Report on Gee and Mildred’s Trip to Little Rock and Camp Robinson

July 2 to 7, 1942

We will take a short break from Snook’s memoir so that I can share another document related to his time in Basic Training. My background notes will precede the original text for a change in this entry, due to the length of the post. In 1942, Gee and Mildred Cain Barber, wife of Snook’s oldest brother Claude, took a trip over the long Fourth of July weekend to see Snook while he was in training at Camp J. T. Robinson, just outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. Mildred composed an account of the trip, nearly twelve pages typewritten (I warned you it’s a long post!). She was a secretary in the University of Illinois Department of Architecture at the time, which explains both her proficiency at the typewriter and why a professor of architecture, Frank Mills Lescher, joined their send-off party.

I never had a chance to meet Mildred (born Viola Mildred Cain in 1906), both she and Claude passed long before I was born, yet I love that I can get to know a very small piece of her and share it with whomever searches her name or stumbles across this. Her writing is expressive and detailed – and yes, at times uses problematic racial vernacular – it opens a vivid little window into a weekend 80 years in the past, warts and all, and you can grasp a sense of the woman and what it was like to travel with her. Snook’s memoir of this time was written decades later, during the 1980s, but this report was typed up within days of occurring – a true primary source. I hope any readers appreciate its survival, as I do.

The Barber ladies: Mildred “Sis” Barber, Gee, Mildred Cain Barber, Tillie Barber.

Since Snook’s induction into the Army, we had talked of making a trip to see him, and then suddenly we decided to go over the 4th of July week-end. First we thought we would go by Greyhound Bus, but when we found out that all bus lines were scheduled for a general shake-up of schedules the week-end we were going, and we couldn’t be sure of return schedules, we investigated the possibilities of going by train, and were delightfully surprised to find that the price was very little more than the bus fare. When we made up our minds to go by train we began to be really excited; to understand my excitement you should understand that I hadn’t been on a train in fifteen years!

Many letters were written and many directions were given as to how to get to the camp, and reservations were made at the Hotel Marion in Little Rock a month before the trip was scheduled. The only real worry was that the bivouac required before the completion of Snook’s preliminary training just might be scheduled the week-end we were to be there, so Snook decided he would phone us the evening we were to leave, to let us know whether it was “all clear”. He had some trouble getting the call through, and it came in at 8 instead of at 7 that evening. We were scheduled to leave at 10, and you can well imagine the nail-biting that was going on previous to receiving the call. There was a “gathering of the clan” at the Bruns house when the call came in, and everyone had a word to say. But the most important thing he said to us was COME AHEAD.

We had been advised by the ticket agent at the Illinois Central to come down and get our tickets “ten or fifteen minutes before train time”, so we went down at about 8:30 – and it was a good thing we did. A man and woman were evidently planning a trip to the far ends of the earth, as we stood on one foot and then the other for what seemed like an interminable period, and finally when the tickets were in our possession there was about 45 minutes left for bathing, dressing, and last minute packing. So, instead of a leisurely preparation and a long wait for ten o’clock to come, I left in a flurry of excitement, wondering what I had forgotten.

We went down to the station at about 9:30 and found quite a group there to give us a send-off. Claude took us down, of course, and Gee’s brother Chick, home on furlough from Fort Ord, California, his girlfriend Rita, Paul and Lorean, and Prof. Lescher, who brought us a pound of Fannie May candy to chaw on on the way. The minutes seemed to drag, but finally the time arrived for going up to the station platform — and I don’t know of anything more exciting than that first humming of the rails, then the headlight getting bigger and bigger, and finally the train puffing in and groaning to a stop.

Above: Chick Bruns, Gee’s brother, and his girlfriend Rita Fleshner. Source:

Right: Claude Barber (back center), Gee (center), and Mildred Cain Barber (front) at Claude and Mildred’s 15th anniversary party just 21 days after the trip to Little Rock.

