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Chapter 2 Life At Camp Upton


HISTORY OF THE 304th FIELD ARTILLERY
by
James M. Howard
1920


CHAPTER II

LIFE AT CAMP UPTON

Colonel Kelly departed for a three months' course at Fort Sill on September 27th, and Major Sparks assumed command of the regiment. It was under his direction that the work really began. A new lot of recruits arrived early in October, and they were all presently doing squads right and squads left in whatever place could be found among the piles of lumber. Much more than this -it was not possible to give them for there was no material at hand with which to work. On paper, we were armed with three-inch guns and equipped with a full complement of horses; but in reality there was just one old gun-a cast-off from some National Guard regiment-and no horses.

One thing we did have, long before any other regiment had thought of such a thing, and that was a band. Colonel Kelly had been keen on this from the very start. As soon as he found that we had been assigned an ex-army bandsman, Andrew Dolphini, he set him to work rounding up musicians, and within two weeks after the first draft men arrived, there was a band of about ten pieces, including a bass drum which proudly bore the legend "304th F. A. Band." They used to make hideous noises as they practiced in the barracks, for some of the candidates with whom Dolphini had to labor were musicians made, not born; but when they came outside and gave little concerts, and when, "The Star Spangled Banner" mastered, they began to play for retreat, crowds used to gather to listen, and they would say one to another, "What manner of regiment is this, which already boasts a band?"

When new recruits arrived, our band would be ordered to meet them at the station and serenade them with martial music as their train pulled in. It put new courage into many a frightened rookie to fall in line and march behind a band. On Sunday afternoons, when the camp was overrun with fond relatives from New York, "J-45" was always a center of attraction, with the musicians ranged in front of the stoop, and a mixed crowd of soldiers and civilians gathered about to enjoy the music. On more than one occasion, when there were distinguished guests at divisional headquarters, General Bell sent for the 304th F. A. Band to entertain them. Once, when the Canadian government wanted some American troops in a vast parade to boost bond sales and recruiting, the infantry which was to represent the National Army marched to the music of Mr. Dolphini and his band.

One day in October an order came through for a sweeping transfer of some five hundred men from Camp Upton to Camp Gordon, at Atlanta, Georgia. Our regiment contributed its quota, perhaps fifteen from each battery, and one of our officers, Lieutenant Amy, of Battery A, was put in charge of the movement. A motley array of rookies assembled in front of the barracks and, with their blue bags over their shoulders, marched off to the railroad station. This was the first experience of the kind we had, and no one was much disturbed by it, but as time went on such transfers became very frequent and withal very annoying. The authorities did not again frame, their orders so that organization commanders could send whom they would. They would call for so many mechanics, so many saddlers, so many gas engine men to be sent to a certain place; never stopping to inquire whether the regiment furnishing the men could afford to send them. It became very discouraging to those who were in charge of the instruction; for as soon as a few men were beginning to show promise in any given line of work, half of them would be transferred. There never was a time through all those months when we were sure of our personnel.

Among the men, transfers came to be a standing joke. Sometimes at an entertainment in the Y. M. C. A., an announcement would be made from the platform that "the following men will report at once to their orderly rooms." Always there was a shout of laughter, and cries went up of "Blue bag!" "Good-by, Billy!" "See you in France!" Many a man went A. W. 0. L. (absent without leave) because he was transferred to some distant point without a chance to say good-by to his family in New York.

While the battery commanders were searching through their files of qualification cards to find men who had had experience with horses, so that the animals when they arrived might be put in good hands, a new transformation took place.

The 304th was changed from a regiment of horse-drawn three-inch guns to one of "four-point-sevens" ( i. e., 4.7-inch caliber), to be drawn by tractors. This threw consternation into many of the officers, for a large number of them had served in the cavalry on the Mexican border, and they had elected to serve with the artillery in this cavalryless army because they wanted to be with horses. And now we were to have tractors! Boots and spurs became an anomaly, and many caustic remarks were passed to the effect that the natty little riding crops which the officers had had made should be exchanged for monkey wrenches. Moreover, the change to a heavier gun meant a complete reorganization of the regiment. Instead of two battalions we were to have three, of two batteries each. Stable sergeants must give place to motor experts, the size of the gun crews must be increased, classes for instruction in gas engines must be instituted, and a selected number of officers and men must be sent away to the motor and tractor school at Peoria, Illinois.

