Snook’s Army History (Part 2)

Snook and Gee married in July 1937, the same month that Buchenwald concentration camp opened. Events in Germany and around the world would continue to escalate horrifically and, less than five years later, the couple would be separated for nearly three and half years.

Monday, May 11, 1942 was a sad day for me. I said my goodbyes to everyone including Geneva the day before. The draftees were to meet at the old Quality Restaurant which, at that time, was on the corner of Chester and Walnut St. It was located on the northwest corner. We met long before daybreak; I don’t remember just what time we were supposed to meet, but they gave us breakfast there, which I just couldn’t find an appetite for. I was sure down in the dumps. Mr. Hinds (Hilah’s Dad) came in the restaurant looking for me, but I ducked out of sight, I’m ashamed to say, because I didn’t feel like talking to anybody.

An ad for the Quality Cafe, owned by Mr. Peter and Mrs. Julia Tomaras, which ran in the Daily Illini paper the day before Snook was served breakfast there. Source: Daily Illini, 10 May 1942, Illinois Digital Newspaper Archive.
The Quality Cafe on the corner of Chester and Walnut in Champaign Illinois, where the draftees were served breakfast before heading north to Chicago. Source: Facebook, Foti Kutil.
A portion of the Quality Cafe menu from the late 1930s. Source: Peter T. Tomaras.
A vintage postcard featuring the Quality Cafe’s newer North room addition. Source: Peter T. Tomaras.
A Quality staff dinner hosted by the Tomaras family in the original South room of the Quality Restaurant, circa 1938. Source: Peter T. Tomaras.

After the breakfast, we boarded the bus to go to Chicago for the physical exam. We were stopped somewhere on the way up for a rest stop, and finally wound up somewhere on Franklin St. in Chicago for our physical. There must have been several hundred other men there also for their physical exam. The first thing we all had to do was take off all our clothes, and get in line, to go see one doctor after another, all looking from head to toe. One would look at your eyes, another your nose, another your ears, then your heart, and finally wind up with your feet. I had to wash my ears out with warm water and a syringe — why I don’t know because I could sure hear okay. When they weighed us, I weighed 135 pounds, which they first said was 1 pound underweight, and then another guy said, “No, they changed that.” When we finally had been to all the doctors, we were told to dress and wait for the results they came up with. If they called your name, it meant you were rejected, and they would give you a ticket to get back home. I saw guys being called that looked a whole lot healthier than me, so I thought they would surely get around to calling my name — but they didn’t. Finally, at 10:00 p.m. that night the ones that were left were called into a group and given the oath to serve in the Army. Somewhere along the line, some guy asked me what I thought I was best suited for and I told him since I was a carpenter that maybe they should put me in the Engineers, but he said that quota was full and how would I like the Air Corp. I said it didn’t make any difference to me, so that is what I was supposed to be in. The guy that followed me in line I heard ask for the Air Corp — and the same guy who asked me that told him the Air Corp was full and how about the Engineers! And that’s the truth! That was my first experience with how the Army operated.

After going through all that ordeal all day, I was exhausted and couldn’t even think straight. They took us all over to the train station and we road the train that night to Camp Grant in Rockford, Ill. I think it must have been 1 o’clock in the morning when we got there, and they took us to the Mess Hall (Army dining room) for what I don’t know, because all I wanted at that time of night was a bed. I tried to eat something but couldn’t, and then we finally were assigned a barracks and bed. I believe the sergeant showed us how to make our beds, and told us we would be called at 5:00 a.m. to get ready for roll call at 6:00 a.m. That gave us all about two hours sleep, that didn’t do anything for me. When I finally got in bed, I looked up and hanging on a wire up above the foot of the bed was a tag with the initials K.P. (which I figured was Kitchen Police duty) and then I worried the rest of the night whether or not I was going to be called for that chore, but I wasn’t.

The Camp Grant Mess Hall, where Snook just wanted some sleep. Source: Midway Village Museum – Digital Collections
Aerial photo of Camp Grant. Source: Library of Congress, American Memory Project, via Wikipedia.

Camp Grant was opened as a training facility for new troops in World War I in 1917, then, following the war, served as a facility for the Illinois National Guard and later for the Civilian Conservation Corp, before returning to the US Army to host basic training for World War II soldiers like Snook, as well as medical training for Army doctors and other medical personal. Soon after, it began to host prisoners of war. The camp was permanently closed following the war, in 1946.

Map of the Camp Grant area, 1940. Source: Illinois Digital Archive

For more information about Camp Grant, here is a short bibliography of additional resources.

  • Camp Grant, Gregory S. Jacobs, Arcadia Publications; 2003, 126 p. [WorldCat] [Amazon]
  • Historical and pictorial review Medical Replacement Training Center, Camp Grant, Illinois, 1942, Army and Navy, Baton Rouge; 1941, 69 p. [WorldCat]
  • Soldiers’ shirt pocket handbook of Camp Grant and Rockford, Ill.; with maps of Camp and city, Camp Grant, Rockford; 1917, 32 p. [WorldCat]
  • The Camp Grant Sentinel was a camp periodical that ran from 1941-1943.
  • The Midway Village Museum as well as the Camp Grant Museum seek to preserve the history and remaining physical artifacts of the training facility used during both world wars, and the Rockford Public Library contains a number of rare and specialized texts on the Camp.

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