“The pen is the tongue of the mind.”
Horace, (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) (65 BC – 8 BC)
Sergeant Harley Tidrick sat on his bunk in a Quonset hut in the town of Ivybridge, Devonshire, England. He had just returned to his former unit, Able Company, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division.
Unexpectedly and even more unexplainably, the United States Army disbanded the 29th Ranger Battalion (Provisional) after eleven months of training. The order came through on 18 October 1943 and Harley recently arrived back to his old unit. It was Christmas Eve and he decided to write Jake. He was angry and upset as he chain-smoked his way through the letter. He reread it for the third time.
December 24, 1943
First let me say Merry Christmas to you, kid. I hope this letter finds you in good health. I know you’re in England somewhere and we have to get together on leave sometime and whoop it up. Maybe we can meet in London for a weekend.
I’ve never been so down in all my time in the army. They just disbanded the 29th Rangers. They sent us all back to our outfits. What a waste of all that training. I can’t believe the army is so fucked up. Unbelievable.
We started last December with a call for volunteers. About 170 men and 10 officers volunteered. I wrote you about that. Our cadre was made up of British Commandos, tough bastards.
Our CO was Major Milholland. I didn’t know him because he came from the 115th Regiment but he turned out to be a swell CO. They sent us to Tidworth Barracks for training. We trained hard for two months. At least we thought it was hard. Then we went north to Scotland to the British Commando Depot at Achnacarry House. This was a rugged desolate place that God made just to break men. A combat veteran Scottish Black Watch officer named Captain Hoar of Number 4 Commando trained us. They worked us hard. We did speed marches, PT, hand-to-hand combat, we climbed mountains, ran courses and were thrown to the wolves and had to find our way back. Some of the boys dropped out but most stuck it out. The Stonewallers were well represented. The British instructors were impressed and they’re hard to impress. We were so into it we would run the obstacle course for fun.
We trained in seven or eight different places. Then finally in September we went to Scotland to Dorlin House Commando Training Depot. By then we were hard as steel and in great shape. There were calluses where there used to be blisters and we could speed-march for hours on end without rest. We could climb anything with or without ropes. We were ready!
Then a mission came up. It was a hit and run raid to destroy a radar station on the Ile d’Ouessant. This small island in the Atlantic just off the Brittany Peninsula is also called Ushant on British maps. Lieutenant Gene Dance (you remember him) led a team of eighteen Rangers on the raid. I was one of them. Some British Commandos also came along. Our orders were to destroy the radar station and bring home 2 prisoners. We were also supposed to leave some sign that American Rangers were there so we left Major Milholland’s helmet and pistol belt. We demolished the radar station but the boys got too excited and killed all the Germans. No prisoners! Who can blame them?
Then we moved to Dover to prepare for another raid, this time on France. We had a hundred men ready to go but were turned back by the weather.
Then we got word in October that the War Department pencil pushers had dissolved the 29th Rangers. Major Milholland went to bat for us along with General Cota, the Division G-3, but they couldn’t stop this. I’m sure we’re all better off for the training but if we could have fought as a unit, I think we would have been a special fighting force. We turned in our jump boots. We kept the shoulder tab and decided to sew it on our combat blouse. We earned it. Fuck them all if they don’t like it.
I was proud to be a Ranger with my boys from the 29th. This will take a long time to get over. Have to go now. Wally is playing Father Christmas at a local town party. That’s what they call Santa here in England. Merry Christmas. Write soon.
Harley finished reading the letter. Having written it all down, he already felt slightly better. The censors, he imagined, would have a field day. There would be barely anything left to read once they got through with it. He lit a match, touched it to the lower corner of the letter and let it burn in the ashtray.