Right here at our home base, occurred the most disappointing incident of our entire trip. With the farewells of our send-off party sounding in our ears, and with all the excitement that goes with climbing on the train, we were all set for the great adventure. The colored conductor said for us to turn left for seats in the coach; this we dutifully did — and what a mess met our eyes. The coach was packed and people were standing in the aisles; cigarette smoke was thick enough to cut; the air was so foul as to nearly choke us. Claude was with us and we finally were lucky enough to get crowded single seats at the far end of the coach, due to the politeness of a couple of soldiers who insisted that we take their places. We had no place for our bags. Just as our anticipation was dwindling, Claude motioned for us to follow him, and the conductor was telling us that they were putting on an extra coach, but we would have to go to the end of the train to get on it. So we started out, coat-tails flapping in the breeze and suitcases flopping, and finally came to the end coach and boarded it.

And what a nice surprise that was! It was a Deluxe Chair Car, air-conditioned, with chairs that could be let back until they were very much like a bed. And the rest room, instead of the usual “hole in the wall” was spacious, done in turquoise blue, with big upholstered arm chairs, two lavatories, a big mirror, and all the trimmings.

Somewhere down the line a Pullman containing soldiers was put on back of our car. The buffet lounge and bar was up ahead somewhere, so the traffic was considerable through our car. There was one pretty girl at the rear of our car, and the soldiers discovered her at about eleven o’clock, and such a racket they made — trying to get in solid with her. Finally all of them went to bed except one, and from then on I didn’t sleep much because it was too much fun to watch the goings-on. I discovered finally that I could save the wear and tear on my neck by watching their reflection in the glass above my chair, and I still marvel at their technique. It is particularly astounding to me, even yet, when I consider that they were complete strangers about an hour before. But once they became acquainted, they certainly lost no time!

Gee had prepared sandwiches for that hungry feeling in the wee small hours, and they were really good. We were eating a baked ham sandwich when the conductor made one of his many trips through our car. Seeing him reminded me that I was going to inquire about the diner, so I asked him where it was located. He laughed and told me that I shouldn’t worry about the diner, I seemed to be doing all right with the sandwich, but went on to say that they would put the diner on at Fulton, Kentucky, and breakfast would be served at about six or six-thirty.

We crept over the Mississippi River at Cairo at a snail’s pace, and I dashed over to Gee’s chair to waken her and tell her to look. In the early morning light the river looked enormously wide and eery, and no wonder — in the morning paper I noted that the crest of the flood had been reached at Cairo, with the highest water in years. It was quite a sight, believe me — water everywhere.

At six-thirty the porter came through and announced that breakfast was being served, so I insisted that we go in and eat, although Gee said she wasn’t hungry in the least. We had to go through about three sleepers to get to the diner, and it was hard to keep from bumping people in their berths. I bumped into a man’s head and heard a grunt of surprise, and we got the giggles until we could hardly walk straight.

The diner was lovely — turquoise walls and amethyst curtains (the same color scheme I have in my dining room!) and of course the service was excellent. We were all braced to see terribly high prices but were agreeably surprised. I took the Club Breakfast at 65 cents, and had a sliced orange, oatmeal with cream, bran muffins, and coffee. Gee took cinnamon toast and orange juice — all I could talk her into ordering. And such a lot of beautiful serving stuff — silver pitchers, a cover for Gee’s toast, a beautiful tall server surrounded with ice for my sliced orange, and finger bowls at the finish. This was our first experience eating in a diner, and both of us got a big kick out of it.

By the time we had powdered our noses and got our belongings together, we were pulling into Memphis. Across from us all the way down the line was a very pleasant young negro woman with a small boy, both of them extremely quiet and mannerly. She had had considerable trouble about her ticket for some reason or other; every time a new conductor came through, checking tickets, there would be a lot of talk and head shaking, as if she were wrong in being on that train. She would tell them that she was going to New Albany, Mississippi (but you should have heard her pronunciation!) and finally would convince them that she was on the right train. She tried to get some sleep, and every time she would doze off some conductor would come through and poke her to ask about her ticket. Gee and I got to feeling sorry for “that poor woman”. She was so patient. Well, as the porter came through and called “MEMPHIS”, this woman reached up for a large suitcase, and as she swung it down, it came unfastened and spilled the entire contents in the aisle and under various seats — just as we were pulling in to the station, and she had to catch another train there. Poor thing, she just sat there with a long-suffering look in her eyes and seemed helpless to do anything about it. We scrammed out of the way, and the last we saw of her she was down on her hands and knees trying to reclaim all that stuff. I wonder if she ever did reach New Albany, Mississippi. It still worries me.

