Wednesday, December 31, 2008
One day as I was leaving the editorial room of The Post to go downtown Worth Gatewood asked me for a ride. He had come back to The Post at my invitation but he did not have a car. As we drove toward downtown, Worth asked me to swing by the railroad station. "I am going back to New York," he said. "Please tell Arthur Laro (the executive editor) that I am leaving." "Why me," I protested. "You are the one who talked me into coming back," he replied. Then he smiled and said, "and I am taking Carolyn Valenta with me." "You rascal," I said. Carolyn Valenta, who was from Shiner, Texas, had been working in the photography department of The Post for more than 10 years. She was the outstanding photog when it came to a news story. Well, Worth and Carolyn got married and became the parents of twin boys. Within a year Worth became features editor of the New York Daily News and Carolyn lined up a lot of assignments as a free lance photographer. Arthur was greatly upset.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
One of the oldfashioned reporters and editors was Worth Gatewood, who once was a columnist on the Houston Post. He belonged to a generation of colorful writers. Worth decided to go to New York and he became an assistant editor on the New York Daily News. Arthur Laro, who was editor of the Houston Post, wanted Worth to come back. To disguise my mission, which was to try to talk worth into coming back, Arthur sent me on a junket to England with a stopover in New York. I stopped off and told Worth we still loved him and invited him back. He and other editors held forth in a bar across the street from the Daily News. This was the old days of sensational and competive newspapers. After that I went on to England where I had an objective of my own. We landed in Manchester and I obtained a government guide and played sick so I could make a secret trip to the Comet aircraft plant. One of the large passenger planes had crashed over Rome, killing about 200 passengers. The plane was powered by Rolls Royce engines, which I did not believe were to blame. When I got to the factory it was like attending a funeral. Eastern Airlines had cancelled their contract with the British company. Eventually I found out that the fuselage of the new post-war plane had collapsed because of the stress of high level flying. When this became common knowledge it led to the construction of airplane bodies with stronger material and to the development of world wide flying. I wrote the story but The Post chickened out because I could not name my source. Eddie Rickenbacker, who was president of Eastern Airlines, decided to buy planes from a West Coast manufacturer. When I got back to Houston Worth Gatewood was in the middle of the editorial room. He had come home.
Monday, December 29, 2008
When my grandmother, Katie, was about 90 years old I took her on a trip to the part of East Texas where she was born. We started out in Liberty County and I pulled up in front of a cafe because it was lunch time. "Son," she asked me, "Have you eaten here before?" I admitted that I had not. She informed me that she did not like to eat in a strange place. I thought a while and decided to visit the Partlow family. This was a pioneer family, but since they were related to Bill Daniel I had decided not to introduce Katie because she was related to the Hightowers because they were political enemies. In fact, one of the Hightowers was sheriff at that time. But I decided to take a chance and we were welcomed by the Partlows. On this day they had set the table for about 24 people. They invited us and we enjoyed a great oldfashioned lunch with them. After that we stopped off in Livingston where Judge Luby Hightower's picture was hanging on the courthouse wall. "He was a learned man, but he drank too much," she told me. The judge's drinking problem was well known in Polk County, but I do not know how Katie found out. Then we went on to a settlement near the Indian Reservation and I stopped at a large farmhouse. I introduced us to the owners and they invited us to sit and talk. We were in the vicinity where Katie was born but everything had changed. Finally we started back to Friendswood where I was living. "Son," she said, "I appreciate the trip but it has only shown me how lucky I was to leave East Texas," she said. "They haven't made any progress here since I left."
Friday, December 26, 2008
Katie had one brother named Dennis McCarthy. He became a telegraph operator and assistant station manager at the Santa Fe Railroad in Cleveland, Texas. He stayed with his aunt and uncle, the former Jane Lockhart and District Judge L.B. Hightower. One night while working at the railroad station he witnessed a robbery. He talked to Judge Hightower about it and was referred to the district attorney. Two men were arrested, but released on bond. One night, a few weeks later, Dennis was found stabbed to death. The two men were arrested and later sent to the penitentiary. Katie went to the funeral for Dennis, but she never forgave Judge Hightower. She thought the advice should have been for Dennis to carry a pistol. Not too long afterward, Katie sent for her father, Florence McCarthy, who was becoming blind. She took care of him until he died. One day a McCarthy relative from Upper New York State arrived in Christoval. He was a nephew of Florence McCarthy and wanted to restore the family. Katie was 15 years old at that time and not yet married. The New York nephew wanted to send her to a Catholic convent in New York. Her mother, who was Protestant, opposed this and so Katie remained in Texas. Katie got married not long afterward, and several years later she attended the funeral for Dennis, her brother, which was held in Cleveland, Texas.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
My grandmother, whom we called Kate, got married at an early age to Grandpa Asa, who was a strong man. They moved to Christoval, in Tom Green County, and bought a 100-acre tract which reached to the South Concho River. Asa stocked this track with cattle and then he set about building a hotel. There was a place nearby which gave people hot sulfur baths. Kate and Asa rented rooms to people who wanted to stay for a while and have these baths. At nightime the staff would move the dining room tables into a corner and the young people would dance to the music from a Victrola while the older folks played dominoes. Meanwhile, Asa set up an irrigation system, using water from the river. The family prospered. Then one day Asa had an attack of appendicitis, and died shortly thereafter. This left Kate with four children, a hotel and a cattle herd to manage. Kate turned out to be equal to the task. My grandmother helped to raise me and she was a strong influence in my life. Soon I will tell you more about Granny Kate.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
This is the first time in 60 years that I will celebrate Christmas Eve without my wife, Marie. She has been gone for a year now and I am still trying to adjust. However, my daughters are joining me for Christmas. Nancy is coming down from Austin and Katrinka is coming from New York, bringing her husband, Michael. It is nice to have two dedicated daughters. Yes, I am 90 years old. I did not plan to live this long but apparently I am not in charge of my destiny. On Friday we will visit Bob and Cindy Peterman here in New Braunfels. Uncle Bob is my brother-in-law. On Saturday we will go to Austin to visit Arnold and Dorothy Snygg. Arnold is retired from NASA where he helped develop the stealth bomber. Arnold is a scientist. But when he came to this country at the age of 6 he could not speak English. We are taking Sally Wiginton Arnold with us. It was her mother who referred to Arnold as "Little Arnold." This is part of the Swedeish-American heritage. Arnold was born in Sweden, but his father was a U.S. citizen. Arnold graduated from the University of Texas and soon started an illustrious career in the Space program. This is all part of our culture.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
One time I was over in deep East Texas and on my way home, but I decided to stop by Montgomery Texas because Percy Foreman and his brother, Zimmie, were trying a case together. It was the only time the two brothers were co-counsel in a case. As I pulled into the courthouse I saw Zimmie walking by himself across the parking lot. He waved me down. "Are you by any chance going to Livingston," he asked me. "I can go by there on my way home," I replied. At that point Percy emerged from the courthouse and caught up with his brother. They were both big men but Zimmie had an artificial leg which caused an imbalance. It soon became obvious that the two brothers were mad at each other. Percy grabbed Zimmie and said, "We came here together and we are going home together. Finally he dragged Zimmie off and waved toodbye to me. I went into the courthouse and found out that the Foreman brothers had won an acquital for their client. But it seems that Percy had conducted most of the hearing in his usual flamboyant style, antagonizing Zimmie, who used a low key style. I guess the two brothers made up, but at any rate Percy drove them back to Livingston. It gave me an insight into their relationship.
