Tennessee Maneuvers of 1943

Contributed by Durham Caldwell

Excerpts from letters home written by Pfc. Mitchell J. Dabrowski of
Wilbraham, Mass.:

Co. I, 329th Inf.
Camp Atterbury, Ind.
June 13, 1943
I guess I will never get a chance to ever come close to doing any actual fighting this year anyway. We are getting set to move out of here for maneuvers the 19th for Tenn. to some Camp Forrest. After maneuvers we go to some other camp . . . I hope it's Camp Edwards. I bet the girls here hate to see the 83rd move out.

June 17, 1943
I know it will be a tough grind on maneuvers but I'll make it okay. Please write pretty often because it will be pretty dead up there in that hillbilly country. I bet they have a lot of moonshiners there.
Somewhere in Tennessee
July 4th, 1943
I expect to be in Tennessee till some time in September. These maneuvers are pretty tough. In fact it's about the toughest thing I ever had in the Army. Yesterday we were camping in some woods and got an idea to go to one of the farm houses and ask them if they could fry us some chickens. The lady said she would. We told her to fry six. We came back at night and had the swellest feed I've had in a long time. Fried chicken, hot biscuits, milk, and raspberry pie. The whole works cost us $8.00 but it was sure worth it. If we ever come back, we are going to have her roast us some ducks. The way they live in the shacks around here is a crime. They are nothing but rough boards with clay pasted between the boards. I wouldn't live here for anything. But the people here seem to be very accommodating.

July 17, 1943
I am buying a war bond a month from my pay for my future dreams which I hope will come true after this damn war is over.

July 30, 1943
Please do not think that I'm going cheap by writing on U.S.O. stationery. My other stuff got soaked in a recent rainstorm. Right now we are camping in a little town called Leesville. Only God knows where that is. It's somewhere between Nashville and Gallatin. You know I'm beginning to like Tennessee and I'm sort of wondering why.
I bet you wonder how I spend my spare time . . . I wash my clothes, sew all my holes and buttons on and clean my mess equipment. Just like an old woman. The good part about these maneuvers is that they last 4 days and you rest up a little after that

New Middleton
Breakfast: 1 14-oz. can of beans + meat; 1 can containing 5 biscuits, sugar, coffee powder, and candy. Dinner: 1 14-oz. can of meat and vegetable stew; 1 can same as breakfast only different drink. Supper: 1 14-oz. can of vegetable hash and can of biscuit and confectionaries, drink. I'm sick of eating these rations . . . Last week we had a lady fix us up a short snack of milk, fried eggs, cake, and tomatoes. We sort of got separated from the rest of the company and decided to take in a feed at the next farm house . . . We sort of stole up to it and attacked it from the rear. If anyone gets caught getting food from any other source rather than what the Army gives you during these problems we have, can be punished and fined by court martial. They say that, but it seems like even the looies do it here.

Somewhere in Tennessee
Aug. 19, 1943
It's the same old stuff around here rumors and more rumors. Now we are going to Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky. Looks like they want to make a hill billy out of me the way they keep shoving me from one hill to another hill. That's about all these states around here are, hills + more hills.
I'm still counting the days and they seem to be rolling much faster now that this is coming to an end. Boy, it sure will be good to sleep in a bed again. Then, too, I don't know. Maybe I'll have to put rocks in the mattress to make me feel at home, I'm so used to sleeping on the ground. We got a day off here today to celebrate the 1st year of 83rd Division's organization. I would like you to see what a sight it is to see tents lined up by the thousands out here. Just like a gypsie camp.

Last Letter on Tennessee Maneuvers
3 miles from Shelbyville
Aug. 26 - 43
There are so many rumors around here that I just don't know what to write about. After this letter reaches you, I will no longer be in Tennessee . . . I may go to Camp Breckinridge and then I may go back to dear old Atterbury. Then too I may go somewhere else. We are going to run our last problem this coming week, and it looks like after it's over we will go to Camp Forrest and catch trains for one of the two camps I mentioned before. Right now we are in Shelbyville about 16 miles from Camp Forrest. Last night we were at Statesville, about 60 miles from here. At Statesville, we had the swellest time after we captured it from the reds. The company commander told us we could go to a Negro church. We all laughed all through the service. They were singing a song that had a verse, "We are packing up and getting ready to go." Right now it's getting dark and the southern Tennessee moon is coming up over these darn hills . . .

Hopkinsville, Ky.
I'm seeing Kentucky on foot. So far all I know is my dogs bark and I want to go home. 20 miles yesterday, 23 today. Will get to camp Saturday.

(Pfc. Mitchell J. Dabrowski was killed in action in Belgium Oct. 6, 1944, while serving with the 4th Infantry Division.)

Following is an excerpt from a 1997 interview with the late Harry Carnevale of Ludlow, Mass., who was a captain in the 26th (Yankee) Division:

We went on maneuvers in Tennessee. January, February, and March. Down there it gets pretty cold. It was pretty rough. All buildings were off limits. We had to stay in the field. This was worse than combat. At least in combat you could get into a building. The water would freeze in your canteen -- it was that cold. The last day, we had to make a march from five in the morning till midnight. Marched all day. Temperature was about 35, and it had been raining all day. We still had these big coats, and the raincoats over the overcoats. By midnight, everybody was totally exhausted. We were at the river's edge, the Cumberland River. We had to make a river crossing. When I got there, there was the colonel, and there was an engineer major. The river was at flood stage. Now it's midnight. When the moon would break through, you could see the logs and trees and debris coming down. They had tried all day to get a bridge across, but they'd get part way over, and it would be wiped out. So when we got there, there was no bridge. We had a meeting on the riverbank. The major said, "Colonel, I recommend you don't make the river crossing." The three-month maneuver was going to end at four o'clock that morning. I get in the act. I say, "Colonel, it isn't worth it. It's dangerous. The maneuver's over in four hours." So he's walking up and down the bank. He raises his stick and says, "We cross."

So they had these little pontoon boats that they use for bridges. Somewhere they'd gotten these little three horsepower outboard motors. Okay, I got in the first boat . . . with 20, 21 men. We started across the river, and the motor conked out. We're in the middle going round and round with the trees coming at us. We finally made it across the river. The second boatload came over . . . 22 men. I'm standing on the riverbank. When the moon would break through, I could see they were very close to the edge. Suddenly they went down. Never heard a cry. These men went down like a rock. They had big coats on, with the raincoats, with their field packs. Down they went. I had to stay there for two months while they recovered the bodies.

Those were experiences we had here, in the States. It was rough as hell. Then we finally got it all together and went overseas.

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