Most of the occupants of that chair car were black, but it didn’t bother us in the least. All of them were quiet and mannerly, and I must admit that the white soldiers and the one white girl raised more of a ruckus than all the black folks put together. There was one little negro boy, about six years old, who evidently suffered from car sickness, and some member of his family was forever pushing him down the aisle to the men’s room, and several times the boy stopped even with my car and swallowed hard, and every time I thought, here it comes. Poor youngster, he was SO sleepy, and SO sick. That must be awful. But never once did he complain.

Postcard of Union Station in Memphis, circa 1912. Source: Wikipedia.

We had only a ten-minute period between trains in Memphis, but there was a hospital sleeper going to Hot Springs on our train, and we were assured that they would hold the Rock Island if necessary, as that hospital sleeper had to make connections. God Bless the sick people!

We got off the train at the union station in Memphis, hired a Red Cap, and we kept getting ahead of him — guess he knew there was no hurry, but every time I looked up Gee was way up ahead of the Red Cap. He took us quite a ways, up stairs and down stairs, to get on the other side of the trains, and all at once we were marveling at the fact that we were boarding the Rock Island train. We didn’t rate a chair car, but rather an old-fashioned coach, but it was spotless and air-conditioned, and very comfortable.

There was a man sitting directly in front of us, a typical sour puss if I ever saw one, who seemed to hate even himself. As we were leaving Memphis we went over the Mississippi River again, and Gee noticed the sign on the bridge. Not seeing it very well, as we were traveling pretty fast, she said, “Oh look, the MISSOURI River”. Whereupon the guy in front turned around, glared at us, and grunted in a loud voice, “MISSISSIPPI”, then turned around again. It was awfully hard to keep from laughing.

Such interesting people travel on the trains. Across from us was a small typical traveling man, ahead of him was a young mother with two small girls and a smaller boy who was a double handful of mischief and cute as the dickens. Across and back from us a little was an elderly Jewish couple, the woman was obviously trying to look like a flapper but she couldn’t get by with it. We got a special kick out of her very fancy lace gloves!

We went back to the Cafe Lounge and got a coke. Across from us was a good looking young girl who was telling the girl in the chair next to her that she was visiting her husband at Camp Robinson. After we arrived in Little Rock we kept bumping into this same girl, and she came back on the same train with us. We felt almost like we knew her! She was southern and very attractive and knew how to pour on the charm. Judging by the size of the diamond she wore, she had probably had all the advantages she could possibly have, and judging from the bear hug with which her husband greeted her at the station in Little Rock, she was a much loved bride.

A rice field in Stuttgart County, Arkansas, c. 1909. Source: Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

The landscape began to look entirely different, with many rice fields in evidence — the first we had ever seen. We were discussing rice and a young man ahead of us (the sour puss had changed to another part of the car) turned around and volunteered to tell us something about its cultivation, as he said he came from a rice farm. He gave us quite a bit of information and we appreciated it very much. We saw hundreds of negroes working in the fields, and the most miserable shanties where they exist — you couldn’t call it living. I suppose this was typical Arkansas sharecropper country, and as far as I am concerned, you can have all of it. Life is certainly very real and earnest for those hard-working darkies.

