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40 & Eights - Forty men or 8 horses


("They oughta hire a homme to clean up after them chevaux.")


My next encounter with "40 & 8's" came two years later when War was over and I was finally eligible to go home. I was no longer the green second lieutenant that had been put ashore in Casablanca. I was a tough, cynical, experienced, and proud Infantryman who took no xxxx from anybody! I left the 7th Infantry on December 1, 1945 with an equally cynical 1st Lt. named George Rebovich. We hoped and expected to be home for Christmas. But the Army moved slowly and we spent our second miserable Christmas overseas in a redeployment unit (84th Inf. Div.) in Eberbach, Germany..


About a week later, our battalion was trucked to a nearby rail yard where our transportation to Le Havre had finally arrived. It was bitterly cold, snowing and very windy. We were each handed a card with our rail car number on it. Rebovich and I stood side by side, shivering, and stared at a mirror image of the "40 and 8's" we had ridden in North Africa two years earlier. Mirror image because they were now pointed west instead of east. And now the weather was sub-freezing, the "40 & 8's" were snow covered, the doors were wide open and there was no heat of any kind. The C rations and water were no doubt frozen solid. In the distance, up behind the engine, were the two Army Transportation Corps Pullman cars bathed in clouds of steam. The "40 & 8's" stood cold and forbidding. Was this the best the Army and our Country could do for us after what we had been through?


Rebovich turned to me and masterfully summed up our anger, frustration and despair in three four letter words of Army vernacular: "XXXX this XXXX"! And with that, he and I strode to the head of the train and up the forward stairway of the first Pullman car. (Clearly marked OFF LIMITS). The seats had been removed from the front half of the car and we were standing in a carpeted office. The lone occupant, a Transportation Corps Captain in his class A uniform, sat behind a stack of papers on his desk. And it was warm! The REB (Rear Echelon Bastard) was startled by our presence but recovered some of his poise and said, "What can I do for you gentlemen?"


Rebovich and I wore the field uniform of wool O.D., combat boots, combat jacket with the well known 3rd Division patch and Combat Infantry Badge. Over the jacket, we wore our web belts with holstered .45 caliber pistols, trench knives, and ammo pouches and we still wore our camouflaged steel helmets. We hadn't had a change of clothes in a month and those we wore had been slept in because it was so cold. We must have looked like Bill Mauldin's Willie and Joe, except for our scratched and tarnished insignia, crossed rifles and silver bars.


During the Occupation, Rebovich had been our liaison officer with the Russians. I had absolute confidence in his ability to forcefully state our case and in more colorful language than I. We focused on this Rear Echelon Bastard and his branch of the Army as being responsible for our not getting home for Christmas.


"I'll tell you what you can do for us," Rebovich replied. "You can make room for us up here in this nice warm car for the rest of this trip. We've been freezing our ass in wet foxholes for two XXXXing years, and by God, we've had enough!" His statement of our case was delivered with just the right blend of determination and controlled rage, with a strong implication of "or else." I was proud of him!


"All right," replied the REB. "Why don't you make yourselves comfortable in one of the compartments in the rear half of the car and I'll show you where we sleep and eat after we get underway. The compartment was comfortable and roomy. It had two fold down beds and upholstered bench seats and it was warm! When his three sergeants had come back aboard, after having loaded the 800 infantrymen into the "40 & 8's," we got underway. The friendly Captain came back to our compartment, welcomed us aboard, showed us how to put the bunks down, showed us the restroom and told us that the second Pullman was equipped with a small kitchen and a G.I. cook. We played cards, told war stories, and awakened next morning to the smell of fresh coffee and frying bacon.


We felt bad about the 800 dogfaces freezing in the "40 & 8's" behind us, but we rationalized that there was nothing we could do for them under the circumstances and besides, they weren't our men. Had they been the men who fought under our command during the war, we would have been back there suffering with them to offer what meager comfort and encouragement we could. But after two pleasant days and nights, we arrived at Camp Philip Morris near Le Havre where we were billeted in heated Nissan huts for about ten more days. Finally, our grubby little Liberty ship arrived and was ready to sail. Eleven seasick days later, we arrived in New York harbor on a bitterly cold and windy January winter day. Every man was on deck, eyes searching for that first sight of home. When the Statue of Liberty came into view, there was hardly a dry eye among us.




In 1998, I was able to locate ex-Lt. Rebovich through the 7th Infantry Association and I sent him a copy of this story. He telephoned me the same day he received it. He said, "I read your story about the 40 & 8's, handed it to my wife and said, Read this!" She did and then replied, "That's the same story you've been telling us for 50 years."


"Right," he replied, "but now maybe you'll believe it!"


He then added, "My son graduates from college tomorrow and we're having a big family gathering afterward. I'm going to make everybody in the family read this story!"