Letters from War – On the train to Fort Meade, Maryland in October 1943

This is part of our “Letters from War” series documenting the World War II letters of Irvin Schwartz of Pine Grove, PA. The letters were all published in the West Schuylkill Press-Herald between 1943 and 1945. 

Read the previous letter here

After a long, hot summer training in anti-tank tactics at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, Private First Class Irvin Schwartz boarded a train with his fellow soldiers in October 1943. They were bound for the East Coast and a troop ship for the European Theatre of the Second World War.

PFC. Irvin Schwartz, 1943

The 19-year-old soldier from Pine Grove, PA had gone through extensive training at Camp Shelby, one of the largest military training sites in the United States at that time. Schwartz had joined the military in May 1943. By the end of July, Schwartz had been promoted a rank from private to private first class.

Notice of Schwartz’s promotion in the West Schuylkill Press-Herald, August 1943

The train Schwartz and his comrades boarded in October 1943 took them across the American South, bringing them through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and ultimately to a layover at Fort Meade on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland. In an extensive letter to his hometown newspaper, the West Schuylkill Press-Herald, Schwartz described his trip in detail and the national landmarks he saw along the way.

Fort George G. Meade, Md.

Wednesday, October 13, 1943

Hello, Mr. Reber:

Well, over the weekend I moved from Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to my own back yard – Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. Yes, after six months of service, I finally said farewell to the cotton and watermelon field of Ole Miss, the Gulf of Mexico, and the hot climate of Camp Shelby.

We left Camp Shelby by train on Saturday afternoon and then moved into Hattiesburg. We proceeded to Laurel and Meridian, Mississippi before crossing the Mississippi-Alabama boundary.

American soldiers boarding a troop train during World War II

We passed through Birmingham, one of Alabama’s largest cities and the home of the University of Alabama. From Alabama we went into Georgia, known for its famed Fort Benning. While in this state we passed through large cities, such as Atlanta, home of the University of Georgia, and Athens, home of the Georgia Tech Bulldogs, nationally famed football club. [these were mistakenly switched – whether or not by original author or Press-Herald editor – Georgia Bulldogs are in Athens and Georgia Tech is in Atlanta]

We then crossed the state of South Carolina and then continued “a little bit north of South Carolina” and went over the state of North Carolina. IN these twin states we first noticed the kind of hospitality shown in the northern part of the country. From here on everyone shook us “hello” and we in return always did likewise.

We passed through and stopped briefly in two of Virginia’s most historic cities, namely Richmond and Fredericksburg. At Richmond we witnessed hundreds of Naval Cadets drilling on the grounds of the beautiful Richmond Naval School. Also in Virginia we saw the famous Stonewall Jackson Shrine, and later the highlight of our journey – the Quantico Marine Base, where many of my buddies have trained. Another point of interest in this state was Macon College.

The now-named Stonewall Jackson Death Site mentioned by Schwartz in his letter. (Author’s Note – I lived adjacent to the death site in the summer of 2015 as an intern at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.)

We passed Mount Vernon, home of George Washington, and a minute later came to historic Alexandria, Virginia. One of the numerous places of interest we happened to see was the Alexandria Courthouse.

Leaving Alexandria, we could see Washington, especially the National Capitol, Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, Georgetown University, Washington Airport, and many more points of interest. We passed Bolling Field where we stationed some of the largest planes in the country. After leaving the nation’s Capitol city, it was but a half hour’s ride here to Fort Meade, situated halfway between Washington and Baltimore, Maryland.

A view from the Lincoln Memorial toward the Washington Monument and US Capitol, November 1943 (LOC)

Probably the most beautiful scene I witnessed on the trip, and maybe the most beautiful I ever will see was the “picture” at Mount Vernon, the rolling waters of the Potomac and the various shaded leaves falling from the trees, together with the appearance of the mansion itself sure were picturesque.

Mr. Reber, I really don’t know how long I’ll be here, but Uncle Sam may call us overseas shortly – the heart’s desire of more than 75 percent of us including myself. We, honestly, are very anxious to take an active part in bringing this war to a complete end. The morale here proves my statement, too.

We were promised furloughs, but now I’m sure we won’t get them, however, we don’t feel too bad about this, ‘cause we have a grand furlough coming after the war. As you know, I still have my first furlough coming, and I’m in the service for six months now.

Private Bush of Tremont came here with me from “Old Mrs. Sippie.”

I think I’ll attend the Penn State-Navy football game in Annapolis on Saturday afternoon, and I may see the Washington Redskins on Sunday afternoon at Washington’s Griffith Stadium. While on the subject of sports, I want to wish Coach Pepe and his Pine Grove High School 1943-44 basketball team a victory in each and every game on this year’s schedule. This is all I can say simply because I won’t be able to sit in the stands and watch my Alma Mater roll up points on the opposition this year.

I haven’t as yet received last week’s Press-Herald which was sent to Camp Shelby, but I do expect it any day now. Please change my address accordingly. As I said in previous letters, there’s nothing I appreciate more than reading news items referring to that “pleasant busy village” which is “nestled in amongst the mountains.”

Well, Mr. Reber, I shall try to find my friend, Lt. Merritt Hein, this evening. In closing I am wishing you the best of luck, success, health, and happiness.

Please give my regards to Mrs. Reber, Miss Bashore, Miss Miller, and the rest of the staff, including all carriers and correspondents.


PFC. Irvin Schwartz

Schwartz did make his trip home to Pine Grove on a furlough while at Fort Meade. He visited his parents in Schuylkill County before returning to his unit at Fort Meade. They knew the time was rapidly arriving that they would be heading toward the war zone. With all the zeal of young soldiers who had yet to experience combat, they eagerly sought to join the fight.

A note about Schwartz’s furlough in the Press-Herald, October 1943


Featured Image: American soldiers boarding a troop train during WWII. 

This is part of a series titled: “Letters from War.” Read more of the letters written by Irvin Schwartz during World War II


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2 thoughts on “Letters from War – On the train to Fort Meade, Maryland in October 1943

  1. Thanks for all your posts Jake. Like em all. The recent Schwartz letters home are really special. Your work is much appreciated.

    Ed Bechtel,
    Loyalton, PA

    Liked by 1 person

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