Instead of one gun for drilling the cannoneers, we now had none. Neither were there any of the fire control instruments so necessary in adjusting the range and deflection of a gun, nor any battery commanders' telescopes or field telephones for training the special details of men who were to work with the battery commanders in the field. An automobile engine was set up in an empty room for the motorists to study, and a number of dummy instruments, designed by Captain Kempner, were constructed to give a touch of reality to some of the special work, but in all the training the imagination played a large part. Everything had to be simulated. It was like little boys playing they were soldiers. Not until February, when we were almost ready to start over seas, did two four-point-sevens arrive and a few of the instruments necessary to artillery work.

What were the men learning, then? Many things. They learned obedience, that first great requisite of a soldier. For some the lesson came pretty hard. These were boys who were accustomed to having their own way and suiting their own convenience, like the good New Yorkers they were. For a man to be obliged to do certain things whether he liked it or not, just because some one told him to, was absolutely new to many a member of our own and of every other regiment. Battery punishments and summary courts-martial were frequent. A few offenses occurred which called for more serious treatment, but happily not many. Considering the way in which the draft, like a great fish net, scooped down and brought up every conceivable species of men from Greater New York-deacons and gunmen, bankers and prize fighters, lawyers and crooks-it is remarkable how free our regiment has always been from vicious and unruly men.

Besides obedience, the soldiers were learning cleanliness. That, too, was for some a hard lesson. Men who had been in the habit of never changing their clothes from one end of winter to the other found themselves compelled, by good husky sergeants, to bathe regularly and change their clothes frequently, and to keep themselves clean-shaven and neat in appearance.

A far more difficult lesson was team work. The New Yorker likes company, but ordinarily he lives unto himself and works for his own interest. The idea of throwing his energies in with those of other men whom he knows little and cares less about, and getting behind a job which will not particularly benefit him personally, is about the hardest thing in the world to teach him. That was the battery commanders' biggest problem from the very start. The lack of team work showed itself in everything from digging stumps to learning regimental songs, from scrubbing floors to putting out the infirmary fire.

This fire was one of the great events of our life at Camp Upton. It was just about noon, and the officers were all sitting in their mess hall, when suddenly a messenger ran in breathless and spoke a hasty word to Major Sanders, the Fire Marshal.

"Everybody out," cried the Major,-as he dashed for the door.
No one knew just what was up until we got outside and saw the smoke pouring out from every window in the infirmary. There were no patients there, of course: the infirmary is simply the surgeons office and the sleeping quarters of the Medical Detachment. So there was no danger, but there was excitement a-plenty. Battery 1), the regimental Fire Company, got a bucket line established, and succeeded in splashing considerable water on the ground and on the side of the building away from the fire. They also brought out a couple of reels of hose with which they squirted water all over each other and all over the rapidly assembling crowds, and particularly all over Major Sanders, who, with his drenched sheepskin coat, came out of the door looking like a drowned rat. But, after carrying the mattresses carefully down stairs and throwing the medicine bottles out of the windows, they got the fire out, and within a few days the building was restored to its normal beauty.

December brought us our first quota of men from outside New York City. They came from "Up State," mostly from the neighborhoods of Olean and Buffalo. When they first arrived, these "Hicks" furnished considerable amusement to the city boys. Undoubtedly they were a different breed; and yet they added a certain element of wholesomeness that soon won for them a real place in the hearts of the whole regiment. Many of them were accustomed to out-door life, and they infused a healthy attitude toward cold winds and snowstorms which put to shame some of the city boys who had been brought up to dread any kind of exposure. Once the regiment got to the front, all the men alike braved the discomforts and endured the hardships, but it must be confessed that during the winter at Camp Upton there was some who resorted to attendance on "sick call," with a hope of being marked "quarters," whenever the weather was particularly bad-which, be it said, was most of the time.

One reason for this softness was undoubtedly the nearness of home, and the constant recurrence of weekend passes to the city. Many of the men lived from day to day with just one thought in their minds: "Will I get a pass this week?" The first sergeants, one of whose multifarious duties was arranging the rosters for these passes, were driven to distraction by the piteous appeals for special privileges in going to New York.

No office boy ever found so many sick fathers and dying grandmothers as were produced by some of the soldiers. They supported their claims by urgent telegrams from home, of which an enormous quantity arrived regularly on Friday evening. On Saturday mornings the orderly rooms were besieged by men who had been disappointed when the passes were given out, each armed with a tale of dire necessity which demanded his immediate presence at a wedding or a funeral or a baptism, or at the settling of an estate. The result was that, not only were the men's minds constantly lured aside from their military duties, but their physiques, which should have been toughening under the rigors of camp life, were all too frequently subjected to a let down by a weekend in the city, and their health further endangered by the long, cold journey back to Camp Upton.

