|Cape Cod Times May 2, 1999 Cavalry Call
Soldier recalls training with horses on Cape William J. McLaughlin, who now lives in
Marstons Mills, lied about his age in early 1937 to get into a cavalry unit of the
Massachusetts National Guard. He went on to earn a Silver Star during almost five years
of war in the Pacific. This is his recollection of the early days at Camp Edwards, as told in
his own voice. By WILLIAM J. McLAUGHLIN In 1937, when I first came to Camp Edwards
at age 17 with my regiment of horse, the 110th Cavalry Massachusetts National Guard,
the area was nearly virginal. It had opened for military training the previous year, but little
had been done beyond clearing the area for our pyramidal tents and erecting a huge
corral at one end of the area with a long water trough at the side.
Since no two troops drilled the same night at Commonwealth Armory in Boston, there
was no need of a horse for each man; only when we went to summer camp. We
staggered the camps with other cavalry regiments. We would send our horses off to
them - the 101st New York, the 102nd New Jersey and the 104th Ohio - as they would to
us. I was detailed with a few others to ride these horses down from the loading platform
at the rail junction in Bourne near the old iron bridge. Saddling one and leading two
others, we came down the old Route 28 (now 28A) on a long, grueling ride. Since we
hadn't been able to ride while our horses were away for a month or more, it was a painful
experience, creating huge welts on our thighs.
At 5 p.m. each day, the bugler would blow "water call" and we on stable guard would ride
one horse bareback while leading two others toward the corral. Since we rode without
saddle or bridle, we had little control of the animals crazed with thirst. My mount,
Chocolate, bolted for the corral a quarter-mile away, brushing a pile of hay bales, forcing
me to drop the ropes leading the other two. As we roared toward the corral, my heart
sank at the sight of the 6-foot fence around it, but Chocolate veered at the last minute
through the gate and up to the trough, busting his way in through the maddened horses
swilling down the water. I went sailing over his head into the trough. "Get outta there;
you're frightening the horses," growled the old sergeant. Howitzers in Truro dunes As the
war in Europe threatened to involve us, National Guard units, including ours, were
"federalized" all over the country.
Men were drafted and carpenters by the hundreds built barracks on Army forts and at
new camps like Edwards. By 1941, we had been turned into a field artillery unit and had
new leaders from the regular Army and Harvard ROTC . Since the range at Camp
Edwards was too short for our big howitzers, the lieutenant colonel devised a new way of
firing. We drove to Truro, siting our howitzers in the dunes, while the Coast Guard would
tow a target offshore for us to fire on. Unlike today, the area was sparsely populated.
Overnight we huddled in canvas tents, fully clothed, shivering in the cold. From time to
time, there would be simulated fire missions. Since we used indirect fire, only the
officers directing it could see the target.
Using geometry, they would devise angles and give orders based on aiming stakes.
Unfortunately, in the dunes, especially in that dark night, we could not always see the
aiming stakes. "Aim for the center of Highland Light," I told the gunner on my piece as the
beam swept overhead. The gunner picked the center spot of the rotating beam, and it
worked. In the morning, our piece was one of the few right on the button. We learned to
adapt, and perhaps this was the strength of the American soldiers in that war. We
eventually spent three months on maneuvers in the Carolinas and returned to Camp
Edwards on Dec. 6, 1941.
The next day, Pearl Harbor was bombed and we were at war. After a short 10-day leave,
we boarded a ship from Brooklyn to Australia - a 37-day cruise. It turned out to be nearly
five years and five campaigns, from Guadalcanal to the Philippines, before we returned
to civilian life. Are you a voice of the 20th century? If so, we're listening. Is there a moment
in your life that captures the essence of a day- or a decade - of the past 100 years? Can
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