.) He went up to the tent. Pretty soon I saw the tent pole move a little and then hold very still. Pretty soon here came Joines clean shaven, and mad as a wet hen, maybe worse. Because he had a clean shave and the orders to clean up. ( But he swore he would kill the Sergeant.) So I issued blanks to him, so he wouldn't have the excuse.

The final test came when the Mock Battle was going on, the field was quite long, possibly 500 yards long or longer. They had it set up with dynamite charges every so often, so it seemed like a battle field. I watched several guys go almost through to the other end, give up and rest awhile then start all over again. Well, I made up my mind not to fall out. We had full pack, 90 lbs of it, and our rifle, to carry. We would take five steps, hit the dirt, roll over then fire at something, then repeat to the other end. Well, I got through it. To the other end. Boy, was I bushed.

There was some discussion as to how one gets out of something one has gotten into, like the Army. We weren't doing anything except putting in our time. We had been transferred there, and were down in Texas, Camp Swift. We had already been in Camp Hood, Texas. While there we had been faced with the same problem, what to do. We had found that they were in need of someone (or two) to work in the Post Office. Well, we two were the ones to do it. There was quite a backlog of letters for soldiers who had moved on to other places and it took us quite a while to forward these letters to where they were. While we were in Camp Swift we had nothing to do. Now this was something else after all the activity we had seen to date.

Also we were faced with paying our way out of the Army. We balked at that and found ourselves coming up against a way to get out otherwise. We found out over time there was no other way except pay the discharge fee of $3.00. So we reluctantly did it and we found ourselves with a discharge. And enough money to pay our way home. (I was about to write Levi S. Udall to see what he could do, but that would have taken extra time --) Anyway, it was Dec. 5th and snowy and we took off. I remember seeing a lot of snow as we proceeded up through Texas and into New Mexico. We stopped twice before we got home. Once somewhere in Texas, and once in Albuquerque, NM. The second stop was in Albuquerque. There were more of us than there were rooms to put us in. I remember I slept in the lobby of the motel where we stayed. I remember that it was so cold the rails were splitting on the railroad. It got down to 57o below 0.

The next day we made it on to St.Johns and home. Boy, does it ever feel good to get home. I greeted my wife and kids like I meant it. (Which I did.)

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