We pulled in to Little Rock at about noon, a half hour late. We thought we would be besieged by taxi drivers, but had to lug our bags through the station and then wait for a cab. It was the first time I’d ever been in a town where the cabs have to be coaxed to take you places and where not a single one met the train. Finally by paying the Red Cap he found a cab driver who wasn’t even civil, but we had to take him anyway. He turned out to be a highway robber, as well, charging us 70 cents for the brief journey to the hotel, and refusing to touch our baggage. He took another girl with us, and she alighted first at her hotel, then we wandered around and finally ended up at the Hotel Marion. If the hotel boy hadn’t been there I imagine we would have had to unload our own bags from the rear of the taxi, but luckily we had a very courteous negro from the hotel who took care of us in grand style. Fooey on that taxi driver. I don’t like his kind.

We were impressed by the appearance of the Marion, and glad we had chosen it for our stay in Little Rock. The room clerk said we had arrived a little earlier than he had anticipated, and the rooms he had scheduled for us were not vacated as yet, but after conferring with someone behind the scenes he told the boy to take us up to Rooms 400 and 476. I had asked especially that our rooms not adjoin, as I wanted Snook and Gee to be completely to themselves, and that room clerk certainly took me literally. Each of us had a corner room, at opposite corners of that big hotel, and it was approximately a block between them!

The Hotel Marion, circa 1911-1915, at 200 West Markham in Little Rock, Arkansas. Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Online Collection.

After getting “settled in” we bathed and dressed and went down to the hotel coffee shop, “The Frog Pond”, for lunch. We found the food very good and the prices not too bad, although not low. We inquired after lunch about busses out to Camp Robinson, and found that we were just a block from the bus station and that busses ran every 15 minutes, on a 24-hour schedule. So we went back up to Gee’s room, and relaxed for about an hour. People with ordinary sense would probably have slept longer, as we were really tired from that trip, but we were antsy-pantsy to get out to the camp, so at about four o’clock we walked down to the bus station.

Snook had cautioned us to be sure to ask the bus driver when boarding the bus, if he went to 24th and Nebraska Road, his particular corner, so we kept asking and were beginning to wonder if we would ever get the right bus when one came in marked “Base Hospital”, and sure enough he said he went by that corner. Bus tickets are 25 cents for the round trip, and it is a very nice drive — about 15 miles each way I should imagine.

Gee had Snook’s letter and we followed his instructions to the letter when we got off the bus, and sure enough there was the Day Room that he spoke of. We went inside and found a very nice recreation room, with ping-pong table, pool table, magazines, a piano, and a few soldiers here and there. So we sat down to wait, and Gee started getting the trembles. Every time a bunch of soldiers would approach she would look, in vain, for Snook, and finally she said we would never see him as they all looked alike. After about 15 minutes, a handsome young Corporal stuck his head in the front door, spied us, pointed his finger at Gee, yelled “You’re Mrs. Barber, I’ll go get Frank” and disappeared. And in about five minutes we looked up to see a tall and strangely familiar figure coming across the drill field towards us, fast. Our first impression was that he was ALL TEETH! He has always had beautiful white prominent teeth, and has always had a wide smile, but now he is as brown as a berry and the contrast is terrific! He grabbed Gee and kissed her so hard that she had a bruised spot on her chin for days — I thought he never was going to let her go, and was finally getting ready to poke him and say REMEMBER ME? when he finally let up on the embrace and gave me one — a good one but easier on my chin. Then everyone started talking at once.

After Snook had changed clothes and had told us excitedly that he had a pass for THAT night (an unexpected privilege) we all dashed down to the corner and got the bus back for town. We saw the bus coming over the ridge as we were crossing the street towards it, and started to run — and discovered that we had lead in our shoes. I was beginning to realize that we had been over a lot of territory and were really tired — in fact I had never before fully realized the full meaning of “dead on your feet” until then.

We piled on the bus and Gee and I were lucky enough to get single seats up front, across from each other. I sat down by a good looking soldier who seemed very pleasant, and immediately he started talking — asking where I was from (he had never heard of Champaign, Illinois), and when I started asking the questions I found out that he was from Wyoming, had been married 12 years, his wife was a nurse, and he was a very pleasant conversationalist. He asked me if I was visiting someone and I said yes, my brother-in-law Private Barber, and he said which one is he? So I looked back at that bunch of soldiers at the rear, standing, and wondered how I could point out Snook to him when I couldn’t be sure which one he was, and just that moment when we were both looking, Snook grinned at me from ear to ear. Whereupon my friend from Wyoming said — oh the GUY WITH THE TEETH, and that sorta stuck with all of us the entire week-end because it was exactly what we thought when we saw him for the first time.

