Darrell Anderson never saw a battlefield in World War II. His job dealing with the aftermath of military service was unusual — removing items from the possession of deceased soldiers that could've led to anguish or embarrassment for the next of kin.
It’s probably not a job “just a country kid,” as he calls himself, thought about when he joined the U.S. Army.
Anderson, 88, was raised on a farm outside of Hubbard. His father had been in World War I and had been gassed in Germany; he was never healthy again.
Anderson grew up in the Great Depression. Even though the family was poor, they survived by raising what they needed on the farm, including hogs, chickens and “pinto beans by the acre,” he said.
“I was so poor I couldn’t pay attention,” he joked. “I could squeeze a penny hard enough to make Lincoln cry.”
Anderson attended school in Mount Calm. After high school, he decided against junior college because he wanted “to kick some … ” he said.
He also knew he could eventually take advantage of the GI Bill, which would pay for his college education. He wasn’t quite 18 in the summer of 1946, “but they let me in anyway,” he said. Waco was the farthest he had been from home in his life.
The first job he was offered was playing “Taps” on the bugle, as there were many funerals after the war. He didn’t care for that, because it would’ve meant living out of a duffel bag, riding from town to town in buses and trains. “I said, with all due respect, hell no.”
Second and final job option
So, he was assigned another job — with no choice. He found out he was going to Camp Hood, but when he received his orders, that wasn’t the case. He told the officer there had been a mistake and he learned his first lesson, after a good chewing-out: “I learned to keep my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open,” Anderson said.
He was assigned to Headquarters, 6003 Co., of the 4th Infantry Division. He was stationed in California at Fort Ord and the Presidio of San Francisco. He would spend his military service on the West Coast.
Anderson’s job was to process the personal effects of soldiers killed during the war. Now a corporal, he had a crew of eight to 10 men who went through the personal effects to ensure nothing offensive or hurtful (photos, letters and so forth) were sent home to loved ones.
“You know mothers. No matter how bad your child is, he’s a good boy,” he said.
Seeing the massive number of items for the first time was overwhelming. “My thought was, we’ll never see the end of this,” he said.
They processed about 20 cases a day. There were warehouses with other outfits doing the same thing. They went through duffel bags, wallets and footlockers. Clothes went to the quartermaster and items deemed offensive were removed. Another unit sent the personal belongings to the next of kin.
The Army was extra careful with GI belongings. They didn’t want anyone to pilfer. One of Anderson’s jobs was the ensure that didn’t happen. “I had a good crew,” Anderson said. “I didn’t have any problems.”
He was also there in case the men had questions. Anderson himself made the final decision on whether an item whould be sent home or discarded. If there was any doubt, it wasn’t sent.
Back to Texas in 1949
Anderson did this job for nearly three years before his time was up and he returned home.
In 1949 he married his sweetheart, Juanita Slaughter, a girl he had dated for years. They had 42 years together before she passed away in 1991. They had two children, but Juanita never got to meet her grandchildren. “She was exceptional. She never met a stranger,” he said.
Anderson worked for the Farm Bureau before attending Baylor on the GI Bill. After earning his BBA, he took a job with Fleetwood International in 1962. He retired in 1990.
He still goes on missionary trips to Peru and will return there in January, marking his 17th visit.
Today, Anderson believes he’s been blessed, even if he didn’t see combat. “I might not be here,” he said, if he had done anything else
He doesn’t want a military funeral, because he didn’t see combat. But he was happy to have served and was willing to fight had that been his assignment.
“I’m still a soldier,” he said. “Once a soldier, always a soldier. I was proud to wear the uniform.”