Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Repple Depple* - The New Guy

Infantry replacements of the 41st Replacement Battalion
National Archives photo

My name is Charlie, well, that's what my buddies back home call me. Here in the Army I'm Private Charles L. Gammell, serial number 11854229. Back at the Repple Depple it was just Hey You. I answered to other names which aren't really repeatable in polite company, but hey, it's the Army, right?

When I turned 17, I convinced my Mom and Dad to let me enlist. It didn't take much to talk Dad into it, it was Mom who took a lot of convincing.

On a trip down to the Post Office on a quiet Friday, a couple of the old biddies who know everybody and everything in town wondered, out loud, "What's a big young lad like that still doing at home? Is he yellow?"

Mom was embarrassed, I look older than I am, growing up on a farm with lots of exercise and plenty of food will do that, some of the town kids were scrawny, real Depression Era types. At any rate, that very day Mom told Dad I could go, he took me to the recruiter on Monday, now here I am. Somewhere in France, on a truck, in the rain, headed for my new unit, the 1st Infantry Division.

Sgt Brandt was standing in the rain, watching as the replacements climbed down off the six-bys¹, none of them looked very happy to be there. He knew the name of the kid he was getting as a replacement, so he yelled out the kid's name, "Gammell! Over here!"

One of the replacements turned and looked in Brandt's direction. So Brandt yelled his name again, "Gammell, if that's you, get your ass over here!"

He was a big looking kid, looked to be in his early 20s, though he had a rather naive look about him. Brandt figured him for a farm kid, big and strong. Though he looked lost at the moment, there was a quiet strength about him.

"So you're Gammell? How the Hell did you not get drafted before now, what are you 23, 24?"

"I turn 18 in November Sergeant. I volunteered as soon as I was old enough."

"You volunteered? Well, don't that beat all. Serial number?"

"11854229, Sergeant."

Consulting the scrap of paper the first sergeant had given him, Brandt nodded. "Yup, you belong to me now. Let's get you some chow and I'll show you our bivouac. Hungry?"

"Yes Sir!" The lad certainly perked up when Brandt mentioned food.

"Don't call me sir, I work for a living." Brandt grinned when he said it, but he truly hated being called "sir."

"Yes S... I mean, yes, sergeant!"

This guy seems okay. He's not like some of the sergeants at the Repple Depple who acted all high and mighty. One of the other guys at the Repple Depple (who had been in the hospital since having been wounded in Sicily) said that a lot of the sergeants at the Repple Depple were cowards. They managed to stay out of combat but loved lording it over the guys who were headed to the front.

There's a lot going on here, but I'm tired, I'm hungry, and as God is my witness, I am so scared. On the trip in I saw wrecked trucks and tanks, dead cows in the fields (that really tore me up, Dad's a dairy farmer), and I even saw a few dead men as well. One of the veterans told me, "Dead Krauts, the best kind."

Seemed callous, but I volunteered for this. I haven't really thought about actually having to kill anybody. Can I do that, point my rifle at another human being and pull the trigger?

I don't know, I really don't know.

"Cajun, where's Cpl Wilson?"

"Over talking to the guys in third squad, they have three B.A.R.s, we have one, he's trying to swap a case of rations for their extra B.A.R."

"Who the Hell would swap a B.A.R. for a case of Army rations?"

Red Thomas laughed and said, "The dumbasses in third squad!"

"Alright, this is our new guy, Gammell. He's just a kid so don't corrupt him."

"What's your first name kid?" Ollie Olson was a friendly guy, he had been the newest member of the squad, he figured he was one of the "old hands" now.

"Charles, back home everybody calls me Charlie."

"Pull up a ration crate Herr Charlie, willkommen to the Big Red One. While we're not the only squad in the division, we certainly are der beste. Right Feldwebel Bill?" Pvt Melvin "Cat" Katz, the squad's resident foreigner and German speaker, had said all of that in an Austrian accent. Gammell stood there, mouth agape, wondering what had he gotten himself into?

"Don't mind him new guy, that's Melvin Katz, or Cat as we call him. He's our pet Kraut, we captured him on D-Day and taught him the American Way. Mom and apple pie!" Cpl Jack Wilson said as he joined the group, carrying his own Garand and a B.A.R.

"Ich liebe apple pie, und deine Mutti Jack!" Cat said sotto voce.

"Those morons in third actually traded for a case of rations?" Ollie asked incredulously.

"Yeah, Ollie, they're almost as dumb as you!" Cajun laughed as he said this.

"Frog!" Ollie replied.

"Hick!" Pvt Tremblay, aka Cajun came right back at him.

Both men started laughing.

"Knock it off you guys," Sgt Brandt interjected. "What are we going to do with this B.A.R., Jack, are you gonna carry it?"

"Nah, I figured Duck could carry it, he's strong as an ox."

