As WWII ground on through the 1940’s, no one could take the final outcome for granted. The Nazis and their allied regimes in Italy and Japan were a powerful enemy. Many young people found it necessary to put their hopes for the future on hold while they volunteered or were drafted to serve in the military. One of those young men was Lee Arthur Chaffin. In 1943, a draft notice interrupted his studies at MSU and his dreams of a career in baseball. Of course basic training came before he was sent into active duty in Europe. While at Camp Roberts in California, he sent a fascinating account of live-fire exercises home to his brother Bob in Ithaca, MI. The letter came complete with the detailed diagram in the photo above. Following is an excerpt of that letter:
Today isn’t the fourth of July, but I saw plenty of fireworks. We went to what is called an infiltration course where we undergo the actual conditions of battle. The length of the course was seventy five yards. There were sticks of dynamite placed in holes so we would know where they were. There were three machine guns which we crawled toward. They also threw small charges of explosives among us if we bunched up. It was a course covered with barbed wire about six inches from the ground.
I will relate my course over this course. The Sargeant counted three and we came out of a trench as the three machine guns opened fire. I crawled about twenty feet and came up against the barbwire. (The machine guns fired a foot & ½ above us.) I turned over on my side and placed myself parallel with the wires. It was about thirty feet across the barbwire. As I moved sideways, I picked up the wires carefully and moved them over me. I finally got past the wire and started crawling. All of a sudden I came upon a shell hole. I turned my head away and moved away. I moved about ten feet to my left when a stick of dynamite went off. I covered my head and a shower of dirt went up and landed on me. I went ten more feet and came upon a log I had to crawl over. I turned sideways and went over it. Then I went forward and another stick of dynamite went off. We got another shower of dirt. When I got within ten feet of the machine gun, I slid sideways into a trench and crawled out.
You should have seen us fellows. The machine gun fire, the dynamite, and the very small hand grenades didn’t really bother us, but the dust sure did. We were covered with it an inch deep. You couldn’t recognize anybody!
Thanks to the generosity of his brother Robert Chaffin of Ithaca, the Gratiot Historical Museum has on loan a copy of Lee’s letter. In the same collection, Lee Chaffin has written a narrative of his experiences in Europe as an ammunition truck driver. It includes tales of driving in black-out conditions and a fire breaking out among the loaded ammunition trucks! Somewhere in his adventures, Lee also picked up a bayonet, possibly of German origin.