Second World War: Visiting Camp Robinson on Gas Ration Books

Iowan recalls visiting her brother at Camp Robinson, making the long trip on hoarded tires and gas ration books.

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In September 1942, during the Second World War,  my mother wanted to visit my oldest brother while he was still in Arkansas. This was during the rationing years. My youngest brother and a cousin went with us to take my mother. They both furnished two spare tires, and we had two extra ones. There would have been no way we could have bought a tire if those had not taken us down and back. We felt sure the four tires on our car and the six spare tires would make the trip. We also had three gas ration books with us. 

We stopped at Camp Robinson on a Friday afternoon. My brother was to have leave for the weekend. We did not go to an office anywhere but asked a guard along the drive where to find him. He seemed to know we were coming and told us to pull up by a tent right up ahead of us and he would come there when he had finished.

The tent had the side flaps up, and a cook was sitting there breaking eggs, evidently for supper. He had a 30-dozen case and was breaking eggs one in each hand. He was whistling and singing. He waved at us and said, "He'll be through about four."

We were amazed. It was just as if we were being greeted by family. At exactly 4 o'clock we saw my brother walking across the grounds. The cook was calling to him and pointing to our car. My brother said he could not leave with us until Saturday morning, but they had said we could come back after supper and stay for their Friday night party.

The party, too, was outside. No air conditioning in that time. They had long tables sitting outside, and by the time we came back everyone was covered with empty beer bottles. I don't think beer had been legal in Iowa very long at that time. Also, not from a drinking family, it was a shock to me that they would be allowed to drink in camp.

My brother was 33 when he was drafted, and his way of life was pretty firm. When we got there they came with pop for all of us and said my brother was the only pop drinker in camp. The camp seemed very slack on rules and everyone was happy and friendly. In later years, when my sons and grandsons went into the service, I always thought about all the beer drinking. I knew if they didn't drink before they left, they'd be drinking when they got home.

On Monday we left to see my cousin at Camp Swift by Bastrop, Texas. We found my cousin was in the hospital. We would only be able to visit him from two to four in the afternoons. I don't know how two camps could have been so different. We had only been there about 10 minutes, and we knew we were in the Army. We were stopped for speeding. The speed limit was 25; he said we were going 27. We parked along a street that said hospital parking and all got out. As there were five of us and a four-door car, we all got out of one door. I guess we were suppose to get out on the street side as he was there instantly and said, "Don't you know enough not to step on grass? This is Texas, and we have a hard time making our lawns look good." We got a 10-minute lecture.

I think this was more like what we had expected Army life to be, but after Camp Robinson it was an unpleasant surprise.

Esther Carolus
Clarion, Iowa

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.