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WWII maneuvers in DeKalb County
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Because the Middle Tennessee terrain had hills, valleys, and rivers very much like those in France and Germany, the United States Army decided to hold training maneuvers in this area in the fall of 1942 and again in the spring, summer, and fall of 1943. Only eight counties were involved in 1942, while twenty-one were used in 1943; DeKalb County was included in both years. A total of about 7000,000 troops were trained, though only 100,000 or so were in action at any one time. They were divided into two armies, the Red and the Blue, and headquarters for the entire population was at Cumberland University in Lebanon. The troops captured towns, crossed rivers on pontoon bridges, moved in convoys in the middle of the night, dug entrenchments, bombed bridges (with sacks of flour), and fired cannons and rifles (with blanks, but plenty ). So residents of DeKalb County might have a battle in their back yard before breakfast, or might have a tank and its crew in the middle of the cow pasture. Some damage was done to fences and to crops, but the government paid for such damage. There was little complaint by the people of DeKalb County, for they felt that they were making a contribution to the war effort.


In fact they tried to do all that they could to make the soldiers feel comfortable. By the end of August 1942, a U.S.O. facility had been set up in Smithville. Foster Brothers provided a building on the north side of the square, Albert Estes and Ira Guion provided furniture, a piano was brought in, a refreshment committee was appointed, a place was provided for the soldiers to take a shower, and paper and envelopes were available so that they could write home. A committee of ladies also made arrangements with anyone who wanted to invite soldiers into their homes for a meal. The Fox Theater on the square opened on Sunday afternoons for the convenience of the soldiers; never before or after was it open on Sundays.


It was an exciting time for boys of my age; I was twelve years old. I remember going to the U.S.O. building with my parents when several soldiers were there talking to some of the young ladies of the town. My mother provided background music on the piano; she could play the popular tunes of the time, though she could not read music. There were refreshments and Rook games, and everyone seemed to have a good time. Even more exciting were the battles, and my friends and I collected the empty shells that were left; a special treasure was a blank shell that had not been fired. A little scary were the convoys of troop trucks, tanks, and jeeps that sometimes passed our house at two o’clock in the morning. They took an hour or more to pass, and we watched it all, for it was not possible to sleep with so much noise.


School children all over the county had taken part in a drive to bring in scrap metal; we had gone to every house and brought in several tons of scraps. Miss Mary Reams at Short Mountain reported that one young boy insisted on giving his little wagon in which he hauled the scrap metal, if that would help win the war.


Throughout the county, small detachments of soldiers were placed to guard strategic points such as bridges or roads. The families who lived nearby considered it a privilege to furnish the soldiers with home-cooked meals. Most of the families in DeKalb County had a limited amount of money, but they grew nearly all of their own food, and they had plenty of that. Most of the meals were cooked on wood burning stoves, as few homes outside the towns had electricity until after the war. Mr. Robert Lassiter in his column in the Smithville Review of 27 may 1943 gives a report on one of these detachments, which "included only a few men, who did such imaginary things as blowing up bridges, planting mines, cutting trees across the roads and then guarding what they had done to see that no one went through. The boys stationed at these points became the main interest to the surrounding people. To be sure, the boys were under strict orders not to eat other than what was rationed to them under army regulations, and the people of the community knew that they had been requested not to offer food. Well, the boys were well disciplined, and we as civilians wanted to cooperate in the training. But most people seem to get the idea that this don’t eat order had been issued just to help preserve the food supply and was not especially binding.


I heard from several of the different guarded points and if any of the boys failed to get fried chicken and such things, it has not been reported yet. Two of the boys were stationed almost in the yard here at home to guard the hill road. And as it is a seldom used road now, these boys had little or nothing to do. Soon they found that it was just as well to sit in the chairs in the yard, and really they could see the main road better from there. They spent time reading and talking and expressed themselves as feeling more like being on vacation than being in the army. If we forgot to lock the kitchen they got up in their sleep and ate what we had, there is no one to say a crime had been committed. They were intelligent, congenial fellows and we were sorry to see them leave. Their conduct and conversations was gentlemanly in every respect and spoke of themselves and the army they represented." One of them was from North Carolina and the other from Pennsylvania.