The guy with the teeth! Snook and Gee during their visit at Camp Robinson, photo taken by Mildred.

When we pulled in at the bus station in Little Rock the soldier from Wyoming said he had enjoyed talking to me, and that since we would no doubt never meet again he wished me luck and a pleasant trip home. I wished him the same and we shook hands on it, then got off the bus. More about this guy later! At this point we didn’t know each other’s names, nor had I said anything about where we were staying.

We decided that this called for a celebration, so we took Snook to the dining room of the hotel for dinner — steak and it was very good. After that I did a disappearing act (I know when I ain’t wanted!) and left the kids to themselves. We had said that we would get together later in the evening and go out and get a coke, but I discovered that the bed felt too wonderful, so when Snook knocked on my door I turned him down and went to bed. Incidentally, it had been 40 hours since either of us had had any sleep. Try that some time and you will know how we felt.

That was the night I took cold. You see, my room was directly up over the Missouri Pacific Bus Terminal (Gee’s room overlooked the river) and there was much excitement all day and all night. So, not wanting to miss anything, I pulled my bed over in front of the window so I could watch the activities below. There were two things I hadn’t counted on — the fact that a cold breeze comes up every night in Arkansas, and that I was so completely exhausted that I wouldn’t be aroused by being chilly. So I slept on and when I awakened the next morning I could tell that I was in for a case of the sniffles. Just enough to make me feel punk, not really a bad cold, thank goodness.

Snook had to be back in camp at 6 a.m., so he left a call for 4 a.m., and left at 5 a.m. by bus. He had quite a time rousing Gee, but finally succeeded in getting her up so she could lock the door after he left. You see, Snook doesn’t trust the soldiers! Anyone who has known Snook for awhile will see the humor in him rousing Gee — before his Army days it took quite a lot to rouse him! Now he gets up, starts talking, and is as alert as anyone else. In the “good old days” he couldn’t even speak before getting that early morning cup of coffee.

I had just been up a few minutes when Snook and Gee knocked at my door; he had been out to the camp and was back, and all ready for breakfast. I sent them on their way, as I still had to dress, and I think they wanted to be alone, anyway. By the time I had dressed it was nearly time for lunch, instead of breakfast, so I went down to the lobby and waited until 11:30, then went in to the Coffee Shop and had a very good lunch. One of the things I had that I thought was very good, was a helping of red kidney beans cooked with pork. Tasted awfully good to me.

At one o’clock Snook had to take a bus for the camp, as he was scheduled to march in the big 4th of July Parade at four o’clock, and he had quite a bit to do to get ready. Gee and I took our time about getting ready and left at three o’clock on the bus for the camp. This time we looked around a bit after getting off the bus, and found Snook all lined up ready to march, in formation on his company street. He couldn’t talk to us, but spied us and grinned that toothsome grin of his.

Gee and I went to the Day Room, as it was awfully sunny and hot outside, and after sitting down for a while, Corporal Potter asked Gee if she wasn’t going down to see her Old Man march, and finally got around to asking her if she would like to go with him to the parade. I decided against going, as I can’t take too much sun, so I sat in the Day Room and visited with some of the soldiers and looked over some new magazines.

Gee reported that Potter walked fast and took her through all the short cuts, through rough fields with stones and sticks, but they did get to the parade ground and Gee did see Snook and did take some pictures, so she was glad she made the effort. Incidentally, they picked the better trained boys for that parade, so we were of course proud that Snook was one of the picked boys for marching. He must be doing all right.

