Today, Mr. Larry Oberly and this writer are visiting Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Christoff.
Stanley’s wife, Beatrice, was an excellent student in my Northampton High School classroom. She takes us back to World War II, when her father, Herbert J. Ruch, served in the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1945. She has discovered a 34-page diary and 268 letters. He never talked about war but said, “Freedom is priceless.”
Mr. Ruch was born in East Allen Township. In his youth, he walked a short distance to the Knauss School on the Nor-Bath Highway. Today, the building is the East Allen Township municipal office.
They moved to Weaversville, and he graduated from Northampton High School in 1940. In high school, he took courses in electricity taught by Lester Yeager. Herbert used this training when he was hired by E.M. Rehrig’s electric winding shop. This experience would serve Herbert in the Army, as he would be assigned to the engineering unit.
Dr. George A. Eichler was the Northampton superintendent and a World War I veteran. The principal was Mr. Ira Schaeffer.
The future of the Class of 1940 was uncertain. War clouds were on the horizon.
Mr. Ruch said, “On July 1, 1941, I registered for the draft. It was the second draft call for World War II. I went to the draft board on the way home from Rehrig Electric.”
The draft board was located in the old Allen Trust bank on Main Street, which, after the war, became Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4714.
In November, he boarded a train in Allentown for a physical in Wilkes-Barre.
He recalled, “On Dec. 12, I left home for the Army. Our destination – Fort George Meade, Maryland. Our train was an hour late due to fog.”
There, the Army again checked for physical fitness, gave men clothing and assigned bunks.
He recalled, “I was assigned to guard duty and must stand guard for three hours. We must be in bed by 11 p.m. Lights go out 9 p.m.”
On Dec. 17, Herbert and 35 men boarded a train and a long truck ride to Fort Belvoir, Va.
“I am sending my application for insurance home for you to keep – $6.60 goes out of my monthly pay for a $10,000 life insurance policy.
“I met a fellow from York, Pa. He is a barracks guard at night. We must stand guard three hours each, 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. All the guys are buying Army pillowcases for Christmas gifts. On Thursday, I was on KP (Kitchen Police) and helped get Christmas dinner for everyone. I received a box of cookies and two pieces of cake from home – crushed, but it tasted good.”
At Belvoir, Private Ruch was assigned to help maintain the rifle range. The range was constantly busy. He also took an eight-week course and joined the 25th service unit engineering section. One week, he had a cold and purchased a box of tissues (cost, 9 cents).
His first movie, 15 cents; monthly paycheck, $25.17. The movie was “Star Spangled Rhythm” (1942), with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Betty Hutton. It entertained the draftees.
In March 1943, Pvt. Ruch moved up the pay scale – $43.50 for the month.
“Another guy was supposed to work the mess hall job, but he came in drunk from a three-day pass, so I got the job. I worked a dance and had to wear an all-white uniform.
“Our training continued. I went through an infiltration course. They needed to fire three machine guns over your head while crawling 75 yards on your stomach.”
The Thanksgiving meal included turkey, mashed potatoes, peas, corn, cranberry sauce, oranges, peaches, nuts, pumpkin pie, coffee, two bottles of interesting beer, one pack of cigarettes and the movie “Thousands Cheer” with Kathryn Grayson, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly – a musical comedy – and “Riding High,” a Dorothy Lamour and Dick Powell comedy.
At a USO show, he saw the famous boxer Joe Louis, longtime heavyweight champion of the world.
In two weeks, we’ll go coast to coast.