"And half as smart," Ollie chimed in.

Wow, these guys really seem to get along, they kid around just like my Dad and my uncles. Maybe this won't be too bad.

"Okay, Duck you get the B.A.R." Sgt Brandt said as he took the weapon from Cpl Wilson and handed it to Pvt Simpson, aka "Duck," as in "forgot to."

"Gammell, you're gonna be Duck's assistant, you're a strong looking kid, you'll carry the extra ammo for the B.A.R. You stay glued to Duck's ass at all times. Your job is to keep Duck alive and feed him ammo. Got it?"

I was a little confused, I just got here, now I'm an ammo mule for this guy?

"Got it Sergeant."

Well, just follow this guy around and keep my head down. I think I can do that.

I hope.

"Okay guys, listen up. In a couple of days we'll be moving up again. The plan is for the 4th, 9th, and 30th Infantry to punch a hole in the Kraut lines to the west of St-Lo after the flyboys bomb the crap out of the Germans holding that line."

"Once they punch a hole, we're heading through it, along with 3rd Armored. Once we reach the ocean, we head south. The idea is to flank the Krauts and get out of this damned hedgerow country. From then on, it's clear sailing to Paris. Or so the officers tell me."

"Do I believe them? Of course not. But they don't pay me to plan this stuff, just to execute it. So Gammell, you have a couple of days to get used to things around here. Then we'll try and keep you alive long enough to learn your job. Got it?"

(Source Page 216)
"Got it Sergeant."

Really, I have no idea what these guys expect of me, but carry heavy stuff and follow that guy around. I can do that. Hell, I grew up doing that.

Except no one was shooting at me...

* Repple Depple, Army slang for a Replacement Depot. Much hated by all who went through them.
¹ Six-by - Army slang for the 6-ton 6×6 (six-by-six) family of heavy tactical trucks built for the United States Army during World War II.


  1. Interesting twist Sarge.......smooth flow going........hope the farm kid makes it.

    1. I think he'll be okay. But one never knows.

  2. That was Marvin. He was a high scrule buddies dad. Farm kid, spent about 6 months fighting, and 2 years occupation.

    The mess kit I used in Boy Scouts was dated 1944. I don't remember the canteen or cup. But the pistol belt had the brass buckle, mostly shiny brass, not black paint.... And the webbing was floppy as a wet noodle. So much history floating around back then from that war..... We've been playing for 20 years now... if you compare it to the 40's...

    1. WW2 had been over for 26 years when I graduated from high school. 26 years ago today, I was in my third year of my tour in Germany. Which doesn't feel that long ago to me. Heck, when I worked in a factory most of the guys in their 40s and 50s, middle aged guys, were WW2 vets.

    2. Wow, I just got a flood of memories from my childhood - "playing Army" with toy guns but also with tons of kit brought back from the war. Dad's tanker helmet, web belt, pouches of various types, etc. Naive imaginations driving the skirmishes where anyone being 'shot' miraculously didn't bleed but got up for the next round of play. Contrasted with dad's visible scars from his wounds. Yes, tons of history floating about, and me now regretting that I didn't ask more questions of more veterans. But kids don't usually know any better...

    3. Odds are pretty good that they would have told you the funny stuff they remembered, not about combat.

    4. We had web belts and canteens for camping - don't leave the tent without the belt and canteen. Surplus whistles around our necks just in case we got lost - sit down, and blow. The tent we had was an Alpine model, almost a teepee with 2' tall sides and a panel for a stove - make sure to trench around it or it'll flood. Entrenchment shovels, of course. Mess kits - you wash your own, you keep your own (can't remember if there was a pouch for that or not, so long ago.)

      Of course Dad also bought us some surplus helmets and liners so we could play. Rule was we could play with everything but the tent. Which was okay with me as the tent canopy weighed in around 80-100lbs just by itself.

      Now, at an army-navy surplus store? I think one out of every 1,000 items might be surplus. Maybe the ammo can. The rest is all new from China or maybe from some American company and actually made in America.

      I miss real surplus stores.

    5. Yup, military surplus used to be an actual thing. Now it's mostly cheap crap from China.

    6. If your ever in the area, Saigon Sam's in Jacksonville, NC, has some real surplus goods - lots of separating Marines from Camp Lejeune provide a good source of, well, goods for their inventory

    7. That's usually were you can find actual surplus, outside of military bases. We used to have a good one outside NAS Newport. Operative words there, "used to."

  3. Okay, I'm a bit spun around. Where is the Replacement Depot? Because they'll be in Marigny in a week. But they will first move west then south in their flanking maneuver.

    Is there an earlier posting which details this unit?


