Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Letters Home: "I can pick up a lot of hillbilly and western that comes in from Nashville"

The Army used to have four heavy armor divisions, viz., the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Armored Divisions (ADs).  Of these, only the 1st AD remains active.  The 3rd AD was established during WW II and saw a lot action in the European Theatre. More info here.  After WW II, the 3rd Armored Division (The "Third Herd") was reestablished at Fort Knox KY, which had been a fortified encampment since the Civil War. My father was in the 3rd AD during the Cold War between the years 1951 to 1953. In this letter home he describes additional training as well as off-duty diversions. Footnotes are mine:

January 6th, 1952
Dear Mom, Dad and all,
Today is Sunday and I haven’t got anything to do so I thought I would drop you a line. I am listening to a program from Chicago.[1]  That’s the nearest home radio station. I can pick up a lot of hillbilly and western that comes in from Nashville.[2]
We had to go out Sat. morning and clear some land. They are making a new training course. It will be too muddy this winter for us to use it. We might have to in the spring if the weather dries up. Did you get that box? I got the socks and pants Sat.
It snowed about a hour here this morning, but it all melted off in 2 hrs. I think it will clear up for Monday. I went to the show last night. The Sell Out was the name of it.  Has that show about tanks come to R.C. yet? [3]
We start our 6th week training tomorrow. I guess we have to make up the two weeks during leave, in the spring. I heard we would be through training March 27, but I don’t know how true it is. Anyway it won’t be so cold here that time of year.
Have you heard that new song out Shrimp Boats is a Coming? [4] I think it’s a old song revised.
Did F____ make it back to camp alright? Some of the boys around here are still AWOL. Absent without leave.
I had two teeth filled Sat. afternoon. It was a couple that E___ was supposed to fix but I never got around to getting a appointment. I have to go again the 15th. I don’t think I need anymore fillings. I suppose he is going to clean them. As long as it don’t cost me anything, I am going to let them fix um up.[5] Some of the guys need work in their teeth worse than I do but we are going ABC and so on down the line. I wrote J__ a letter last week so should be hearing from him next week or the week after. [6] We have been having nice weather except yesterday it rained. Its getting along towards chow time so will sign off for now.
[1] WLS (890 AM), I presume. WLS has been around forever and had the strongest signal out of Chicago.
[2] In the early 1950's, "Hillbilly and Western" was synonymous with "Country and Western". The term "Country" later replaced "Hillbilly" because the latter term was considered degrading Link.  Nashville, home base for the Grand Ole Opry, was slowly being challenged by Memphis, which was then birthing the musical fusion only later called Rock n Roll.
[3] "Show" is short for "picture show" which was then a common term in rural Wisconsin. The show he's referring to coming to Richland Center is "The Tanks Are Coming".
[4] The song is actually called "Shrimp Boats" and was recorded by Jo Stafford.
[5] This is the healthcare public option in a nutshell: I want healthcare, but I want it to be free. :)
[6] J__ was his older brother, and was then stationed in Korea.


  1. Fascinating stuff. Thanks for posting these letters. It's great you were able to save them. They'll be more and more important in future years.

    It's interesting your father referred to "Hillybilly" music. I remember the term "Hillbilly music" when I was a kid, which was suddenly replaced by "Country" in the '60's. I did a blog post a little while ago -link- about Eva Cassidy's version of the "Tennessee Waltz," where I ruminated a bit about this. I think that post is quite complimentary to your father's references to this music. Popular music genres and their names are a fascinating subject, and your father's use confirms nicely what I vaguely remember.

    Thanks again for this blog. I read it all the time, but I'm afraid I've not been much of a commenter, a situation I am trying to remedy now that Christmas and the year-end rush is over.

  2. Theo:
    I too was raised around country music but I must be just young enough to have missed the "hillbilly" appellation (which btw I had mistranscribed as "hillybilly" but I fixed in my post). From my father's letters I can now see exactly when and how he embraced country music and especially the Nashville version that I recall. None of his siblings did likewise, but none of them were in the service in KY/TN.
    Of course one of my first acts of filial rebellion as a teen was to reject country music (another was to go to college). Happily, I recall my father being pleasantly surprised when he saw that I had a Patsy Cline vinyl, but that was just a few short years before he passed away.
    My mother was 5 years younger than my father and was a huge Elvis fan which might be expected for a female graduating HS in 1955.

  3. WLS had a program called National Barn Dance that could be heard across most of the midwest back in the day. That may have been what you father was listening to.

  4. Interesting thing about country music is that I hated it until I hit my forties. Then I began listening to it off and on, then mostly on.

    Nowdays my favorite genre is roots music - the earliest and most original bluegrass and country. A few great artists have revived it, but it still takes some doing to find the really good stuff.

    Fortunately my 30-something son and several of his friends are also into it and regularly provide me with CDs to copy into my collection.

  5. Although I can't get the jazz monkey off my back. My own little bit of heroin.

  6. Tell me more about roots music. Is centered around banjos? The banjo was originally an african instrument derived from a gourd and a stick (with sinews).

  7. Some of the music includes banjo, some doesn't. It is mostly a blend of tradational west Texas country, bluegrass, Celtic and folk.

    You can listen a roots music broadcast online at

    I'll post a list of artists for your information later today.

  8. Here is a list of a few roots music CDs that you might enjoy.

    Artist (Album Name)
    Carolina Chocolate Drops (Donna Got A Ramblin' Mind)
    Dwight Yokam (Just Lookin' For A Hit)
    Darrell Scott (Modern Hymns)
    Levon Helm (Dirt Farmer)
    Mary Gauthier (Drag Queens In Limousines)
    Hayes Carll (Little Rock)
    Hayes Carll (Trouble In Mind)
    Cadillac Sky (Blind Man Walking)
    Earl Scruggs (Earl Scruggs and Friends)
    Gil Landry (The Ballad of Lowless Soirez)
    Johhny Cash/Willie Nelson (VH1 Storytellers)
    Kindred Spirits: A Johhny Cash Tribute
    Mark Knopfler/EmmyLou Harris (All the Roadrunning)
    Chatham County Line (Route 23)
    Cherry Holmes Family Band (Don't Believe)
    Ray Wylie Hubbard (Snake Farm)
    The Felice Brothers
    Ryan Bingham (Mescalito)
    Mary Gauthier (Filth and Fire)
    Mary Gauthier (Mercy Now)

    On YouTube, search for Ricky Skaggs Boston Pops and watch the entire concert, song by song. Incredible.

    That's a start!