Heroes: the Army
"...Since I still had some civilian clothes that I hadn't disposed of, I went to the pawn shop near the entrance to Fort Sam Houston and pawned my overcoat..."
Joseph J. Szalay
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: 380th FA Btn.,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: CWO, Bronze Star Medal
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Paris, TX
Recreation While Stationed in Texas
by Joseph Szalay, 380 FA - HO.
Draftees during World War II were paid $21 a month for the first four months of service. If you didn't get into trouble during that time, your pay was increased to $30 a month. Big deal!
The military furnished your clothes and most all of the necessities of life in the Army. Of course the only issue clothes that fit were our GI boots. This was important since infantry men spent a large portion of their time hiking - usually with a backpack.
Every Saturday the troops had to get in formation for their weekly inspection. The inspecting officer would check your rifle to see if it was spotless and if not, you would automatically get weekend duty. If your uniform didn't fit properly that was another gig which resulted in a lecture for the first offense. A fresh haircut was required for inspection with the length limited to 1 1/4 inches.
Since your tailor, laundry, barber and other expenses exceeded your monthly earnings, you had to come up with some other source of income. I worked KP during weekends for the guys that had money coming from home. I peeled more potatoes than any other GI (also referred to as a yardbird) in the Army, and I have proof of that.
I recently received a package from my sister who lives near Washington, DC. It contained a letter with my old address postmarked January, 1942. The letter was erroneously filed instead of being mailed and was only recently found.
It was a commendation signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for being the best and fastest potato peeler in the Army. A cover letter signed by President Clinton, apologizing for the undue delay in the mail, was included. For all non-believers, I have both letters framed and ready for inspection.
When my funds were exhausted near the end of the month, I would be forced to take drastic measures. Since I still had some civilian clothes that I hadn't disposed of, I went to the pawn shop near the entrance to Fort Sam Houston and pawned my overcoat.
The coat was worth about $25, but I could only get $2 from the shop. Two dollars were big bucks those days, especially a week before payday. On payday I retrieved my coat.
The best thing I could do with this new-found wealth was to go to town with my buddy and sop up a few 10 cent beers. The Menger Bar, located next to the Alamo, was one of our favorite joints.
Occasionally we would go a few blocks down the street to Frenchy's Black Cat and have a couple of cold beers. Once in a while, some good hearted soul would put a nickel in the nickelodeon and play some popular song of the '40s that would make you cry in your beer.
The area near the pawn shop was known as Snake Hill. It was a rough and rowdy place with several beer joints. The first time we explored this part of town, we witnessed a GI coming down stairs head-first from the second story. It didn't take us long to realize that our time would be better spent in a more civilized part of town.
A buddy from my hometown of Duquesne, PA was assigned to a communications unit some distance from my outfit near the Post entrance. We lost track of each other for several weeks, but we finally met in town one weekend.
His unit received orders to prepare to move to Alaska. We decided to celebrate this occasion with a farewell get-together. After a couple of beers, the bartender reminded us it was closing time.
The only thing we could buy to take out was a bottle of cheap wine. We left the tavern and headed for the River Walk where we could relax and watch the people go by. We would take a nip from the wine bottle every once in a while and reminisce about back home.
The next thing I knew, it was daylight and time to get back to camp. We had fallen asleep on the benches along the River Walk.
The other favorite place for soldiers to frequent was Breckenridge Park. It was only about a mile from our barracks, so we didn't mind the walk. There were a lot of people who visited the park on weekends, and there was an abundance of young ladies.
The biggest attraction was a nickelodeon and a dance area nearby. As soon as the music started playing, the soldiers found partners to dance with and enjoy the songs of the '40s. Jitterbugging was in vogue, and most Yankees loved to dance.
One of the soldiers from our company was a great dancer. He could spend hours dancing during the heat of the day and never get tired. The unusual thing about him was his inability to march or hike. He had the flattest feet in the army. They were diagnosed as third degree flat feet, which meant he was unfit for combat duty.
He was transferred out of our combat unit and sent to post head quarters, which was a noncombat unit. Several months later I saw him walking the beat as an MP in the Austin area. Only the Army could make such a command decision.
In spite of all these brilliant Army rules, we were able to prepare our troops for combat and eventually face the enemy and win the war to end all wars.
Joseph Szalay was a member of the original cadre (from the 2nd Infantry) which activated the 102nd Division at Camp Maxey. He and Reunion Chairman John Sefcik were both S/Sgts. at that time.
----- Joseph Szalay
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
United States Army, 102nd Infantry Division
102 Infantry Division
History of the 102nd Infantry Division
Attack on Linnich, Flossdorf, Rurdorf - 29 Nov -- 4 Dec 1944
Gardelegen War Crime
The above story, "Recreation While Stationed in Texas", by Joseph Szalay, 380the FA Btn. HQs., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 50, No. 2, Jan/March 1998, pp. 4 - 5.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 28 March 2004.
Story added to website on 30 March 2004.
September 5, 2002.
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Updated on 17 February 2012...1351:05 CST