    1. The Replacement Depots were in various locations, i.e. there was more than one. It's where replacements and men who had been wounded and were returning to duty went before being assigned to a unit. So the Repple Depple wasn't covered earlier, I often will mention something which I just assume everyone knows about. That's sometimes not the case. (Like here. D'oh!)

      As to the Big Red One, as of 21 July they were in reserve just south of Carentan with 3rd Armored, waiting to go into action to the west of Saint-Lô.

    2. Repple-Depples were usually in the first line of encampments that were not in the front line. Close, so the schmucks could say they were in combat, but not really ever in any danger. Unless there's a breakout, like in the Bulge.

      Space closer to the beaches was reserved for the huge vehicle parks, main supply depots, hospital setups (in prep for transport to England or back to Repple Depple) and fuel, lots of fuel, like huge amounts of fuel. And air bases, and repair depots, and headquarter units.

      Men landed, assembled, were marched or trucked to the R-Ds just to get them off the beaches and away from all the stuff that was stacking up.

      You see the same thing in the Island Hopping Campaign. Once the front line moves off the beach, the bulldozers and other engineering equipment flatten everything and supplies start stacking up, off of the beach. People go in to assembly areas off the beach. Casualties and bodies come back to assembly areas off the beach to be processed back on the next available transport if able. But clear the beach. Move reinforcements close to where they'll be needed but far enough back they can recover and prepare. Pull tired units back to other assembly areas for rest and refit before shoving them back in the meat grinder.

      The bigger the island, the farther from shore the assembly or RD is.

      It worked.

      It also sucked, and destroyed unit cohesion.

    3. Something which the US military has NEVER understood, that whole unit cohesion thing. Vietnam was the perfect example of everything that was wrong with our replacement system.

    4. I was planning to comment on what Eisenhower had written about the replacement system.
      I remember reading "Crusade in Europe," and his thoughts weren't favorable.
      But a search for my copy of the book failed.

    5. He may not have liked it, but he didn't change it. Nor did Marshal, nor did Bradley, nor did any other general through Vietnam and beyond.

  4. Is a Six by something like a Deuce and a half?
    CCKW, or WC-63? We made a LOT of trucks during those years! Somewhere in the Iron Range of MN, there is a Very Big Hole!

    1. Pretty much the same as a deuce and a half, my Dad and my uncle (both Army vets) called them six-bys, so I call them six-bys.


    1. I like the two trucks packed for shipping. The bottom one drives the upper one around. We Americans, so damned clever, nobody saw anything like it ever. We outthinked logistics so much, a Roman Centurion would have thought us as wicked smart, and they had an incredible array of clever tricks.

      Like, seriously, who would have ever thought of boxing a car in a crate. Or a plane. For assembly not quite on the front line. We did.

      Packing boxes full of mines, where the box could be dropped 5' off of a tailgate and not damage the contents, unless you tossed it out at speed, that is.

      Always liked the looks of the WWII US military trucks. From the weapons carrier to the biggest ones, they all looked like they were a family. Same extended hood with easily servicable engines, square cargo bed with minimal intrusions, hoops and canvas. For such complex designs, they were easy to assemble, easy to repair, easy to take two or three 'destroyed' chassis and cobble together a new one, if needed. Though most of the time it was just easier to just draw a new one.

    2. Back when Detroit turned out excellent vehicles all based on common sense designs.

  6. A lot of farm kids got in under the age limit, because they seemed so mature or were big. I think the youngest who snuck in was a 14yo who joined the Navy. But 16 and 17 year old 'kids' faking their age wasn't unknown.

    And good touching on the difference between farm-raised kids and the average Depression-era town or city kid. It really was a time of hunger. And you were screwed if you didn't have any land to raise vegetables or even rabbits or chickens on, which was common before Victory gardens became a thing. (My mom, to this day, can't stand talking about, much less cooking or eating, rabbits. She had enough prewar and during the war.)

    And, of course, the medical community based a lot of the Body-Mass Index upon... military recruits. During lean years. When people ate enough to survive, but not really enough to thrive. That was one of the big incentives into joining the peacetime military, lots and lots (in comparison to the average civilian) food. Hard work? Yes, but good food!

    1. Not great food, but nutritious food and in quantity. The hard work and the good food helped keep the troops fit.

      The Brits were absolutely amazed at the rations of the American military, both the quantity and the quality. (Not to mention the variety.)

    2. US Army personnel are astounded by USAF mess halls today. And the sailor whose acquaintance I made at Clark who was on his way back to CONUS for compassionate leave was flabbergasted by our barracks, and they weren't quite up to snuff to then current standards. He was quite bitter about his berthing area on his carrier, and he'd never seen bikini-clad dancing girls at any Navy enlisted club. Of course, I think Clark was probably unique in having that last item...

