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Wager relates tales from American Sniper School


Tidworth England, Oct. 9, 1944

Just as I'd hoped, Sergeant Edwards gave us the chance I wrote you about: we were picked for the "American Sniper School," and here we are!

Details will have to wait, but I can let you in on the glad news that we got a break far above that granted replacements as a rule.

Physically, this is vacation. We live in a barracks instead of a tent; we have possibly the best non-coms yet, and the officer in charge is supposed to be as brilliant and original as Colonel Cochran himself (Col. Cochran in "Terry & the Pirates").

We are being treated as though we had intelligence — something foreign to me since I left the Air Corps. They have revived the words "individual responsibility" and added the likable pair, "duties" and "rewards." It's a good feeling.

Last night, Wagner and Weible and I strolled into some big joint that is at least a small castle, if not the biggest house I ever saw. It happened to be the Red Cross. We wandered about, played slapjack, consumed our ration of a donut and coffee, listened to the World Series and some symphony music, and came home.

Not, however, before I calmly fell off a porch. The blackout at times can be more than disconcerting. I had stepped aside to let Wagner out the door and promptly toppled off the porch onto the ground.

We'd also watched a football game in the afternoon. Old-fashioned sandlot football with a too-heavily GI crowd. There were some girls, however, a bright spot in our until-now-celibate life. We are with civilization once again.

October 11, 1944

Having just shamelessly squandered my pocketful of shillings and such, having eaten one of three candy bars allowed us each week, and having decided on this rainy night that our barracks is to be much preferred over any tent and certainly over any foxhole, I write you of ambition achieved:

Last night, I dyde wander town to "Ye Ram" pub and had me a pint of ale for a shilling. Contrary to some reports, the beer tasted very, very good. I'd have liked more, but it was more the time for going home than for sitting about idly lapping up "the brew" as Bill Wilson lovingly called it back at Tarleton.

Matter of fact, I had a rather extensive walk last night, considering the blackout and all. Went to the YMCA, the Salvation Army, two Red Cross huts, a theater, the pub, and home. the blackout is bad enough now, but when it was complete, how did anybody get around?

As I may have told you, this is darned near a perfect setup. They treat us here as we always wanted to be treated. It's a wonderful experiment, but the wonder will come if they can keep it this way.

So far, the non-coms give us a break no other outfit I've been in ever got: ease regarding uniform; a gentleman's agreement over Reveille, mess, and retreat; an ongoing appeal for us to be individually responsible. A GI dreams of there being a place like this — plus non-coms and officers very serious about teaching us a lot quickly.

Wish I could sketch the first sergeant in words. First off, he's intelligent. Second, he's humorous, quick, and friendly. Third, he's on the level, efficient, and works harder than we do. Sometimes I wonder if he's real.

Since you might not understand why all that is a miracle, maybe you can appreciate chow. Breakfast: fruit juice, cream of wheat, bacon and eggs, fresh bread and butter, jam, and coffee. Lunch: cheese, beans, corn, peanut butter, bread, pears, coffee. Supper: meatloaf, mashed spuds, spinach, cheese, vegetable salad, peaches, tea. No wonder the scales clocked me last night at 14 stone, 11 pounds.

Meanwhile, I'm rich, happy, busy, and laughing like crazy over the robust humorists here: Uhland, Vanderhook, Wagner, and Weible. Also enjoying Oscar Wilde's Portrait of Dorian Gray. Beautiful reading, and the epigrams are deadly.

Hope you're all well and enjoying a good October. G'night. Elliot

Sniper School Gave 99th Some October Replacements

Note: In October 1944, the American Sniper School operating near Tidworth, England, invited GIs already in England as replacements to apply for admission.

The challenge was plausible and attractive: after a rigorous month's training (including becoming proficient on the great Springfield '03 with telescopic sights), graduates would be assigned to combat unit headquarters companies primarily as anti-sniper snipers. Their mission: to eliminate German snipers.

The chance to be "special" instead of just another anonymous replacement sounded good. So did some other inducements: a month of valuable, last-minute, pre-combat training. Oh yes, and a weekend pass to London.

The drawbacks: Prospective students were warned, and accepted students reminded, that effective snipers wore camouflage. Under the conventions of "civilized" warfare, this meant a sniper, upon being captured, could be shot for being out of uniform and therefore in the same category as spies.

The above account is excerpted from a 1944 letter sent to family members in Milwaukee WI. Following graduation from sniper school, Wager, Lewis Weible, and Harold Wagner were accepted for postgraduate work with the 99th Division leaving the following day for Belgium.