©2014, Aaron Elson
Smoky Stuever was a sergeant in Service Company of the 712th Tank Battalion.
My childhood was the rural farm life down in southern Illinois, Clinton County, a little metropolis called Breeze, Illinois. They used to kid me about my uncle Joe Blow from Breeze. It was a town of about 3,000 population, but it had 16 taverns.
My father and mother were deaf mutes, and I went to a little country school, and I had all eight grades in one room. After I graduated from eighth grade I managed to get one year of high school in, and then I had to help my dad. One of us, my brother and I, had to be with my father when he went somewhere so we could communicate for him. In those days, everything in the sign language was alphabetical. Today they have all kinds of symbols, which makes it very easy.
After missing out my chance to finish high school I was asked to go to the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] camp so my parents could get some federal assistance. After losing the farm and moving into town it was getting kind of difficult for them to have food on the table. As there were two eligible boys, one of us had to go to the CCC for them to get these benefits. We got thirty dollars a month. Five dollars we kept, and the rest was sent home as extra money.
I ended up at Skokie Valley in northern Illinois. We made the Skokie Lagoons, which was a low marsh area that had burning peat moss and created a big hazard on the main highways in that general area, and whenever it was a damp, rainy night it was impossible to drive. So the Corps of Engineers figured out how to improve this area by putting in six lagoons, and its a beautiful park today. Theres also the Chicago Botanical Gardens on one end of it, one of the most famous botanical gardens in the world.
I spent two years in CCCs where I learned to be a first chef, until my tonsils got so bad from cooking over those soft coal burning stoves that I couldnt take it any more. I went to Fort Sheridan at 18 years old and had my tonsils taken out, they were as big as hen eggs. I sat in a chair, like a barbers chair, and had my arms strapped down, and the doctor put this bridge in my mouth, and after giving me two shots of Canadian Club, I demanded that he take them out because I didnt want to go back to camp unless theyre taken out, so he took them out. And as he had them laying there in that little plate on my chin, he says, "How do you want em, medium rare or well done? Try to talk back to me now, will ya?"
So I lay in an Army tent with Army boys that just came back off of maneuvers from Wisconsin, and I had to put up with them roughriding cowboys and their bad language, and Im only an 18-year-old wet behind the ears boy, and I finally was able to open my jaw and eat some oatmeal, otherwise all I had was broth and ice cream.
After I got back to camp the boys took me out to Howard and Kline, a famous place on the North Shore, its the last street on the north edge of Chicago next to Evanston where all the maids gather on Thursday night. They got a bottle of Green River whiskey, and I guess it was green because after drinking half of that I started heaving and Id say, "There goes another tonsil!" They got me back to camp and I finally was in shape the next day.