Monday, December 22, 2008
One time I had the misfortune to be in Amarillo in the wintertime, but I finally completed this assignment and headed south. I got as far as Brownwood and checked in to a hotel in the middle of the night. I had been in bed a few minutes when the telephone rang. It was Percy Foreman. He said I needed to be in Brownsville, down on the border, at 7 o'clock the next morning for an important story. I protested and he said I would regret it if I were not there and he hung up. Well I got up and drove to Brownsville, arriving in time for breakfast. Percy showed up with Nago Alaniz, who was wanted in connection with a shooting in Alice, Texas, about two years earlier. They appeared before a magistrate, Nago pleaded not guilty and Percy posted bond. That basically was it. Percy later won an acquital. I was on the list of newspaper reporters whom Percy trusted, not 100% mind you, but under the right circumstances. However, over the years Percy gave me some exclusive stories and some good tips. Next I will tell you about the time Percy and his brother Zimmie appeared in court together.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Percy Foreman had a super ego. But it worked in the majority of his cases. He defended some obnoxious people and won their freedom. However, in looking at the record, Percy persuaded many of his clients to plead guilty for a lesser sentence. He was tall and had a strong speaking voice. Percy came from deep East Texas to Houston where he found that most of the people who were there in an early time came from some part of East Texas. He took advantage of the fact that he understood this culture. Once I arrived late in the courtroom and found myself seated between Percy and the jury. Every time he made a major point in interrogating a witness he looked over at me and beamed. Then I realized that he was wooing the jury. I changed seats the first chance I got. One of Percy's strong points in defending a really guilty client was to press for a delay. At one time he had so many clients who were delayed by the fact that he was their only attorney that he found a doctor who would testify that Percy was too ill to go to trial. This was a frustration to prosecutors but kept some real rascals from going to trial. I sat through many of Percy's cases. His technique was to woo the jury. If he could not get an acquital he might get a hung jury. I remember one case where a printer from the Houston Post, where I was employed, was on a jury hearing one of Percy's cases. The jury found Percy's client innocent and he was turned loose. The next day this juror came back to work at The Post driving a brand new Cadillac sedan. I went down and asked the printer where he got the luxury vehicle. He said Percy had given it to him for being such a great juror. "You don't think that guy that Percy was representing was really guilty, do you? he asked me."
Thursday, December 18, 2008
You may think that I have run out of characters during my time in Texas but you would be sadly mistaken. The Foreman brothers of East Texas were among the most interesting. Zimmie was the older brother and he practiced law in Livingston for many years, seldom losing a case. Percy was more colorful but only because he practiced law in Houston which was much larger and which had three newspapers and three television stations which gave him maximum publicity. Zimmie had an artificial leg as the result of a riot in Houston during World War I when he was serving as a security soldier. This was known as the Camp Logan uprising. Briefly, the black soldiers had been transferred from many other places to Camp Logan on the edge of Houston. In downtown Houston there were hundreds of black women who wanted to meet them. But to get to downtown Houston the black soldiers had to go through an all-white neighborhood. Texas was a segregated state in those days and the soldiers were forbidden to leave Camp Logan. This led to an uprising at Camp Logan and Zimmie Foreman and other military policemen had to do their best to enforce the restrictions. While rushing to the scene of a demonstration Zimmie was riding in a Model-T Ford, the forerunner of the Jeep of World War II. Some militant black soldier threw a grenade at the Model-T and Zimmie was taken to the hospital where his leg was amputated. He was bitter about it. But he went on to law school and became a successful attorney. He would prop his artificial leg on a large walking stick that he carried and twirl it around in the courtroom which fascinated jurors and spectators. Percy was a different story and we will get to him later.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Unlike many Texas sheriffs, Buckshot did not wear a broadbrimmed hat, and did not wear a gun on his hip. However, no fool, Buck had a pistol under his shirt. He also rented out space in his jail. During this time he lodged a prisoner from Harris County in his jail. This prisoner bought a gun and tried to escape from the jail. As he reached the lobby, expecting Buck to surrender, he found that Buck had pulled his gun. Buck shot this convict at the door leading to the jail. He wounded the man and persuaded him to surrender. This led to publicity which discouraged criminals from trying to shoot Buck. In those days the sheriff lived in an apartment in the same building which housed the jail. It was part of his salary. His wife, Margaret, cooked in this apartment. A colorful figure in Texas, Buck bought a plane and learned to fly it. I went up with him once and his manuevers were unorthodox but he never had an accident. Buck was descended from an old Texas family, but he was not a prototype of your swashbuckling gun toting Texan.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
No blogs about my career would be complete without mentioning Buckshot Lane, the colorful sheriff of Wharton County. One story about Buckshot has not been written, but now that he has passed on I think it is time. Buckshot had been sheriff for some time and during that time he had talked to the HighwayDepartment about a narrow spot on U.S. 59 where the highway slowed down to one lane over a narrow bridge. An average of once a week there was a traffic accident because of this narrow bridge. One day Buckshot decided to take matters into his own hands. He poured a can of gasoline over the bridge and set it on fire. Tkhis precipitated the sort of action that Buck had been lobbying for. The Highway Department rebuilt the bridge and made it wider so that Highway 59 could flow more smoothly.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Once there were two large Anglo families in Duval County, but an upset left George Parr in control. Parr did not have a sense of humor. He ruled Duval County by force. This became a news issue in 1948 when Lyndon Johnson was elected a U.S. Senator and carried Duval County by all of the votes. When I asked Lyndon about it he replied: "I have never been in Duval County in my life." I do not know who was the go-between, but someone talked to Parr. At that time Parr was under a conviction and needed help to avoid a prison sentence. One thing I do know. Lyndon and Sam Rayburn got on the train with President Harry Truman as he was passing through Kansas on his way back to the White House. Truman agreed to pardon Parr. This was not unusual for Truman because it helped him control Congress. Parr went back to Duval County in a stronger political position. In those days in Texas there were several counties indeep South Texas who joined together to exert power. Kleberg County, for example, and Webb County and Duval County. George Parr had a group of Mexican-Americans whom he put in office and they helped him run the county. All this was well known in 1948, but that was a long time ago and few Texans remember all this.