After the parade, the big idea was to get back to town, so we tried to get a bus, but they were all loaded by the time they got to our corner and wouldn’t even stop. After having about three of them pass us up, we finally got in a taxi — and whew! what a ride. There were nine of us in the cab, including the driver, and he evidently didn’t have any regard for human life. He held it between 60 and 70 per all the way in to town, passed on curves, pulled out to pass without having any idea of getting back in line, and forced a couple of on-coming cars off the road. We finally got to the point where we closed our eyes — tight — and didn’t dare even look. I was sitting next to a young Jewish Lieutenant from Dayton, Ohio, a very friendly fellow who seemed interested in our trip down to the camp, and he said that he believed he would be safer in Australia than in that taxi —said it loudly enough for the driver to hear, but he made no effort to drive differently. The only nice part was that we were in town a little while, traveling at that speed, and the taxi let us out right across from our hotel.

We went into sort of a “joint” and had a surprisingly good supper — T-Bone steaks and trimmings. But the noise! Practically all the occupants were soldiers on 4th of July leave, and having a swell time. We were so parched that we drank several glasses of water and two cokes apiece. It was a relief to escape to the relative quiet of the streets.

Movie posters for “Take a Letter, Darling” and “The Mayor of 44th St.”. Source:

It was Saturday night and we decided to do something, so I said I’d take the kids to a movie. We noticed that “Take a Letter, Darling” was showing at the Arkansas Theatre, so I phoned from the hotel and found that it was air-conditioned and that we could catch a feature in about half an hour. Snook and Gee went to their room and I waited for them, but it was longer than a half an hour! When we got to the movie and Snook waited in line to get the tickets, he was told that all seats were sold and we would have to wait, so we went on to the Pulaski Theatre to see “The Mayor of 44th Street”, which was very ordinary — in fact, both Snook and Gee had to make an effort to keep awake.

Pulaski Theater, Little Rock, circa 1940s. Source: Enter the Razorback.

We found out that evening what a nuisance this saluting order is, to Privates and Officers alike. The order is that a Private must salute every officer — recognize him at 30 paces, salute him at 6 paces, and hold the salute until it is returned, or if the officer does not return it, until he is 6 paces beyond you. With so many officers on the streets it kept poor Snook so busy that he couldn’t even carry on an intelligent conversation, but they are very strict about the order being observed to the letter. We had to be careful about big groups of soldiers, with maybe one officer in the midst of them, as he had to be saluted. We found out quite a bit about strict discipline in the Army. Snook’s pass stipulated that he wasn’t to be on the streets of Little Rock or vicinity after 11:30 p.m., and there were literally thousands of Military Police around to enforce the order. We saw one soldier being escorted across the street by two city police, when we were coming in to town on the bus, and one of the soldiers said: Look at that poor guy — going to the Box. A new name for it.

The rule about saluting does not apply when you are inside any building; Snook always breathed a sigh of relief when we entered the hotel and we could see why. We stood next to a Brigadier General when we got a coke in the hotel lobby, and didn’t have to do a thing about it.

Another thrilling moment that should be mentioned, occurred at five o’clock Saturday, when we were at the corner waiting for a bus to go to town, after the parade. Soldiers were walking or running everywhere, many of them dashing to get busses, when the bugle sounded and the flag started going down; it was thrilling to see everyone stiffen to a salute and hold it the entire time it took to lower the flag. Cooks, in white, came dashing out of the kitchen, and men who had been running down the road toward the bus, stopped dead still where they were. That is something that I’ll remember for a long time.

Sunday we slept late (again!) and left on the bus at eleven o’clock as Snook had decided that it would be fun to have us eat dinner at his mess hall, and wanted to get there early enough to make arrangements. He went in and asked the cooks and they said it was quite all right, so while we were waiting for dinner to be cooked we strolled around. Snook even fixed it so we could go inside his hutment (although Corporal Beierle told us later that it was against the rules) and we got to see his cot, trunk, and general belongings, as well as all his “room mates”. We got them all outside for a picture, and took various snaps of the inside and outside of the hutment. A little before 12 we made a dash for the mess hall, but we wouldn’t have had to hurry because of so many of the boys being away on leave. There must have been at least four empty tables.