The Smithville Review of 25 June 1943 published a letter from PFC Herman J. Wood, who had spent the previous several weeks in DeKalb County. It reads: "Dear Friends: Now that maneuvers, for us, are drawing to an end, I would like to thank the people of nicest town in Tennessee for all they did toward making our stay here a pleasant one. I know you expect no thanks or words of gratitude, but I feel since your little town was such an exception, you deserve much more than mere thanks for what you did for the boys on maneuvers. On different occasions, while riding through in convoy, dusty and sleepy, I personally received favors that I shall never forget. On one occasion I received ice cold drinks, on another ice cream, and on still another cake and cookies. I wish to thank all the nice ladies who so generously donated these things, for I have thought of it often, and I wish to thank especially the little girl who gave me the big red rose. Little as it seems, she was proud to give it, and it was something I shall never forget. So again, in leaving I say thanks a million to the people of this little town in Tennessee."


Liberty also got its share of soldiers. The Liberty column in the Smithville Review of 20 May 1943 reported: "About a thousand soldiers of the Second Army were camped north of town for the weekend. A large number of them attended Sunday school and church services here Sunday morning, and were entertained in different homes for dinner." At Adamson Branch, a few miles up Clear Fork from Liberty, in 1942" the Adamson Branch community entertained 20 soldiers Sunday, October 4 with a picnic at the Overall Spring. Then in the afternoon they attended Sunday school and church, after which all went to the Adamson Cave and ate supper." On the previous night, eight of the young ladies of the community gave a social for eight of the soldiers.


Of course, there was military action too. Miss Mary Reams of McMinnville at Short Mountain wrote on 26 August 1943: "We had an honest-to- goodness battle in our burg, Thursday morning. Guns were popping, popping everywhere. Soldiers were numerous and I might say ubiquitous. Now I believe I am using the right word. You dodge one in one place and run another in another place. Chickens and cows were scared in an inch of their lives and hid wherever they could, and would not come out of their hiding until late afternoon. The dogs tried hard to hold their ground and kept on barking just as hard as they could, but were very careful to keep a safe distance. It finally ended, as all things must, a large number of prisoners taken. But during the whole occupation we never heard of one thing amiss either in word or deed. The civilians were deeply and favorable impressed with the soldiers, and think if our whole army is like those on maneuvers here, America is safe." Changing the subject, Miss Mary mentions a family who left Thursday for Detroit. "We keep losing our best citizens. Our little place is getting to be very depopulated. Our streets are silent most of the time, and there is a subdued air wherever you go." A number of people from DeKalb County did go north to work in defense plants, but most remained here during the army maneuvers.


Those maneuvers drew to a close in the fall of 1943, the damage claims were paid, and the soldiers were gone. One of them, Walter L. Delaney, on September 24, 1943, wrote back to Mr. and Mrs. Lofton Rowland, a couple in their late 40’s who lived on Dismal Creek. He wrote: "Dear Mr. and Mrs. Rowland, This is the first chance I’ve had to sit down comfortably and write to try to thank you for your kindness shown to us boys while on maneuvers. The few days spent camped on your farm will be one of the most treasured and happiest recollections of army life. It was without a doubt the nearest closest approach to home life we have had, with both of you presiding as our army mother and dad. Your kindness and friendliness will never be forgotten, and I am sure God will bless you both for your charitable deeds. The wonderful meals you served us and the pleasant shelter of the hayloft, I know, will not likely be found any place or nowhere in the army.


We arrived at Camp Forrest on September 15, and were indeed happy to say a prayer of thanks to the good Lord for returning us safely through the maneuvers. We have no idea of the length of time we shall remain here, but feel certain that it will at least be two months more. When we speak of you, which we do often, it is with great fondness, and we refer to you lovingly as Ma and Pa Rowland. You have no idea of the great impression your kindness made upon us, and trust this letter, and you will hear from us from time to time, just as we would like to hear from you whenever you have the chance. May God shower his love and blessings upon you."


So that army maneuvers ended. The people of DeKalb County had an opportunity that was not given most people of the United States. They took advantage of it by showing kindness and consideration to the soldiers who were stationed among us, and making the soldiers feel that this was a country worth fighting for.