Those Long Island trains! The railroad, a single-track, one-horse affair, was hard put to it to maintain the usual daily traffic of freight and passenger trains to and from the camp, and when the weekend rush set in the system was simply swamped. The trains going to New York were bad enough on Saturday morning; but when it came to the return trip on Sunday evening they were impossible. From the Pennsylvania station to Jamaica it was all right: electric trains brought the troops through the tunnel in good time. But after the men had crowded onto the platform of the Jamaica station to change f or a Camp Upton train, they would be compelled to wait for hours, sometimes, before any provision was made to take them the remainder of the journey. There were no adequate waiting rooms, and the platforms were elevated above the street, so that the wind swept across as if it would like to blow everybody away. And finally, when a train pulled up and the waiting soldiers pushed in and jammed it to overflowing, they would often find themselves in steel cars with concrete floors, lighted only by an occasional flickering kerosene lantern, and absolutely without heating arrangements. In these death-traps the journey would continue. Sometimes the engines took the trains, rocking and plunging at a terrific speed, clear through to Camp Upton; but more often they got tired about half -way and stopped, panting and coughing.

"What's the matter now?" some one would ask a trainman.
"Can't get up enough steam," would be the reply. "Engineer says the coal is no good."

Or perhaps the locomotive would be broken down. "We've got to wait here until another engine can be brought up." And then the soldiers would have the pleasure of sitting on a siding and seeing their comrades, who had been assigned to later trains, glide past from behind, jeering as they went.

It was a bitter cold winter, and sickness, encouraged by such conditions as these, became frequent. There was a great deal of ice and snow, which rendered outdoor drilling impos-sible. Then the officers would have to invent new devices for keeping the men busy. Lectures on all sorts of abstruse subjects connected with artillery, indoor calisthenics, and even boxing and games were resorted to. It was difficult work, without any kind of apparatus, to keep the men interested. No wonder they wanted to go home!

One valuable thing was accomplished during that winter, and that was the teaching of English to men of foreign birth. There were thousands of foreigners in Camp Upton, many of whom could speak little or no English when they arrived. The 304th and, indeed, all the artillery regiments, had perhaps fewer than some of the other organizations, but there were enough to make it worth while to establish schools. For those men whose commanding officers decided that their ignorance of the language interfered with the proper performance of their military duties, the classes were made compulsory. That was Major Sparks's ruling, and it set a standard for the whole camp. There were experienced school teachers in the regiment, notably Private (afterwards Corporal) Eugene Brown, of Battery E, who became under the Chaplain's direction supervisor of the educational work, and Corporal (afterwards sergeant) Hunt, of Battery A. These men and others, of perhaps less experience but of equal desire to help, took hold of the classes and accomplished remarkable results in overcoming the difficulties, and especially the diffidence, of shy but eager Italians, Greeks, and Russian Jews.

In this educational work, the cooperation of the Y. M. C. A. was of infinite help. That organization held a place in the life of Camp Upton the importance of which it would be hard to overestimate. In their various huts and in their big auditorium they had something worth while going on every night, be it a concert, a boxing bout, a lecture, a vaudeville performance, a movie show, or a religious service. Our own regiment was extremely fortunate in having the closest kind of association with the directors of the work, for not only did two of the secretaries from the building in our immediate neighborhood cat at our officers' mess, but all the personnel of the headquarters office as well. A splendid lot of men they were. Mr. Hainer (afterwards Chaplain Hainer of the 502nd Engineers), director of the Artillery Hut, and Mr. Hedrick, his associate, were, to all intents and purposes, members of the regiment, and their building was in constant use by our men. There they wrote their letters; there they met their friends; there they entertained their visitors on Sundays; there they enjoyed themselves of an evening when there was nothing going on in their own barracks; and there they went to church. Always there was a Protestant service conducted by the artillery chaplains on Sunday morning, and a general gathering of men of all faiths in the evening; and, until the Knights of Columbus had their huts finished, the Catholic chaplains used the "Y" huts for their masses. The Y. M. C. A. at Camp Upton was a remarkably fine institution, without which the life of the soldiers when off duty would have been barren indeed. It is only right to add that this was due largely to the fine leadership of the Camp General Secretary, Mr. William F. Hirsch, of Brooklyn.

It cannot be too of ten emphasized that one of this regiment's greatest assets has always been the get-together spirit of its officers. Many of them had worked together at Plattsburg, but heir real fellowship did not begin until they came to Camp Upton. The first group, quartered in the old "J-21," made a good start, and as other officers joined them, first in the "J Section" and later in the snug little officers' barracks which were finally occupied on Fourth Avenue, the spirit continued to grow. Most important of all was the Officers' Mess. This was a regimental affair. All the officers sat down in the same dining-hall for every meal. The place was agreeably deco-mess itself, managed by Lieutenant MacDougall, was excellent. When Colonel Kelly returned from For rated by some of the men, and the Sill, about the first of January, a formal dinner was held in his honor, with songs by the officers and music by the band. The colonel was delighted, and he promptly suggested that we organize the mess and make a club of it. This was done, and from then on it became more and more of an institution that made for good fellowship and cooperation.