A Camp Robinson hutment. Source: The National Archives, via the Arkansas National Guard Museum.

The tables are of the park picnic type, with long seats attached to the table. They seat 8 or 10, I forget which. We ate at the first table, and there were some other guests there. After getting seated, (quite a job getting over those seats!) they started passing the food, and we thought it was very good. They had a huge aluminum platter, with mashed potatoes stacked in the middle, sliced roast beef on one side, and sliced baked ham on the other. The portions were liberal, and anyone could have seconds if he wished. The bread was in a tin pie tin, the butter on a long glass plate, and a big oval dish of salad was passed — quarters of tomatoes and chunks of lettuce, with a very good French dressing. For drink we could have either chocolate milk or water, and ice cream for dessert. The dishes were plain heavy white china, and the cups were huge, without handles. Everything was man-style, no frills, but the food was very well cooked. Snook said that they have the best cooks in the outfit. He also said that the yellow pine table is made so that the boards can be taken apart and scrubbed with hot soapsuds, so no germs can be harbored. The mess hall and kitchen are subject to very rigid inspection. Snook was a bit disappointed that we didn’t have fried chicken; on inquiring he found it was because the chicken hadn’t been inspected so they couldn’t serve it.

After we had eaten I told Snook that I would like to tell the cook about it being such a good meal, so he took me back to the kitchen and I told the boys that it was a very delicious meal, and you should have seen them beam.

That was the only thing I’ve gotten back from the government in direct return for my income tax — a really good free meal.

After dinner we went out to get the bus, and had quite a time as they were all loaded. The sun was really beating down and I thought I would have a good sunburn, but it didn’t seem to bother me. Guess I’m tougher than I thought I was. After about half an hour of waiting, two busses came along together and the second one wasn’t quite so full, so we managed to get on it. The boys were literally stacked on and clear down to the front door, and they kept stopping for one more. When we pulled into the bus station in Little Rock, one of the boys by the door started to leave, and a Corporal behind him grabbed him by the collar and said — Wait a minute there, there are ladies who want to get off. So they had to crowd back and let us out first. Courtesy is one of the things they are really trying to put over, and we saw many instances of it all around.

I forgot to mention that on Saturday evening, as we were entering the hotel, I looked up and who should be right there in front of me but my friend from Wyoming, the one I had talked to on the bus. I touched him on the shoulder with my newspaper and both of us started talking at once about quite a coincidence, etc. etc. I found out that time that his name is DeLay and I introduced him to Snook and Gee. With 55,000 soldiers there I thought it was really a coincidence that we met again.

Back to Sunday evening, we decided to save some money, since Snook had to leave for camp about 9:30 or 10:00, so Gee checked out of her room and moved in with me. We decided to eat downstairs in the hotel coffee shop, and I had some very good fried chicken. After dinner I told the kids that I knew they would want to be alone together those last few hours, so I had brought my book and sat in the lobby and read, when I wasn’t watching the people. It was a very busy place and there was a lot to see. I wonder if other people enjoy watching me as much as I enjoy watching them?

At about 9:30 Snook came down and said for me to come on up, as he would be leaving shortly. We had thought he would leave at 10, but he started getting nervous at about 9:45 and decided he might have to wait for a bus, so he finally left. It was sad, of course, but Gee took it in her usual courageous way — I have to take my hat off to her always. We sat and read magazines for a while, then decided to go to bed, and although it took a while to get to sleep we slept very soundly once we were started.

I awakened at ten the next morning, got up, took a shower, and started dressing before deciding to awaken Gee — she was sleeping so soundly. But we had decided to go down to the shopping district to get some souvenirs, and since we were to leave at four that afternoon, I finally called her at about 11. We went down to the coffee shop for lunch but were too early, so we had breakfast. For cereal I had steamed rice with cream, and very good it was. We ate a hearty meal, because we decided we would be eating just two meals that day.

We walked all up and down the Main Street and bought a few little things as souvenirs, and enjoyed looking through a big department store as well as the dime stores and souvenir shops. We came back to the hotel when it commenced getting quite hot, took our shoes off, and lounged around until time to get ready to leave.