    3. I was in Army Air Defense and as such we generally worked under an Air Force unit. On the account that they get sensitive if we shoot down their planes. But I was amazed - they would be on our old Army base in Germany, and they had the best barracks. And in the Mess Hall the Army and Air Force cooks would rotate and you always knew who made breakfast ;-)

    4. Larry - We had those in Korea as well.

    5. William - Well, there is more than one reason I went into the USAF as opposed to the USA. First week at basic the food they served provided another reason. Steak and lobster tails, I kid you not.

  7. I was in boot camp at 17. 1961

    1. My dad enlisted at 17, hoping to get overseas before the war ended. Fortunately it ended before he got out of training.

    2. I turned 18 in Camp Dewey, Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Illinois in June 1959. Company 253. Old Guns

    3. Ah, I read that wrong the first time, you did write "1959."

      (I was at the ripe old age of 6!)

  8. I think there were a lot of people who got in under 18. My neighbor was a character - I told him he was a fugitive from the law of averages. Enlisted in the Marines at 16, saw Tarawa, Saipan...then the Chosin Reservoir.

    Bill Mauldin was beloved by the GIs - because he was one of them. He understood them.

    He had several cartoons about replacement guys, but my favorite was looking at a soldier similar to Charlie and a haggard Willy says to an equally tired Joe: "Let's take that one. He's pack wit vitamins".

  9. 6 X 6 refers to the number of wheels and number of wheels which are powered. "Trucks" came in all sizes and in the Army nomenclature system they had to distinguish between the many different models, so they amplified "truck" to include the cargo capacity, and wheel info, an often more for specialty variations on a basic chassis.
    The wheel count did not actually count "wheels" as on an "18 wheeler" but on the number of wheel locations regardless if they had a single wheel or dual wheels installed. Thus a "6 x 6" might have ten wheels/tires if the rear drive axles had dual tires, or only six if they were single tire.

    The ubiquitous "jeep" was the "Truck, 1/4 ton, 4 x 4" and various other trucks were adopted up to 7 1/2 ton monsters.
    The most common cargo trucks were the "Truck, 2 1/2 ton, 6 x 6" variously called "deuce and a half" or "six by".
    The basic 2 1/2 ton 6x6 chassis was delivered with cargo bed, tanker body for fuel or water, wreckers, repair shops (with basically a CONEX box full of shop equipment- drills, lathes, grinders, etc), or a "fifth wheel" for use as a tractor for tractor-trailer use.

    There were also 4 x 2 or 6 x 4 trucks, usually commercial models used for stateside general purpose use, where the added option of all wheel drive desirable for combat vehicles was not needed.

    So, yeah, "6 x 6" or "deuce and a half" was genrally used for just about any big green truck.

    Today, the typical cargo truck is a 5 ton model.
    John Blackshoe

  10. (Don McCollor)...Better than the movie "Big Red One" where they did not bother with replacement names. (Nitpicking) I believe "I work for a living" is a modern AF expression...

    1. They used it when I was in the Army in the early 70s and I think it is service-wide among NCOs. And like a lot of military slang, some of it goes....way back.

      Interesting to learn where it comes from - mainly combat zones.

    2. Don - Though it might be an anachronism I'm keeping it. I may have heard it for the first time from a WWII vet, it's not a modern AF expression.

    3. William - It is service wide and has been around for quite a while.

  11. Hey AFSarge;
    Good Post, as I understand it, they got away from the Repple Depple during Desert Storm, Storming Normin Schwartzkopf swore that they were not going to send people piecemeal into battle, Vietnam was the epitome of the individual replacement system, it hid the flaws and the casualties of war from the American people. We in the Army went into the regimental system in the 1980's and unit rotated as a group rather than individuals. During the GWOT Units rotated as groups and not as individuals. When i was a kid, I played with army surplus and I had found an army helmet in the playground at Fort Benning in 1973, and I still have it, I got a Vietnam era cover for it and in insert to match and it is in my collection. Man playing "Army" as a kid was fun back then:)

    1. The individual replacement system certainly didn't hide the casualties of war from the American people, I was pretty aware of those from the news. Made high school interesting, as in the "what comes after this" question.

    2. Hey AFSarge;

      Poor Choice of words on my part..It did and it didn't. It hid the extent of the casualties to just numbers on the news, I remembered hearing it but it became just numbers to people, they became inured. The individual replacement system was a flawed system and the Vietnam war did epitomized it. The U.S Army went to the regimental system in the 1980's because of it. We were not going to sent people by themselves into war, most casualties were "FNG's" who just joined the unit and didn't pick up the skills of survival necessary to survive in the fighting of Vietnam and on top of it they had the loneliness to boot.

    3. Ever see the famous issue of Life magazine (might have been Look) where they published the pictures of all the guys who had died in Vietnam that week? Made it personal for the thinking members of the public. Which admittedly were then, as now, not many. Folks acted like there was no war.

      Regimental system makes more sense.


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