Camp Hale by Erma Paul Robinson
The first time I heard of Camp Hale was when the first WACs were sent to the Colorado camp through Dispensary Number Two. They had finished their basic training at Fort Des Moines at Des Moines, Iowa. I ran the dispensary and my friend Welshie was the medical aide.
The Army had designed an Intelligence test to determine what your future assignment would be. It did not matter about your past experiences. I had a score of one hundred twenty-nine. If one had one hundred and ten, you were eligible to be accepted to Officer Training School. They wouldn't’t guarantee me that I would be assigned to radio work, so I refused to be an officer and I was made the head of a dispensary where Lotus Blossom Welsh was the nurse.
We worked six and a half days a week with no time off Welshie concocted a plan to get us furlough. The doctor who had just come back from the Pacific never looked at what Welshie gave him to sign, so she included an application for a furlough for herself and me to go at the same time.
When we got back, we had a note on out beds informing us we were being shipped to Camp Hale instead of being court martial.
We gathered all our belongings and got on a train for Colorado. We changed trains at Pueblo, Colorado and we were soon arriving at Camp Hale. We were given beds on each side of our new friend, Jeanne Dolt. She was a kindred soul who became our buddy, who didn't’t fit in with the other girls who made up the station complement. She was the photographer for the Tenth Mountain Division and climbed the mountains with the ski troopers. She also drove a car for the motor pool.
Welshie was assigned to be the librarian at the Post Exchange for the ski troopers in the Tenth Division area. I was trained to be a radio operator and was cleared to send and receive coded messages. I also was sent to the part of the camp where the skiers lived. The front of the building was used to send and receive Western Union messages. The ski troopers would come in to send telegrams to their friends and families. I would type these messages on the Western Union machine. The other machine was connected to the headquarters of the Seventh Army command in Omaha, Nebraska.
The telephone operators were civilians and worked in the back of the buildings. The only contact we had with them was when we had to use the bathroom facilities. The men who worked with us had their bathroom next to the office. The Major in charge had his office behind the public office. Decoding was done here. I was cleared to send and received the messages, but another WAC was trained to decode until she was transferred out of Camp Hale.
The Major had me assigned to work for five o’clock to eleven o’clock, so I did not know what the other WACs in the complement did. Some worked at the hospital and some as office secretaries. One of them, Mary Lanza, who was nicknamed “Slug”, asked to work with us. We became good friends and she was later sent to Fitzsimons Hospital in Denver. She kept in touch with some of the men who were fighting in Italy.
Welshie was determined to go to the South Pacific to be near her husband who was the captain of a ship. She continued to do her “thing” by refusing to stay in correct uniform. She went to Denver and bought brown neckties for us. We hated our ugly “Hobby hats." While we were on base we wore the men’s oversea caps, but we had to wear the despised “Hobby hats”, when we left Camp Hale. Later the WAC officers in Washington designed a cap similar to the men’s cap.
I went to the main Post Exchange the first day I was there before I got the men’s cap and everyone there made remarks about the Hobby hats. Welshie and I went one night to the enlisted women’s clubhouse where I learned not to drink more than one Coca-Cola in the high altitude.
One day the officers decided that we needed to practice marching on a field by the hospital. There were so many rocks in the field, we spent the whole time looking down and walking around the rocks. Then the officer decided we needed to stand retreat at five o’clock. That was the exact time I had to go to work. The Major’s car would pull up in the front of us and I would fall out and get into the car. I didn't’t know if the other WACs continued to stand retreat, but I was excused because I caused too much confusion.
One day, Welshie, Dolt, and I had a day off and we walked up the canyon behind the hospital. There was a suspension bridge over the creek. We walked in step and about half way the bridge swayed so badly that we had to crawl back to your side of the creek. Some of the skiers from the division saw us and told us what we did wrong, that we should not walk in step. They warned us not to drink the water because there was a dead mule in the creek.
The mules were trained to walk in formation. They would come down the side street and turn in front of the office where I worked. They were quite a sight when they were loaded down with weapons. The first mule carried the wheels and the next mule carried the barrel when they would pass in front of the office where I worked. I was amazed that they would stay in formation. They would go up the mountain with the ski troopers.
One day orders came in for me to report to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. I was to go to the South Pacific as a radio operator, because I had already received the training being offered. The Major said I was needed to help close Camp Hale. Mary Lanza went to Fitzsimons Hospital in Denver. Welshie was sent to the Pacific war area. Jeanne Dolt’s health got so poor she was discharged and she went home to the northeastern part of the United States. That left me to be the only WAC in that part of the camp. I worked at night sending and receiving the messages that came from headquarters.
