Thursday, February 25, 2021

McCollough & Lenig report from Camp Bowie, Texas

Texas recently experienced a stretch of bad weather and we're all still engaged in the battle against a worldwide influenza pandemic. So I was struck by a couple of modest parallels in a letter home from Camp Bowie, Texas, published on the front page of The Chariton Leader of March 3, 1941.

The author was Don McCollough (1917-1997), left, who had been undergoing basic training there with a buddy, Ben N. Lenig (1916-2009), since February. The two had gone into Des Moines with another Chariton youth, John Paul Shelton, to enlist in the Iowa National Guard on Jan. 21.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed the nation's first peacetime draft into law the previous September and as the new year dawned, Lucas County's monthly Selective Service quota had been set at three. But these young men decided to enlist rather than wait.

And of course Pearl Harbor and U.S. entry into World War II still were nearly a year away, so they really had no idea of exactly what they faced or how long they would be in service.

Here's the letter, introduced by an editor's note:


Two Chariton boys now in the Army with the 113th Cavalry are beginning to wonder about this "Smiling Texas Skies" business. The men are Donald W. McCollough and Ben Lenig (left) and are stationed at Camp Bowie, Brownwood, Texas.

In a letter home recently, McCullough had this to say about Texas weather:

"It has been raining here for a week with the skies still bleak and gray. Everything is a sea of mud and water.

"We have a flu epidemic here in camp which has put the whole camp under quarantine. We have 181 men in our troop with only 90 left for duty because of the flu. the troop next to us has only five men on active duty as we had to stand guard for them recently.

"But bad weather is no obstacle in the Army --- you just keep on doing what you are doing.

"The weather and quarantine has the 'Gripe Troop' on the march. By that I mean some of the boys in their spare time march up and down the company street shouting 'Gripe' and keeping in step to it. Sometimes it wears us out listening to it.

"We are really beginning to look like soldiers now. We are all in good uniforms and are marching in good cadence and form. We are soon going on the rifle range for two weeks of target practice.

"I think from the sound of things that we are in the Army for at least three years. The chances are that we may be sent to Panama or some place in the West Indies.

"We have had a lot of maneuvers and practice combat work against other platoons as well as lots of camouflaging of scout cars and tents. We build and fill deep cuts or ditches for the cars and so forth to pass over. This is all done with spades and axes.

"We have nine weeks left here, then we will be off for maneuvers all over the country."


Both McCollough and Lenig were assigned to the 125th Calvary Reconnaisance Squadron, departing for Glasgow, Scotland during mid-January 1944 and landing on Omaha Beach, Normandy, on June 16 to fight their way across France into Germany. McCollough served in Troop E and Lenig, in Troop F.

McCollough returned to the United States during June of 1945 with three Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, according to his obituary. Lenig returned home during October of 1945 as a staff sergeant after having served as a tank commander during the campaign.

Both settled down, married, raised their families, lived and died in Iowa --- McCollough in Lucas County and Lenig, in Chariton and Des Moines.

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