Singing always played an important role in the life of the officers. A glee club, composed usually of Captain Doyle (ever a leader in such matters), Captain Garrett, Captain Lyman, Lieutenant Roger Smith and the Chaplain, was in frequent demand. Urged on by their success, some of the others formed what they called the Anti-Glee Club, which soon became famous for the originality of its songs. After the war was over, these two organizations, each bereft of some of its best singers, merged into one chorus, in which everybody joined, but at Camp Upton the Anti-Glee Club, jealous of the fact that it boasted no singers who could carry any part but the air, never allowed any member of the Glee Club to participate in its functions. But aside from these two groups there was a great deal of general singing in which all the officers joined. Colonel Kelly's chiefest joy used to be to invite some distinguished guest to dinner, and then, when the repast was over, to call for song.

The men, too, did considerable singing, although; it was difficult for some of them to get to see the fun in mass singing. -Nevertheless, music featured largely in all their entertainments, of which there were a great many. Each battery at some time put on a show in its own mess-hall. Usually outside talent as called in to round out the program, for there were a good many professional comedians and singers in the camp and the amateurs were a little backward about volunteering. Battery E, indeed, for some time had "battery night" every week just for its own men, but not until we got to Camp de Souge, where there were few outsiders to depend on, did we begin to realize how much talent we had in the regiment.

Encouraged by the success of these purely local shows, our men undertook to get up a regimental show on a bigger scale. The two other artillery regiments were invited to join us at the big "Y" auditorium, each of our batteries having as its guests the men from the corresponding batteries in the 305th and 306th. The division commander, General Johnson, as well as all the brigade commanders in the camp, were the guests of Colonel Kelly. Several ladies, professional stage people whom Mrs. Rachael Frohman Davison had offered 'to bring out to entertain the regiment, came with Mrs. Davison to dinner, and the whole affair was worked up with considerable care.

After a short musical program by the band, and by a regimental glee club of twenty voices which had been trained by the Chaplain, Mrs. Davison's friends entertained with dances and songs and recitations. The piece de resistance, however, was a one act farce entitled "The Lure of Pills, or the Camouflage of the Sick Call." From the moment the curtain went up, disclosing the Medical Detachment clerk asleep in the infirmary office, until the final chorus, in which the entire cast sang "The Sick Call never will sound again," the audience was convulsed. The hit of the evening was McManus, of Battery, R who had already become famous throughout the camp, as a comedian. But what really made the thing a success was the less showy but very steady and faithful work of Sergeant Carlson, of Battery F, and Sergeant Pons and Private (afterward Sergeant) Grandin, of Battery D, whose parts formed the backbone of the play.

After the show the officers and their guests returned to the mess-hall for a dance, and the men entertained their fellow- artillerymen with suppers in their own barracks. The whole evening was a fitting climax to the season's entertainments.

More important in its permanent results was the grand review of the 152nd Artillery Brigade, held in March in the old 69th Regiment Armory, New York. As a military spectacle it was not very imposing, perhaps, for there was barely room for one regiment in the armory at a time. It was necessary for each in turn to enter by the narrow door, get its formation and alignment as perfect as possible in a march half-way round the hall, and then pass in review before the brigade commander, General Rees, and make its exit before the next regiment could enter. We had at the time a great many new recruits, and the marching was a bit ragged. But the affair gave the men a new feeling, for they were showing off their own brigade to their specially invited guests.

After the review the friends of the regiments got together and formed the three Regimental Associations, which were to mean so much to the men all through their service in France. By their gifts to the soldiers, by serving as a medium of communication between the men and their families during the long months of separation, by their monthly mass meetings, where relatives and friends of men at the front had an opportunity to learn what their boys were doing as well as to get to know each other, the 304th F. A. Association was to fill a place of inestimable importance in the life of the regiment,. This organization had its beginning the night of the review.

The business meeting over, most of the men stayed to dance with their friends to the music of the three regimental bands, and no one returned to camp until the following day.

Our stay in Camp Upton was now drawing to a close. Evidences of this were becoming apparent. Full equipment was being issued to the troops, and what seemed like a final sifting process of the physically and otherwise unfit was being undertaken. Rumors of present departure for France were creating an atmosphere of suppressed excitement. When Governor Whitman came to visit the camp and a review of the entire division was held in his honor, it seemed as though the time must be coming when we should have to say good-by to our friends and start on the great adventure over seas.