One afternoon when I was in the barracks and was listening to my radio, some Morse code came over the regular news Because I could understand Morse code, I was able to listen to the news of the D-Day Invasion. The other WACs didn't believe me when I told them about the invasion of Europe.
One night we had an earthquake that made the machines dance all over the office. The MP's who came to get me about eleven o’clock said we had an earthquake. The other WACs slept through it all. The MP's were very good to me and would take me to the bus station when I would go to Denver.
Later there wasn't any way for me to get to work so I was transferred to days. One day I took the bus to work and I saw the part of the camp where they tested all the new machines for the war. I was amazed to see the effects that flame throwers could cause.
I finally decided to walk the two miles to work. An officer came in a jeep and offered me a ride. This presented two problems. Enlisted women could not ride with an officer and how was I to get in the vehicle wearing a short skirt. We finally got to my office. I really appreciated the ride.
While I was still working nights, I would get back to the barracks and to bed after midnight. The other WACs had to get up about six o’clock and be dressed and have their beds made. One day a new person did the check-up and went into shock seeing me stand beside my unmade bed and wearing my pajamas. I had to explain why I was going back to bed. I would get up in time to go to the lunch. I was thankful the German POWs did the kitchen work and I didn't have to wash any more pots and pans. They had Italian POWs at Fitzsimons, and I worked them sometimes in my work at the Quartermaster office.
Welshie was determined that she was going to the South Pacific to be near her husband who was a captain of a ship. She continued to pull all kinds of tricks such as not following uniform regulations. One day she starched her fatigue dress and hat and went to work at the library with artificial flowers stuck on the hat. Finally she got her way and was sent to the war zone in the Philippines islands. She remained a private all through the war. Dolt’s health deteriorated and she was discharged and went home to the northeast where her father was a medical scientist.
Afterwards, a WAC who was working at the office when I was assigned to work in the Signal Corps was shipped out. A WAC who worked in the main office as a secretary asked to work in our office in the Tenth Division area. This left only two WACs working up on that end of the valley.
The day arrived to close Camp Hale and all the orders came in on the machine that connected us to the Seventh Service Command in Omaha. Everyone’s next assignment was printed in the continuous sheet of paper that spread all over the floor.
Somehow my MP's friend heard about it and tried to get me to tell them where they were going. I finally convinced him that I couldn't’t tell them.
I searched in vain for my orders. A doctor up at the hospital had no orders and the officer at headquarters called Omaha on the phone to find out what they should do with me. Omaha said to send me to the closest WAC detachment, but no one wrote where they sent me. So I was lost for the rest of the war.
On the final day of the MP's took me to the train station and I retraced my journey to Pueblo and transferred to the train for Denver. I arrived about midnight to report to my new assignment.
The last message I sent on the Western Union machine was sent to Mary Lanza at Fitzsimons, I read:
Make my bed –
Light a light
I’ll arrive late tonight
Blackbird bye bye.
When I reported to the office the next morning, I discovered the first sergeant and her friend, who followed me from Des Moines to Camp Hale had followed me to Fitzsimons. So my bad deeds were known at my new assignment. I was assigned to work on WAC and nurses clothing until the end of the war. So my next assignment was just as nerve wracking. I was lost for the rest of the war. Because no one told Omaha where they had sent me, but that is another story.
The Tenth Mountain Division lost a lot of men in Italy when they climbed the Alps and destroyed the Germans who blocked the passes. Later the Tenth Mountain Division went north to help fight the Germans. During the Battle of the Bulge, they shipped the wounded directly to Fitzsimons. I didn't really know if any of the men from Camp Hale were among them. They moved the Italian Prisoners of War into tents and moved medics into POW camp. This opened up the men’s barracks for the incoming patients. We were honored to be included as a part of the battle and received a citation as being part of the Battle of the Bulge.
When the war in the Pacific was over, we were given a number and were discharged according to our numbers. The WACs who had been at Camp Hale were discharged and I went to Fort Sheridan in Chicago. I still remember seeing all the equipment that was developed in Camp Hale such as the jeep, snowmobile,s and the flame throwers.
If you need more information about the WACs, I have mentioned you might contact the Women’s Memorial in Washington, DC. Sorry, I never knew any WACs in the station compement.