A working class native of Ware, Mass., Robert E. Dillon was a student at Massachusetts State College when he was drafted into the Army in 1943. After his induction at Fort Devens, Mass., and training for the Quartermaster Corps in Virginia and California, Dillon was assigned to duty as a mechanic and driver with the First Service Command. Stationed at Rest Camps number 5 and 6 in Khanspur, India (now Pakistan), Dillon’s company maintained the trucks and other vehicles used to carry supplies over the Himalayas to Chinese Nationalist forces. After he left the service in February 1946, having earned promotion to T/5, Dillon concluded his studies at UMass Amherst on the GI Bill and earned a doctorate in Marketing from Ohio State. He taught at the University of Cincinnati for many years until his death in 1985.
The Dillon Papers consist of 178 letters written by Dillon to his family during his service in World War II, along with several written to him and an assortment of documents and ephemera. Beginning with basic training, the letters provide an essentially comprehensive account of Dillon’s military experience and interesting insight into a relatively quiet, but sparsely documented theater of war.
Background on Robert E. Dillon
The youngest of seven children born to Henry (1877-1935) and Mary E. Dillon (1877-1968), born on August 25, 1922, Robert Edward Dillon was raised in in the mill town of Ware, Massachusetts. Ambitious and capable as a student, he attended Massachusetts State College for two years before to being inducted into the military in 1943.
Following basic training at Camp Lee, Virginia, Dillon was accepted into Officers Training School and sent across country to Pittsburg, California, to prepare for the Quartermaster Corps. Once arriving there, however, he discovered that all the OTS was overenrolled and after being required to re-interview for a berth, he was rejected and ordered to train to become a mechanic. Frustrated with his changing fate, Dillon was never enthusiastic about spending time around cars and trucks, and despite all his training, he never considered himself a very good mechanic. Perhaps not coincidentally, he never advanced beyond the rank of corporal in the military.
Dillon was shipped overseas in January 1944, and after a brief period in North Africa, was ordered to the Punjab Region of what was then British India. Stationed for at least some of his time in service at Service Company #6 in Khanspur, now in Pakistan, he worked to repair and service trucks transporting supplies over the Himalayas to support operations by Nationalist forces in China.
With the war’s end, Dillon left behind his mechanical training and used some of his savings and the GI Bill to complete his undergraduate education at the University of Massachusetts. He went on to earn a doctorate in marketing from the School of Business at Ohio State University, later serving on faculty at the University of Cincinnati until 1985, when he succumbed to lung cancer.
The Dillon collection contains 178 letters (12 in V-mail format), 4 postcards, 4 telegrams, 4 photographs, and many miscellaneous souvenirs from Dillon’s time in India during the Second World War. The letters can be grouped into three periods documenting Dillon’s experience in the war:
- March to December 1943, when Dillon was in training in the United States
- late December 1943 to May 1945, while Dillon was in India. These letters are heavily censored and consist mainly of reassurances that he is doing well
- May 1945 to February 1946. These letters are less heavily censored and describe some of Dillon’s experiences in India as well as his anticipation of returning home.
Almost all of the letters are written by Dillon and addressed to his family and friends, although a few are from his older brother, Henry, who was also in the army serving in the European theater. Dillon kept a number of small souvenirs from his time in the service, offering a sometimes colorful sense of his experience, including a V-E Day menu from a meal served in the Punjab, a train ticket from India, ration cards, newspaper clippings, and military orders.
Most of the correspondence from Dillon to his family consists of small talk, inquiries about life at home, requests for money or supplies, and apologies for not writing more often — even though he writes several times a week. Perhaps out of self-censorship, there is very little information regarding Dillon’s specific duties while at camp, although he mentions how army life is a lot of sitting around and can get monotonous. Dillon’s more enthusiastic letters are those describing new places he visits and the touring around he does with occasional freedom. It is clear that he had not strayed far from Ware as a child, because even the west coast of California is fascinating to him. In letters to his mother, Min, he sends home pressed flowers and sand glued to paper as evidence that he has been across the country.
Gift of Edward O’Day, Sept. 2009 (2009-188).
Processed by Sarah Goldstein, Oct. 2009.
Cite as: Robert E. Dillon Papers (MS 635). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.
- California--Description and travel
- India--Description and travel
- Pakistan--Description and travel
- World War, 1939-1945
- Dillon, Robert E
Types of material
- Letters (Correspondence)