When preparations for departure were at their height, on April first, a new officer came to take command of the regiment. Colonel Raymond W. Briggs, a regular army artillery officer, who as a major had gone to France with General Pershing the previous summer, and had spent seven months there on staff duty, came from Camp Meade, with an order assigning him to the 304th F. A. At first we were disappointed. Colonel Kelly was very popular and had done wonders in building up an esprit de corps, and we knew that he wanted to take the regiment to France as much as we wanted to have him. But the new commanding officer quickly made his kindly, but eager and aggressive, spirit felt, and we began to realize that the regiment was extremely fortunate in having gained a new leader of rare charm and capability, without losing the old one. With both Colonel Briggs and Lieutenant- Colonel Kelly, we were splendidly equipped for active service.

When everything was ready, almost to the passenger lists for the transport, and we were expecting orders to move any day, a sudden change of plans on the part of the War Department upset all our calculations, and the morale of the regiment, now keyed up to concert pitch, was all but broken. Without a word of warning, an order came down from division headquarters that the artillery brigade was to transfer at once, five hundred 'men to the infantry. That could only mean one thing: the infantry was going without us! Moreover, there were not five hundred men we were willing to part with, nor one hundred, for that matter, nor fifty. Yet it was not a question of willingness. The transfer was made. All day long and late into the night, sorrowful men were shouldering blue bags and, waving farewell to their comrades, trudging off to become doughboys. The next night the two infantry brigades of the 77th Division left Camp Upton, and we saw them no more until we met them on the front lines in French Lorraine.

Those were trying days for the regiment. Reduced in numbers far below its authorized strength, baffled in its carefully fostered desire to get over seas, discouraged by its separation from the division, disheartened by the loss of a great many of its good soldiers, the 304th faced one of its most critical periods.

But Colonel Briggs was not the man to waste any time in feeling sorry. Far from relaxing his efforts, he put every ounce of his vigorous enthusiasm into the seemingly f utile work of perfecting the efficiency of the organization. He took a personal interest in every battery and company; he supervised the drills; he called the officers together for conferences, and infused into them some of his own zeal; he made a flying trip to Washington (no one ever knew just what for, except that it was in the interest of his own regiment and the 152nd Brigade); he spent hours in conference with the other regimental commanders and with General Rees. He said nothing about what was brewing, but we knew that he was not working altogether in the dark.

Then one day there came an order calling on two new regiments of engineers, which had just come to Camp Upton," for five hundred men for the artillery. In a trice Colonel Briggs got hold of Colonel Doyle and Colonel Miller, of the 305th and 306th regiments, and insisted that, instead of letting the engineers send whom they would, the three commanding officers should personally select their replacements. He went himself to the engineers' barracks and, after looking over the men's service records and qualification cards, picked out those that he thought would make good artillerymen. Part of them were farmers and part were railroad men, and they hailed from Iowa and Minnesota. As soon as these recruits joined us, the Colonel had them put through a course of sprouts which in an amazingly short time enabled them to take their places with the rest in a military formation. Once more the regiment was practically at its full strength and ready for business!

A final and impressive ceremony marked the last week in Camp Upton. The troops were marched out to the great drill field beyond the west end of the camp. There, with the regiment drawn tip on parade, E Battery, selected for the honor of being the escort for the colors, marched up and received the regimental standards at the hands of General Rees. Then the regiment formed on three sides of a hollow square, facing an altar which had been built of drums. When the colors had been set up by the altar, Mgr. Lavelle, representing Cardinal Farley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of New York, Bishop Greer and Bishop Burch, of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and Rabbi Blechmann, director of the Jewish work in the camp, all in their official robes, were escorted by the regimental Chaplain to-their place in front. Colonel Briggs made a very brief address to his men in which he urged upon them the necessity of dependence upon God, and congratulated them on the unity of spirit which enabled Protestant and Catholic, Jew and Gentile, to work as comrades in a great cause. After Chaplain Howard had read a Psalm, Rabbi Blechmann, Bishop Greer and Mgr. Lavelle each in turn offered a prayer dedicating the colors to the work of the Kingdom of God and consecrating the men of the regiment to His service- It was a singularly beautiful and impressive ceremony, and after it the men marched in review past the camp commander with heads held high and steps that were steady with purpose.

That was on Thursday, April 18th. On Saturday, all week-end passes were canceled, and, save for a few individuals who were given special permission to go to New York, no one was allowed to leave camp. Then we knew that our time had come. Our departure for the battlefields of France was only a matter of hours.
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