Friday, December 12, 2008
During my time as a roving reporter for The Houston Post I was sent to South Texas to cover a trial involving George Parr, who was the political boss of the area. Parr was serving as county judge of Duval County at the time and appeared in court wearing a gun. The Post sent a gung-ho photographer named Keith Hawkins to take pictures. Keith shot a picture of Parr. This was resented by Parr, who jumped up and grabbed Hawkins and might have shot him if I had not intervened. We were going around in an unbalanced circle, Parr hold Hawkins and me holding Parr when a Texas Ranger named Joe Bridges intervened. He took Parr by the arm and led him out of the courtroom, then he turned to me and said: "I ain't being paid to babysit you reporters. Why don't you leave?" I took Hawkins outside and told him to go back to Houston. He showed up with a black eye and claimed that Parr had beat him up and the story, including a picture of him, ran in the Houston Post with a headline claiming that Parr had beat him up. The upshot was that the judge postponed the case. I was in nearby Alice when the county attorney of Duval County called me and asked me to come to the Duval court house and shake hands with George Parr. I went to the meeting and Parr shook hands with me, but he was still hostile. I made it a rule never to linger in Duval County.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
In writing about the early days of gambling in Galveston I condensed the stories perhaps too much. Let me clarify. A national columnist visited Galveston and charmed a local character who told him how the Rangers invaded the game room at the Balinese Room and were caught empty handed. This story made newspapers coast to coast and embarrased the Texas Rangers who were a Texas tradition. Now the governor told the head of the Rangers to do something about it. They enlisted a Ranger who was not widely known. I remember his name as Clint Peoples. He was sent to Galveston along with a sexy looking female companion and registered at a downtown hotel saying he was a Texas oilman from Dallas. After his arrival had been publicized he asked for a guest card at the B-Room. Now the front gate had a security code which meant that they searched you for firearms and other things. That is where the woman came in. She had a large purse but was not searched. His gun was in her purse. They proceeded to the game room where he wagered a modest sum. Right on time by pre-arrangement the Rangers arrived at the front gate with a warrant. The buzzer went off in the game room. Then Ranger Peoples retrieved his six shooter from the woman's purse. Before they could dispose of the gambling paraphernalia he placed all of them under arrest and the other Rangers arrived shortly afterwood and handcuffed the suspects and took them to the jail. The moral of this story is do not bad mouth the Texas Rangers. This was the beginning of the end for the B-Room.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
The next occurence was when a Legislator decided to investigate Galveston. He was head of a House sub committee. He subpoenaed the mayor, the sheriff and most of the members of the Mafia. I was sent to Austin to cover this hearing. Mayor Herbert Cartwright made a statement: "People don't come to Galveston to go to church." Then Frank Biaggne, the sheriff, said he had gone to the Balinese Room to investigate but could not get in because he was not a member. The Mafia witnesses refused to testify because their statements would incriminate them. The hearing turned out to be a farce. That night the Mafia attorney invited me to a meeting at a downtown hotel. He said I could attend if I would agree not to write about anything said at the meeting. I agreed and when I got there I saw that more than half the members of the Legislature were present. These people were the same ones who had visited the B-Room over the years. But Will Wilson refused to give up. He was convinced he would be the next governor. He send the Rangers back to Galveston and issued an injunction against the Balinese Room. The Mafia leaders closed the B-Room, and many of the younger men went to Las Vegas. Wilson had shuttered the B-Room but it did not elect him governor. His political career was ended.
And so we went down to Austin to hear the Legislative committee hearing on Galveston. One of the first witnesses was Mayor Herbert Cartwright. (People do not come to Galveston to go to church, he said.) Another notable witness was Sheriff Frank Biaggne. He testified that he went to check on the Balinese Room but they would not let him in "because you had to be a member to be admitted." Most of the Mafia figures refused to testify because of the self incrimination clause in the Constitution. That night in the ballroom of one of the Austin hotels the men who ran the Balinese Room and their attorneys held a gathering. I was admitted after I swore that I would not write anything about what happened at this meeting. Inside the room I discovered that more than half the members of the Texas Legislature were present. (They also had been guests at the B-Room) In other words, the hearing was a farce. But Will Wilson was not about to give up. He sent the Rangers once again and he filed an injunction against the Balinese Room. That was it. Most of the Mafia figures who were still young enough to be active went to Las Vegas. Those who did not leave town retired. But Will Wilson did not achieve his goal of becoming governor. That was the end of his political career. (Next: Sheriff Biaggne.)
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
And so, I was at the Houston Post and Galveston was still wide open, and almost out of nowhere came Will Wilson of Dallas, who was attorney general of Texas.Wilson wanted to be governor and he had decided that declaring war on Galveston was the way to go. I don't think he understood Galveston, or even Texas. A lot of people who espouse morality in their home communities in Texas secretly enjoyed Galveston with its rowdy clubs and whorehouses and carefree attitude. You can call it hypocracy if you wish or call it human nature. Will sent the Texas Rangers into Galveston. By the time the Rangers got into the gambling room at the Balinese Room all they could find was a group of gentlemen shooting billiards. The roulette equipment had been dumped into the Gulf. One of my favorite stories involved Mort Jones, a Ranger from East Texas, who ran into Miss Jessie Elliott at a club which he was raiding. "Why Dirty Neck Jessie, I haven't seen you since the oil boom in East Texas," he said. Miss Jessie, who was the madam of the most popular house of prostitution in Galveston, had become a dignified lady. Call it a clash of cultures. Will Wilson was an introvert. In a room filled with more than 100 people he would often be standing alone in a corner. But he did have burning ambition. I was sent to Galveston to cover his crusade. Anthony Fertitta, whom I knew well, said to me: "I do not understand this. People love coming here to Galveston, including more than half the members of the Legislature." It was true that gambling was illegal in Texas in those days, but this fact had been ignored for years. Nevertheless, Wilson was determined to close Galveston. Finally a House investigating subcommittee, headed by a legislator who also wanted to obtain higher office, scheduled a public hearing on Galveston in Austin. They subpoenaed the sheriff, the mayor. the chief of police and most of the members of the mafia, including the operators of the Turf Club and the Balinese Room. I was sent to cover it.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
