My favorite history sources to read are first hand accounts. Those are things like letters, diaries, and memoirs.

My favorite history sources to read are first hand accounts. Those are things like letters, diaries, and memoirs.

With that, Camp Crowder is one my favorite local history subjects. Give me first hand accounts about Camp Crowder and it's going to be a good night.

The other day I stumbled across a blog site quite by accident while looking for something else entirely. The site is ran by a man named Greg Taylor. Greg was rummaging through his late father Bill's closet when he came across a large box in which there were several old cigar boxes. Inside the boxes were his dad's letters home from World War II. There were hundreds of them, all numbered and sequenced in order. Greg transcribed the letters and built the blog site around them.

The entire blog – wwiiwwtaylor.wordpress.com – is interesting and well organized. Bill Taylor, from North Hollywood California, eventually saw combat in Europe as a foot soldier in Co A, 399th Infantry Regiment, 100 Infantry Division, US 7th Army. However, before that, he was trained as a radio operator at Neosho's Camp Crowder, which was the US Signal Corps' Midwest training center. The full collection of letters, written to his parents, whom he often addresses as “Mudder and Dad”, is fascinating, as it shows World War II from the perspective of a “ground grunt.” However, I'm partial to the letters that were written at Camp Crowder, where he was from March to May 1944.

A bit of warning: Taylor, who was assigned as a combat engineer at the time, doesn't have much good to say about the US Signal Corps, or its non-combat personnel, and he looks down on them. However, he thinks Camp Crowder itself is “really a beautiful place”, even if the training is soft.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects, to me at least, of Taylor's letters from Crowder is what he has to say about the German prisoners of war who were detained there. He pokes fun at the “Nazi supermen” and writes “they must have swept the stables to get those birds.” He was shocked at the freedom the prisoners were allowed at Crowder. The Germans were put to work doing trivial jobs, and Taylor was surprised to run into them all over the camp with few guards. The enemy soldiers seemed very interested in the Americans, though none could speak good English, nor the latter good German. He doesn't have many nice things to say about them either:

“Those dumb Nazis still think Hitler’s going to win the war. Imagine! What can anybody do with saps like that? They stand around and laugh at the rookies here and never realize that it was a bunch of amateurs not so much better than the rookies that licked the pants off them. They all wear their hair long like Johnny Weissmuller and love to flirt with the girls around camp.”

Bill doesn't much care for radio school, either, finding it repetitive and boring. “This is the kind of stuff that can actually drive a man screwy,” he writes. “If I don’t have a nervous breakdown I should make a good operator.” And in a later letter, “It’s about the dullest and most nerve wracking thing I’ve ever done. I thought it would be interesting but it isn’t.”

Like most military personnel of all time periods, Bill complains a lot. Of course, it is always warranted. “I sure wish I could just write one letter to you in which I had nothing to gripe about,” he laments.

After his time at Camp Crowder, Bill is ultimately shipped to Europe, transferred to combat infantry and participates in the Battle of the Bulge. He writes home throughout it all. Bill survives the war, returns to California, marries, raises a family, has a civilian career, and passes away from Lou Gehrig’s Disease in 1987, at age 61.

I love reading this stuff and then exploring the old abandoned streets of Camp Crowder, what is left of them, and spotting neatly spaced foundations and concrete pylons in the woods on either side of the overgrown roads, knowing that is where rows of white buildings once stood. Just think: Bill Taylor might have been in some of those buildings. I may have seen some of the same foundations. It's crazy how different the World War II Camp Crowder site is today from back when it was a literal city larger in population (and geographical size if you include the entire cantonment area) than present Neosho. Besides Crowder College, the National Guard training base, and an assortment of industry, it's just woods and thickets out there now. The manicured grounds have mostly reverted back to nature. The buildings are almost all gone, with nothing to indidicate they were ever there but crumbling concrete pads and pylons, and lonely, cracked, brush-choked streets cutting inbetween them. That has always made me rather sad. The abandoned streets still have names, you know, even if there are no signs up. Of course, we still use many of the original Camp Crowder streets, such as Lyon Drive, Doniphan Drive, Howard Bush Drive (formerly Daniel Boone Drive in the Camp days), and others.

At any rate, if you have internet access, check out the blog site wwiiwwtaylor.wordpress.com. You may like it.

 

 

Wes Franklin writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.