Postcard of the Rock Island Station, Little Rock Arkansas. Source: Hagley Digital Archives.

We checked out of the hotel at four, got a cab (35 cents this time, instead of double that amount) and arrived at the Rock Island station in time to engage a Red Cap, get a cold drink, and still wait a while. Shortly after getting settled on the train, the porter came through announcing dinner being served in the diner, so we went in and had “the works”, eating practically all the way from Little Rock to Memphis. We had cream of corn soup with funny little crunchy biscuits instead of crackers, four pieces of fried chicken, a corn fritter, peas, a big vegetable salad, biscuits, and for dessert a very good California peach roll, a sort of jelly roll technique, but with rich dough and fresh peaches. The Rock Island diner is one of the older ones, with stained glass windows, but the food was very good. The meal cost us $1.50 each, and since Gee had been spending quite a bit of money, I paid for hers.

We had about ten minutes between trains at Memphis again, and this time our Red Cap took us through a train to get on the other side, and then on a merry chase the whole length of a train, before we got to the Illinois Central. Again we were grateful for that hospital sleeper from Hot Springs; with such close connections it was comforting to know that they would hold that train until the sleeper was put on.

Two women sat across from us on the way up from Memphis, both of them having been down to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. One of the women took a fancy to Gee’s jeweled Service Pin and hinted about wanting one like it, finally coming right out in the open and asking her to let her have it and get another, but Gee stood pat, as we didn’t know whether she could still get one. So the best we could do for the woman was to give her the name of Willis’ store and advised her to write in for one.

The G.C. Willis Department Store, where Gee purchased her coveted jeweled Service Pin, at 15 East Main Street in Champaign, Illinois, next to the Champaign Nat’l Bank. Source: Champaign County Historical Museum via

The night seemed awfully long, and I alternated between twisting myself around trying to doze off, and getting up and taking a seat at the end of the coach where it was light, to read my book. I had taken a 1200 page book on the trip, and was making pretty good progress on it.

At about midnight we got to hankering for a coke, so we found out where the cafe lounge was located and made our way to it. We got in on the end of a very good fight between the negro in charge of the bar and a very determined young Second Lieutenant; seems that the Lieutenant wanted a ham-and-cheese sandwich, and the negro said he could give him a ham sandwich or a cheese sandwich, but not a ham-and-cheese sandwich. Things were getting to the stage where I was afraid they would start throwing things, but they gradually cooled down. After waiting for about twenty minutes, the negro at the bar finally told us he didn’t have any coke — in fact, nothing but beer and 7-Up, and since we didn’t want either of those, we went back to our coach and tried to forget our thirst.

Postcard of the north dining room in the Quality Cafe, where Mildred and Gee enjoyed their hearty breakfast after returning to Champaign (see the Part 2 post for more details and photos). Source: Peter T. Tomaras

We rolled in to Champaign at about 5:45, and were overjoyed that Claude had gotten up at that ghastly hour and was there to meet us. It seemed good to see him, and that car of ours was really welcome, as we had to find something to eat — we were starved. So we went to the Quality for a hearty breakfast, then home and to bed. By about two in the afternoon we felt quite a bit better, in fact we were practically our usual selves.

Looking back at the trip we feel comforted by the fact that Snook is exceptionally well, and that he’s not kidding when he says he LIKES THE ARMY. He seems to be enjoying the experience, and he would certainly not be happy if he were on the sidelines watching the activities of others who were in.

I should mention a couple of other things — that Arkansas isn’t my idea of a good state, like Illinois for instance, but that it isn’t as bad as it has been represented all these years. Also, everyone told us how HOT we would be, but we found the weather delightful — to be sure, it was hot during the day, but at night the cool breeze was always there.

Our round-trip coach fare was about $22 each, and we thought that was most reasonable. I spent in the neighborhood of $45, and Gee slightly more than that, since she took care of Snook’s expenses when they were together. We consider it money very well spent.

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