It was pleasant living in Galveston. I turned in about one story a day. Marie and I went to the beach in the afternoon and splashed in the surf. About once a month we went to the Balinese Room and ate well and watched the gamblers lose thousands. The only problem was that we did not have a future. The Galveston News did not pay much and we were not making a reputation in the news business. Ambition can be the ruination of a young couple's existence, but we knew that we were going to have to make a move. And so we applied to the Houston newspapers, Marie to the Chronicle and me to the Post. We were both hired and so we moved to the Big City, although Houston only had a population of about 400,000 in those days. Soon Marie became a copy editor and I became a roving reporter. We were working on two large daily newspapers and there was a career satisfaction in that. The only difference was that Houston was a dull community compared to Galveston. Most of the city closed at sundown. There was only one all night pharmacy. We bought a house in a new subdivision and started raising our daughters. Houston continued to grow, although you could stand in front of the downtown Rice Hotel and meet visitors from East Texas on any weekend. It was still a provincial community.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Rosario and Sam Maceo were from Sicily, and the two brothers opened a barber shop in downtown Galveston. During Prohibition the barber shop sold whiskey. This led to war between two groups of bootleggers. When Prohibition ended a truce was achieved between the two groups. Now Rosario, known as Rose, became the godfather and Sam became the front man. They opened the Turf Club downtown, which had a restaurant you could walk into and gambling on the top floor. Sam's office was on the first floor. Then they opened the Balinese Room on the waterfront facing the Gulf. It became an exclusive casino. There were payoffs to the state government. You had to be a member to get in. After I had been a reporter on the Galveston News for a few months I learned about all this. And so I went to see Sam Maceo. "Sure, you can go, but one thing -- you must promise me you will not put any money on the tables," he said. "It is not that we are not legit, we run an honest game, but I know that you do not make enough money to play." I quickly agreed as indeed I did not have a lot of money. I got together $100 in cash and went to the B-Room with Marie. After being interrogated at the front gate we were shown into the dining room. The food was superb and the orchestra played dance music. Marie and I ate and danced and then visited the game room. Sam Maceo showed up and picked up our dinner tab. I left a generous tip. In the game room were a number of players whom I knew in person or by reputation and all of them were playing big money. It was a revelation to a country boy whose only contact with gambling had been poker games in the Army.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Marie and I ended up in Galveston, a city on the Gulf with man-made beaches. I was a naive country boy and Galveston almost blew my mind. It never closed. Some places of business did not even have a front door. We went to work on the Galveston News, the oldest daily newspaper in Texas. One thing you could not write about was the gambling. It seems that Mr. Moody, who owned all the hotels and the Galveston News, had entered into a truce with the Maceos, Rose and Sam. The Maceos had once threatened to enter the hotel business and Mr. Moody hit the ceiling. A major law firm intervened and peace was restored. The Maceos would not enter the hotel business and the Moodys would not run any casinos. This decor even extended to the hotels. You could check into the beachfront hotel and obtain a visitor's pass to the Balinese Room, which was the most famous gambling club in Texas and most of the rest of the United States. People drove from Dallas and other places to stay in Galveston and visit the B-Room. Houston was full of new millionaires, wildcat oil operators who had brought in an oil well in places like Beaumont, and who had money to spend. Some of them, such as the Abercrombies, would brag about losing $10,000 at the B-Room. This was a post war (World War II) attitude. There were rumors about a payoff to the state government, one such story said cash money was sent to Austin in a bread truck. But to the majority of Texans the B-Room was a glamorous place To visit. I will never forget the first time Marie and I visited the B-Room. In the next installment I will tell more about the B-Room and the Maceos.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Located northwest of San Antonio in the heart of the Hill Country is the unique community of Fredericksburg. It's national claim to fame is the Nimitz Museum, a hotel once shaped like an ocean going vessel, that once belonged to the family of Admiral Nimitz, the hero of World War II. In my youth when most of Texas was dry, that is, no alcohol allowed in public, everyone needed a friend at Fredericksburg. Most of the residents spoke German as well as English and almost everyone had a wine cellar. When I was in high school I had a Fredericksburg girl friend and yes her father had a wine cellar. It was quite an experience to slip into the wine cellar and liberate a bottle. My girl friend not only drank wine but she loved to dance and she taught me how to do some of the Hill Country dances. This was quite a contrast to the strict protestantism in East Texas where the bootleggers usually were church members. Today Fredericksburg is a tourist town and much of the original flavor has disappeared, but it is still worth a visit.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Some people like cats and some like dogs. Some like racoons. I have always preferred horses. I even love swaybacked horses, mares, studs and geldings. I never met a horse that I did not like. But my favorite horse was a young gelding that I raised from a pony. This horse followed me around like a dog. When it became old enough I mounted it. That was when my problem began. The young horse tried to roll over with me. An old cowhand told me to take a length of rope, tie a knot in the end and when the horse reared up to hit it on the head. That worked. I trained this horse to respond to my tugs on the bridle and to turn in circles and to halt. I did not use bits as they were not necessary. Just a halter. I could even ride this horse without a halter or even a saddle. This was contrary to the usual western custom of breaking a horse with force. Then World War II came along. I sold everything and packed a bag and enlisted. The only possession remaining was my horse. It was a sorrowful moment but I sold him to a neighbor. Four years later I was discharged but my perspective had changed. I went to work for a newspaper. But as time went by I managed to buy a country place and to keep some horses. I never got over loving horses.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Next, as an investigative reporter, I was sent to England. In order to disguise my mission and to save money I was sent on a goodwill junket. What had happened was that a large passenger plane operated by British Airways had crashed over Rome and nearly 300 passengers had died in the crash. The concept of the fuselage was new but the plane was powered by Rolls Royce. I found it hard to believe that the engines had failed. After we got to Manchester I played sick and hired a guide and a vehicle so I could visit the factory where the body of the plane was built and assembled. There was a lot of gloom at the plant. Finally I talked to a major source who told me in understandable language what had happened. The plane was not sufficiently designed for high altitude. About the third time it was flown to 20,000 feet it just simply flew apart. I had my story and returned to the tour. The other visitors made fun of me but who cares. I apologized. Meanwhile the United States contractor had cancelled with the British company and was buying a plane made in California. It was the most significant aviation story of the decade. I returned home and wrote the story. But management was afraid of it because I could not name a source. I did not want to double cross my informant. Finally my story was pigeonholed. About nine months later the story broke in England. It was too late for the British company and the California company profited by the turn of circumstances. Aviation has changed a lot since then. This blog will resume Tuesday.
Friday, November 28, 2008
I was assigned the title "Investigative Reporter" and went to work. There were reports of a county commissioner taking bribes to build a road to a drilling site. I put on a pair of overalls and started carrying a camera in a totesack. It did not take long to get photos of county equipment being used illegally. I went to the grand jury and got an indictment. But the tenacles of the illegal scheme reached clear across the county. The story eventually involved a bank. a major corporation, and a number of individuals. I was the least popular news reporter in town. Finally, however, we got the commissioner removed from office, and I won some journalism prizes. The name of my story was Hoot Owl Road. Now let me drop the other shoe. We elected a new county commissioner to replace the crooked one. The new man turned out to be as dishonest as the man he replaced. Do I have an answer for this? Yes, but it will cost a lot of money. Maybe we should abolish the county commissioner type of government.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
We moved our residence from Houston to Friendswood, which was an hour's drive from the Post and Chronicle. We bought some acreage and began raising our two daughters. We also bought some horses. Friendswood was a Quaker community. You could not buy liquor in the community. It was low key, however almost every family had at least three children so it was obvious that a lot of copulation went on. It was ideal place to raise children. The largest edifice in town was the Friends (Quaker) Church. After we had lived there a while we managed to obtain an Episcopal church, but it was much smaller. Then one day it was announced that NASA would begin operations at nearby Webster. The space program, which eventually sent a team to the moon, brought thousands of new citizens to the area. A lot of these new arrivals did not want to live in Space City, USA, so they moved to Friendswood. And many of them were Episcopalians. One Sunday the members of the vestry had to stand up in the back of the church because all the seats were filled. Friendswood changed, but one thing remained constant -- no liquor was sold in the city.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
We were married in the old stone Episcopal church in San Angelo in front of an estimated 300 relatives and friends. Right after that we resigned from the Standard and left town in search of better paying jobs. We went to Oklahoma City where I had a connection with the executive editor of the Daily Oklahoma. He talked to us for a while and then offered me a job and then he turned to Marie and said, "How would you like to be society editor?" She leaped to her feet and said, "Go to hell." At that point I knew we would have to move to a city with two newspapers. I considered New York City. We ended up in Houston where she went to work at the Chronicle and I went to work at the Post. We had good careers in Houston and bought some acreage in Friendswood, south of there, and raised our two daughters in a rural atmosphere. As soon as they grew up one of them moved to New York City and the other one to Washington, D.C. So much for country living. The newspaper business is different now, but in our time we enjoyed the competition, the investigative reporting, and the prestige of a daily newspaper.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Back in my home town of San Angelo I found that things had changed. When I went to the department store to buy some clothes they did not have any -- but the clerk hinted that he could find some under the counter. Prices were still restricted, one of the good things that Congress had done during thie war, but a black market had grown up. You could not buy a new car but if you had the money one would show up at a location out of town. This made me angry but the management of the Standard Times would not let me write about it. The word is Greed. People seemed adjusted to this situation, but returning veterans were not. I joined the American Legion and we began to protest. This went on for a while but after price restrictions were lifted the market adjusted. Meanwhile I wore part of my Army uniform and drove a second hand car. During this time I noticed a female reporter who was covering City Hall. Her name was Marie and she was competent and confident. She was quite independent and did not want anything to do with me. I was not interested in marriage until I met Marie. I had made the rounds of my old girl friends, and one of them was the only granddaughter of a rich oil man who was worth millions of dollars. I took her to the park and had sex with her. She was compliant but not exciting and I gave her up. A year later she married a ranch boy and her grandfather gave them a ranch, a herd of cattle and a pickup truck. Even so I did not regret not having married her. That may explain why I am so poor. But Marie continued to interest me and after three years she agreed to marry me. She was ahead of her time, an independent woman who was seeking to make her way in a world which men had dominated for so long.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Information about the Atomic Bomb began to flow in. It had been a well kept secret. President Harry Truman made the final decision to drop the bomb. It was estimated that if we invaded Japan that 2 million Japanese would be killed and possibly that many U.S. troops. At that time we had nearly 10 million citizens enrolled in the military. Pictures of the Japanese surrender aboard a battleship in Tokyo began to be published. The war was over, and the warlords had begun killing themselves - Hari Kari with a knife to the abdomen. Truman always said he never regretted dropping the bomb. I agreed with him. I had signed up for the duration and six months and now I was eligible for discharge. I started toward home after receiving my discharge at Fort Bliss in El Paso. I did not know what my next move would be. On the way home I stopped at a bank in New Mexico and asked if I could float a loan to bring some cattle into the state. The banker asked me to wait a few minutes while he checked with a widow who owned a large ranch. This widow had a young daughter who was eligible for marriage. I waited and he talked to the widow on the telephone. He returned shaking his head. It seems the girl had married the hired hand only two days before. I do not know what the girl looked like but I came back to Texas to resume my career. After thinking it over I decided against resuming my ranch operations. Instead I went to work as a reporter on my home town newspaper, The San Angelo Standard Times. This led to other changes in my lifestyle.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
|Back in the States I was sent to Victorville Air Force Base in California. Here were thousands of soldiers, including me, who were waiting to invade the Pacific Theater. While we were waiting I was ordered to give daily newscasts. I had an Associated Press teletype installed. One morning this AP machine began ringing bells with a bulletin. It reported that a B-29 bomber had dropped an Atomic Bomb on Japan, killing thousands of people. I immediately called the base commander and read him the story. He thanked me and hung up. I still did not know what was an Atomic Bomb. The story went on to relate that the bomb had been dropped from high altitude and that shock waves had rocked the B-29 and sent a mushroom cloud into the atmosphere. I read this story to the troops all day long and each time there was a shocked reaction while they waited for me to tell them what was an Atomic Bomb. I had to use the old Army routine "dismissed" to empty the theater. The Japanese warlords did not want to end the war but the Emperor took charge and surrendered. Then most of the warlords committed suicide. The war was over. Next Tuesday I will give some background on the Atomic Bomb.|
Friday, November 21, 2008
|After finishing a strong cup of coffee I remembered an incident in Italy which amused me. A soldier often seeks out a family for a visit because he is homesick. This happened to me in a suburb of Naples during the old old war. The father served us some wine at inflated prices and since he spoke English we had some conversation. With me was a PFC we called Shorty. The Italian father had two daughters who lurked in the background. Shorty drifted over to talk to the daughters and they disappeared into the hall. One of the daughters pulled up her dress and showed Shorty her private parts. This inflamed his passions. Later on when it became time to leave, I thanked our host for his hospitality but Shorty negotiated a deal to spend the night. The girl had indicated which door led to her bedroom. Later on when the house became quiet, Shorty tiptoed over to this door, but it was locked. I suspect the father was using his daughter for bait but regardless of his motive he locked the door securely before going to bed. Poor Shorty!|
Thursday, November 20, 2008
|Marie and I were sipping tequila at a bar in Nuevo Laredo. This bar was being operated by Jesse, who was the son of the old man who started it and who was our friend. The old man had died and Jesse had taken charge. A woman came in and sat down at the bar with us. She had a bag of groceries. Jesse spoke to her and she pulled out a gourd. He asked her to contribute it and she agreed. So Jesse peeled the gourd and sliced it and sprinkled salt over it and then poured tequila over it. Then he filled our glasses for free, offered the sliced gourd on a platter and poured the woman a drink. The gourd tasted bland except for the salt and tequila. So we held an afternoon party with Jesse. I asked Jesse the name of the gourd and he grinned and said "potatoes". I asked the woman the name and she said "Hic a ma". Then she wrote it down and it started with a J instead of an H. Since then I have seen this gourd being sold in the produce section at some of the supermarkets. It is commonplace along the border. Just think about hiccups to start with and then add a and ma. It is sold cheap and makes a great appetizer for an afternoon cocktail party.|
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
|Before the violence caused by the drug war, Laredo and Nuevo Laredo were closely related. On the Mexican side there was a doctor, Salvador Pena, who delivered more than 5,000 babies over a period of years. In the early days pregnant women from Laredo went across the river to see Dr. Pena because they trusted him. When I first met Dr. Pena he was 82 years old. He lived into his 90s.The new mothers would rush back across the border to the U.S. side so they could register their new baby as U.S. born. I met Dr. Pena at a private club in Nuevo Laredo where he was having a late lunch with the mayor of the city and two attorneys and the head of the schools. He was affable. "In order to live as long as I do you need to enjoy a daily siesta, preferably with a young woman," he told me. This history was well known on both sides of the Rio Grande. It was a way of life which suited most of the residents.|
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
|Patricio Healy had the map of Ireland on his face but when he opened his mouth he spewed forth a torrent of Spanish. He also spoke English. He was a third generation Mexican, the lead reporter for a large Mexico City daily and a member of the press corps which traveled with President Ruiz Cortines. I met him in Nuevo Laredo where I had traveled after leaving the dedication of Falcon Dam. "I have a scoop for you," he said. After leaving Falcon Dam President Cortines had gone to Nuevo Laredo. Upon arrival he hired a taxi cab and toured the red light district. This was a hodge podge of shacks in the heart of downtown, and the houses were rat infested and dirty and prone to catch on fire. The next morning Cortines called together the leading citizens of Nuevo Laredo, the government officials and anyone with influence. He told them that they must get rid of this fire trap and eyesore. If you wish to replace them, then go outside the city and buy a tract of land and fence it and make an entrance with a police gate and control the traffic, he told them. The president of Mexico has a lot of power in a matter like this, and it was considered an order. So Ruiz Cortines and Patricio Healy went back to Mexico City and two years later a new and orderly red light district was establish on the edge of town, and as far as I know it is still there.|
Friday, November 14, 2008
I knew Lyndon B. Johnson better than any other president of the United States, although I have met and talked to a number of chief executives. I feel that Lyndon would have been rated a great president if he had stayed out of Vietnam. Lyndon was a hands-on president. His Civil Rights bill brought the nation into the new world, but eventually lost the South for the Democratic Party. On the other hand I knew Dwight Eisenhower, but not real well. He was almost the opposite of Lyndon. He issued orders, expected them to be carried out, and then went to the golf course. He was a hands-off president. I was there when Ike came down to South Texas to dedicate the Falcon Dam on the Rio Grande River along with the Mexican president, Ruiz Cortines. The two presidents met in the middle of the dam. The night before, while staying at Allan Shivers house, Ike had been briefed on the abrazzo custom. When two Mexican leaders meet they give each other a brief hug called an abrazzo (an embrace). Ike said it was silly and he was not going to do it. So the two men met on the dam and Ike shook hands. At a strategic location below the dam were at least 50 Mexican reporters and photographers. They wanted a picture of the traditional abrazzo. Ike balked. Then the Mexicans hissed loudly "abrazzo." Finally Ike, red faced and a bit angry, gave in an embraced Cortines. You needed to be there to see it. It was a symbol of unity between our two countries. I will tell you a bit more next week.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
|I received an honorable discharge after four year of service in the war, and returned home to a changed world. I went to work as a news reporter on my home town newspaper, the San Angelo Standard Times, but I was not allowed to print my personal opinions. The department stores did not have any clothes although a clerk indicated that I could buy under the counter. The automobile dealers did not have any new cars, although it was hinted that for enough money they could find one. Most of the people in my home town had worked hard in the war effort and were honest and respected. But our society had been infected with hustlers who would steal the money off a blind man's eyes to repeat an old adage. Although I was restricted in what I could print, I was able to tell many of these rascals off when I encountered them. Finally, the soldiers and sailors who returned home after the war made such a public outcry that Congress passed a piece of legislation called the GI Bill. It sent me a cash payment which helped my bank account and it provided loan help for a new house which I bought when Marie and I got married. I have an idea that a similar bill might be indicated for the veterans who are still fighting today. President Franklin Roosevelt closed the banks and made them reorganize when he took office. President Obama will inherit a financial cesspool when he takes office, but he will need the help of Congress to help reform the economy. Congress has been overpaid and over indulged in recent years and it is time for some new programs. Yes, it is time for a change.|
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Millions of citizens of the United States were involved in the war, either as soldiers in the military or as plant workers or in other way. Hundreds of thousands of army and navy personnel were poised on the West Coast to strike at Japan. The Japanese warlords, desperate for success, had created the suicide aircraft strikes, known as Kamakazi. Our navy, poised to invade Japan, was being attacked by the Kamakazis. It was estimated that millions would die on both sides.It was into this tense atmosphere that President Harry Truman dropped the atomic bomb. I had torn the bulletin off the Associated Press machine and was busy reading it to the troop stationed at Victorville Air Force Base in California. Ordinarily when I finished a newscast there was a scramble for the door as the soldiers burst out of the room. But when I finished telling them about the Atomic Bomb there was a deep silence. They were waiting for me to tell them what was an atomic bomb. I could not tell them what I did not know. Finally I fell back on a standard Army statement: Dismissed. The official bulletin had described how U.S. pilots flying a B-29 bomber at high altitude had dropped an atomic bomb on Japan and had killed thousands of people. The pilot described a mushroom cloud rising from the blast into the atmosphere. Shock waves from the explosion had rocked the plane. The Japanese did not immediately surrender so Truman ordered a second bomb to be dropped. At that point the Japanese emperor took charge and announced surrender and the stubborn warlords began to commit suicide by stabbing themselves in the stomach. It was obvious that the war was over. It was some time before details about the creation of the atomic bomb, which had been done in secret, were revealed. To this day the bomb remains a controversial subject. But to the soldiers waiting to invade Japan and perhaps die it was a welcome happening. I was one of those who was glad it happened.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
One thing about the military, they do move you around. The next thing I knew I was in Foggia Valley, Italy, close to Naples. The number of B-24 bombers there almost blew my mind. In less than two years the United States workers, women and men, had produced thousands of bombers and tanks, rifles and ammunition and uniforms as well as establishing bases. The warlords in Berlin and Tokyo had underestimated the basic character of the people of our nation. Every morning a group of B-24s took off from Foggia, followed in short order by another group, hour after hour. Late afternoon saw most of the bombers returning, minus maybe four or five. We were bombing Germany out of existence. In North Africa I had felt that Germany was winning but here in Southern Italy I felt that Germany was doomed. And the credit was due to the people of the United States who went to work with zest. The war in the Pacific was a naval war, with our battleships and cruisers and aircraft carriers meeting the Japanese in places that most of us had never heard of. Finally the Japanese warlords, fanatical to the end, started using suicide pilots, called kamikaze. By that time I was in Victorville, Calif., along with thousands of others, waiting to go to Japan. It has been estimated that we would lose more than one million troops, and that the Japanese would lose maybe two million people, including soldiers, when we invaded. Franklin Roosevelt had been succeeded by Harry Truman. It was Truman who decided to use the atomic bomb. I had been assigned to the news desk at the Southern California air base and was giving eight news reports a day to thousands of soldiers who marched to the base theater to hear them. Early one morning the Associated Press machine began ringing bells for what seemed forever. The message was that we had dropped an atomic bomb on Japan. I called the base commander, who was wide awake. and read him the bulletin. He thanked me and hung up. I still did not know what an atomic bomb was. Next I will tell you the reaction of the troops concerning the dropping of the bomb.
Friday, November 7, 2008
The next move was to Sicily where the Allied forces were taking over the country. This was a prelude to invading Italy. We ended up in Catania, once Roman, once Greek, and now Italian. It was an ancient city with walls 12 feet high. When we marched into the city one of the first things I noticed was that none of the people smiled. They were almost sullen. We set up a base outside the city and overlooking part of the Mediterranean and in the shadow of Mount Etna, a volcano. We could hear the sounds of the invasion of Solarno Beach in Italy, about 40 miles away. Every morning a barefoot Sicilian boy wearing a felt hat came to our base selling wine. That was where I first started drinking wine. At irregular internals a young man drove a team of horses pulling a wagon into our base trying to sell us something. He was wearing a pistol which I hesitated to take away from him. He and the barefoot boy both had some connection to the Mafia, about which I knew nothing at that time. But it was the Mafia which had helped us drive out the Germans. It was a world which had not been covered in my U.S. history studies. It was a beautiful part of the world but had many problems, not the least was the mosquitoes which swarmed at sundown. I had once read about Hannibal, the Carthagenian general who invaded Italy from Sicily, but that had been many centuries ago. At any rate, we used Sicily to invade Southern Italy and soon we were in Foggia Valley, near Naples. I had felt that the Germans were going to overcome us, but shortly after my arrival in Italy I knew better. It was then that I became confident we were going to win the war. I will tell you more about this next Tuesday when I resume this account.
I need to advise reader discretion for this report-not just minors but for anyone faint of heart. My outfit was in Casablanca and was not under a lot of pressure. So like soldiers everywhere we boarded a truck and headed for a whorehouse. This was in a suburban village about 15 miles south. When we got there a segment of my outfit decided to have group sex. I was not ready for that so I broke away and toured the premises. In a large patio I found the madam and one assistant building a fire. Then they rolled out a wagon wheel and started tying one of the young prostitutes to the wheel, spread eagled so the girl's hands and feet could be tied separately. Next the madam put some large stones, round and smooth, into the fire. It was fascinating to watch and a bit puzzling. Finally they spread a thin blanket over her stomach. She was completely naked. At that point the madam took a pair of tongs and reached into the fire and dropped one of the hot stones on the girl's stomach. The girl winced with pain but did not cry out. They repeated this a second time and I could not stand to watch any longer so I left. A little later on in a Casablanca bookstore I found a pamphlet written in English which described the founding of the whorehouse, the Arab tribe involved, and the name of the home village which was not far away. Many years earlier, for economic reasons, the leaders of this tribe decided to create the brothel and to furnish the girls. Before leaving for the whorehouse the girls were betrothed to a young man in the village. This future husband was to accumulate livestock and a site for living quarters. The girls would return after a period of sevice with a dowry based on their earnings and two or three children born in the brothel. She would join her husband to create a domestic life. The children, usually of Arab origin but some of partial French and English descent, would inject new blood into the tribe. The article which I read seemed authenic and it explained that the longer a young woman worked at the brothel without getting pregnant increased her dowry and her productivity. It was rather startling to read such a graphic account of the adjustment to a new social culture. By the time I arrived the program had been in existence for decades and the culture was well established. The barbaric adoption procedure dated back to a previous time and was accepted without reservation. After witnessing the hot stones procedure I went back into the whorehouse and chose a young prostitute for a sexual liaison. She went through an ancient procedure which included clapping me on the back which almost knocked the wind out of me.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
My younger daughter called from New York and asked: "How are you Daddy?" I replied that I was just fine. This was not really true. I lie awake nights wondering about the big question-WHY. Why is one of the questions I have been unable to answer during a long life of seeking answers. Sometimes I think about Mr. Shakespeare's play "Julius Caesar." Cassius worried if he and his friends were doing the right thing when they killed Caesar. Brutus, on the other hand, had no doubts about it being the right thing. I grew up with the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. I am not sure that Mr. Jefferson was a happy man. Why do I go to the Icehouse, is it to stifle my conscience with a beer? No, it is to listen to the conversation. Sometimes even a truck driver comes up with a grain of wisdom.Mr. Schulz, the cartoonist, created Charlie Brown, who never came up with the answer. Lucy, on the other hand, never doubted that SHE was right. Franklin Roosevelt, who nearly got me killed during World War II, said that the only thing we need to fear is fear itself. FDR jerked me out of a pastoral existence into a world of turmoil. I came back from the war opposed to slavery. It has taken a long time, but we seem to be on the verge of abolishing slavery here in the United States. President-elect Barack Obama, who has a bright wife and two daughters, is an honor graduate of Harvard Law School. Yet he turned down a well paying job with a corporate law firm to go into community action in Chicago. Maybe he knows why. My New York daughter is a poet. My older daughter, in Austin, is an attorney. They want to know why. My grandson, who is teaching English in the schools in Korea, wants to know why. Maybe he will find some ancient wisdom in Asia. The answer is that we are here to help create a better way of life in which to live. Sounds simple? Join me at the Icehouse to help me find some answers.+
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Finally the high brass moved us out of our defunct Tunisian base and shipped us to Casablanca. It took a bit of adjusting, but we obtained new uniforms and new equipment and ate in a well prepared mess hall. This beautiful city was spread across a hillside and overlooked the Atlantic. One day my commanding officer, Capt. Thomas Cloward informed me that he and I would be going to Rabat, about 20 miles north, to review the French Foreign Legion. We would join General Cannon, who was the top commander in our area, and other officers. All I knew about the Foreign Legion was a movie that I had once seen. But when we got there it was an impressive sight. There were 500 white Arabian horses who had been chosen so they all looked alike. And there were 500 troopers dressed the same. It was the greatest calvary in the world. The troopers and their mounts passed in front of our reviewing stand in an impressive formation. I had ridden horses most of my life, but in the ranch country of Texas. There was a lull in the program and it was then that Capt. Cloward volunteered me to ride with the Legion. He informed General Cannon that I was a great horseman. This was true in the ranch country but here it was different. But I was stuck. A French officer was summoned and quickly agreed to furnish me with a mount. When I was handed the reins to this horse, I realized that the saddle was next to nothing. I mounted and rode off. In Texas we neck reined out horses, that is we trained them to respond to a tug across the neck. And we used a straight bit in the mouth. But the French Legion used what I thought were cruel bits, joined in the middle, and a pull on the reins which was able to draw blood. However, the horses had been trained to respond instantly and they responded to my pull without faltering. I seated myself and rode out into an open space and did a few turns and twists and galloped a bit and pulled down to a trot. Then, feeling sure that I had control of my mount, I broke into a run and headed for the reviewing stand. Right in front of this stand I pulled my horse up sharply and turned a somesault out of the saddle and landed on my feet with the reins in my hand. It had been three or four years since I had done this maneuver, but I was lucky and it went off well. I handed the reins to the trooper and saluted the officer and returned to the reviewing stand. Capt. Cloward was pleased and General Cannon congratulated me. A few years after World War II (my war) the French Foreign Legion was disbanded. It was a sad day, but the calvary had been rendered obsolete by the mechanization of the military. The German general, Rommel, was one of those who had mechanized the army and it was a major development. In the Air Force, that also changed the way bombers were used. It was a case of learning the hard way.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Finally the brass decided to relocate my outfit so they could issue new clothes and furnish new planes. They moved us to Casablanca, a beautiful city which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. If I had to stay in the military I would like for it to be in Casablanca. No, I did not see Bergen and Bogart, nor did I see the movie until six years after the war ended. But I did see thousands of refugees from Europe crowded into the harbor, trying to fly out or to board a boat for South America. At the sidewalk cafes you could hear six to eight different languages being spoken. There were beautiful women refugees who were willing to barter their bodies for a visa for their husbands. The city is spread across a hill, and most of the houses are painted white. The city contained Europeans dressed formally as well as raggedly, and Arabs in all sorts of different clothes. It was a mixture of different cultures, people with money and others with nothing at all. There are many stories to be told about Casablanca, but since our nation is in an historic presidential election, I will pause at this time until next week when I will evaluate the issues confronting our country.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
During the lull at our air base in Tunisia I took a jeep and two fellow soldiers to visit the holy Moslem city of Kairouan, about 20 miles away. As we entered the city we surprised two young Moslem girls outside the walls who had dropped their veils. Frightened, they dropped to the ground and hid their faces. We drove on into the city and in front of the holy mosque we enountered a handicapped guide who spoke English. The mosque was large enough to accomodate several thousands worshipers and was lighted with thousands of oil lamps which burned day and night. Our guide told us the mosque contained the beard of the prophet, Mohammed. (This was later contradicted in Pakistan, showing a split in the religion.) He guided us up the stairs to the sanctuary. The priest was no where in sight but a man and his young son were sitting in spiritual contemplation on the floor. I nodded at this man and he nodded back. Then we returned to the square. Our guide directed us to the rug merchant, whose name was Mohammed Bey. Almost every man was named Mohammed something or other. Next to the rug merchant's office was a large warehouse containing thousands of hand woven rugs, many of them made of camels hair and wool. I was introduced to the TV table before the arrival of TV. A servant set up a folding table and put a metal tray on top. Then I was served a strong coffee which I managed to strain through my teeth. Mohammed Bey then showed us many beautiful rugs, some of them large enough to fill a hotel lobby. Although we were isolated at the base, we did receive mail and were allowed to reply and to send packages. I finally chose a rug that would fit inside the shipping rules. We returned to the base and I shipped my rug home.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Now we were stranded on top of a hill in Tunisia, our planes destroyed and our morale low. We began to hear rumors that Field Marshal Rommel was going to attack us. Rommel, one of the top German generals, was in Libya with a mechanized force, tanks, trucks and troop carriers. It was not long before we saw dust rising in the East, and sure enough it was Rommel. I had a .30 calibre rifle to defend our base with, and I felt it was useless against the mechanized forces. I had two thoughts: (l) I was going to die, and (2) the Germans were winning the war. Rommel came closer and closer, and at the last minute he turned north, went into the harbor at Tunis and took boats to Italy. It was 20 years after the war before I learned what had happened. The British had cracked the German code and were monitoring the situation. Rommel send a code message to the German high command in Berlin as follows: "Have only enough fuel for five days." The high command responded that they were dispatching a tanker from Romania with enough fuel to last for six months. The British notified their Mediterranean base at Malta which dispatched a submarine. The sub had the name of the tanker and its route. They intercepted the tanker and sank it. Rommel then left for Italy.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
President Franklin Roosevelt send my outfit to North Africa to appease Stalin. I soon found out we were expendable. As we entered Oran and turned toward Algiers I saw strange sights, such as camels and men riding jackasses. Then I saw veiled women, in some cases as many as seven, following a man who appeared to be their husband. Finally we rode a 40 and 8 box car (fortymen and eight horses) to Tunisia where we arrived at a primative airbase named Youks les baines. (Place of the bath} This contained an ancient Roman spa in the side of a cliff. We set up a landing strip flanked by 40 P-38 fighter planes. One of the first things I did was to dig a deep trench outside headquarters, which was a cave inside a hill. The Germans had night bombers and they flew over every night looking for us. We turned out all lights and temporarily evaded them. Then one day General Jimmy Doolittle, who had flown over Tokyo and bombed it several months earlier, showed up on our tarmac and taxied up to headquarters. He had a squadron of B-25s based at Maison Blanche airport at Algiers and he flew one of them to our advanced Tunisian base. Aboard with him was the same crew chief who had walked out of China with him. Soon it got dark and the German JU-88s began circling overhead. On top of the hill was a nervous GI with a machine gun. He began firing at the JU-88s. Every third round was the equivalent of a flare and it was like drawing a diagram for the enemy. I heard the bombers change course and I went to Doolittle's plane and told his crew chief I had a bomb shelter. "Oh no thank you, I must remain here as the general may need me at any moment," he replied. I left and dived into my trench and the bombing began almost immediately. The bombs rolled me over in my hole like a squirrel in a cage. Finally the bombing ended and I went out to look. There had been a direct hit on Doolittle's plane and all you could see was a few pieces of the fuselage. The crew chief and most of the plane had been blown apart. All of our fighter planes had been destroyed. Doolittle had survived at headquarters but we had to send him back to Algiers in a jeep. He had beenplanning a mission but there were no fighter planes left to accompany it.
Monday, October 27, 2008
I am among the Texans who introduced the domino game Moon to the boys up north, including those in Pennsylvania. Basically, Moon is played by three men who divide up 28 dominoes, taking seven apiece and leaving seven on the table in a cluster known as the boneyard. Bidding begins, with the perfect hand being a total of seven. For example, you can have a plurality of fives, plus some doubles. If you control the fives and if you have enough doubles then you have a winning hand. Suppose you have enough strength to bid six. Then, if no one contests you, you can draw one domino from the boneyard to complete your hand. If this draw does not help you then you can fight it out for the last trick. As a gambling game, you can play for $5 a game and $l a hickey. A hickey is when you get set and have to pay the winner $l. If you draw a winner from the boneyard then you can Shoot the Moon. Set a goal for the game at 250 points. All you need is a set of dominoes. During wartime soldiers can be easily amused.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Women have invaded the ice house, and many of them are wearing miniskirts. Some of the men are involved in a dispute. The girls are perched on a bar stool, stretching out their legs in a way that exposes their inner thigh, showing a patch of hair. Some men argue that this is deliberately provocative while others assert that this means the girls are merely relaxed. The girls also shoot pool, and drink beer, but they have not invaded the domino game, which is called moon and which is a form of men contesting one another in a mild gambling game. The moon players basically ignore everyone else. The pool players are more diverse and often men and women contest each other in the pool room.