Time Traveling With William Hahn Part 2
By NANCY PATRICK
My first article about William (Bill) Hahn covered his basic training at Camp Fannin in Tyler, Texas. When I began reading his letters from the second packet the 12th Armored Division Museum gave me, I learned of Bill’s participation in further training in a program called the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP).
The new program, created to meet pressing wartime demands for junior officers and soldiers with technical skills, began in 1943. The program served as an intermediate step between basic training and Officers Candidate School (OCS). The ASTP enrolled 150,000 young men in 227 U.S. universities and functioned much as a college degree plan. Whereas OCS primarily focused on producing officers, ASTP’s primarily trained personnel in technical skills.
Unfortunately, the ASTP had a short life because American casualties in Germany became so severe that the ASTP soldiers had to serve as replacements for those lost fighters. The program, shrouded in controversy during its existence, created misunderstandings among the military, the universities, and the soldiers themselves.
In spite of the problems with the program, Bill seemed to enjoy his time with his program housed at Texas A&M in College Station. His letters describe his social and academic experiences as well as indicate his growth in maturity, independence, discipline, and skill.
Because of College Station’s proximity to Houston, where the Hahns had acquaintances, Bill could travel to Houston when he had passes. Since most of the girls in College Station already had beaus in the university, Bill asked his mom to contact her friend, Mrs. Stokes, in Houston to see if she knew any girls Bill might date. I don’t think many young men ask their moms for help in finding a girlfriend!
During Bill’s time in College Station, he experienced his first Thanksgiving and first Christmas away from home. His upbeat tone in his letters made me wonder if he was trying to keep his family from missing him so much or was truly adjusting to this new adult phase of his life.
He wrote the following about Thanksgiving 1943: “Well, I guess this is my first Thanksgiving away from home. We didn’t have any menus—we had turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, peas, lettuce tomatoe [sic] salad, gravy, stuffing, celery, olives, some almonds and pecans, fruit and peach pie and a drink. Don’t know why they didn’t have pumpkin or mince.”
Bill devoted much of his free time to photography. He wrote a lot about his camera and different types of film he experimented with. He loved taking photos and sending them home, but he also worked on a large scrapbook containing photos and stories about his Army experiences. He wrote letters to Eastman Kodak, asking about features of his camera and even sent it to the company for repairs.
One of the many difficulties of life during WW II involved the rationing rule. Evidently, the military PX could stock some items unavailable or limited to the civilian population. Bill supplied his family with chewing gum and cigarettes (remember when everyone smoked??). He kept the family supplied with items he could get, but he also asked them to send him some things he couldn’t readily obtain.
At one point, he needed some dress shoes but didn’t have the required ration coupons to purchase them. He asked his mom to send him a new ration book that had all the coupons in it. Evidently, rules didn’t allow him to use a loose coupon because the government issued each book to an individual. The merchant had to actually tear the coupon from the book. After he bought his shoes, Bill sent the rest of the ration book back home so the family could use it.
I especially enjoyed reading about the popular movies available to the public in 1943. Of course, the USO provided important entertainment for the soldiers. Many bands, dances, and stage shows came to camps to give the soldiers a break from their routines.
Some of the movies Bill saw included Destination Tokyo, Pin Up Girl, Cover Girl, Wing and a Prayer, Guadalcanal Diary, Two Girls and a Sailor, and Bob Hope’s Let’s Face It. He also listened to radio personality Kay Kyser. The list of titles indicates the social climate of the time—war and romance!
Thanks to Mrs. Stokes in Houston, Bill met a girl named Natka Gaskins. She plays an important part in this span of Bill’s communication with his family. While stationed in College Station, Bill had no great difficulty visiting Houston. He went every weekend he could to visit Natka. The Collums provided him a home away from home, so he and Natka had a comfortable dating situation.
Logistics became somewhat more difficult when Bill moved to a different camp and Natka moved to Denton to attend college. Reading his letters and learning about all the effort he put into maintaining his relationship with Natka showed how much he liked this girl. Sometimes he had to make parts of his journey by train, bus, and hitched car rides. He never expressed frustration about the time and inconvenience involved with these trips.
In March 1944 with the end of ASTP, Bill’s battalion learned they would go to Camp Barkeley in Abilene, Texas. Overall anxiety pervaded the troops as they heard rumors of what was happening in Europe and guessed that they might soon be deployed. From Camp Barkeley, Bill and several of his mates received short assignments to Camp Bowie and Ft. Bliss to learn specific skills.
In the last letter in this packet, Bill tells his parents that he has taken a very long train trip. He can’t tell them his location but he does indicate somewhere on the East Coast. I found it humorous that he mentions Fifth Avenue and the Empire State Building (but he can’t tell them where he is).
I have one packet of Bill Hahn’s letters left to read and type for the museum. This packet contains the letters he wrote from his European deployment. This project has truly blessed me. I have at times felt like a voyeur trespassing into the Hahn family’s life. On the other hand, I know they donated the letters so others could share their experiences during one of the world’s major crises.
I feel very proud of and grateful for those who came before me to create and maintain a safe and free world for future generations. Learning of the individual lives of service people and their families and understanding the difficulty of the situations presented to national and international leadership has made me greater appreciate some of the mistakes, errors in judgment, and questionable behaviors of people involved in untenable situations.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing