“Valley of the Dolls”

I got to thinking about my first “real” date.  Aw there probably were a couple of them.  Like the first time I held hands or the first time I ever did any smooching.  Seems like it was so long ago, that they all run together.

My girlfriend Angela had been a cheer leader back in Jr. High.  We were in the same grade.  I was in the 10th grade at the time, so it must have been around 1968. She and I were at the age where dating was on the horizon.  My Mom was all for it, she schooled me in the etiquettes, the proper way to do things.  Like opening doors for a lady, pulling out their chairs and standing when a woman entered the room.  She taught me how to waltz, not to be impolite, pretty much standard stuff for a guy back in those days.

My girlfriend’s Dad had worked at the shipyards with my mom’s brother in laws.  Mom was delighted that my girlfriend was the daughter of some one that she was friends with.  Sometimes she let me drive her Cutlass to go visit her after school.

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She wanted to go see the R rated movie “Valley of the Dolls.”  It had just come out and was only available at certain theaters.  My girlfriend was only 15 and so was I, too young to get into an “R” rated movie back in those days.

My cousin Cindy was close to my age, a few months older, she was already 16.  Her Mom had already allowed her to start dating.  She and I talked often the phone.  I told her about my desire to take Angela out on a date, hoping to be able to go see “The Valley of the Dolls’ that happened to be showing at the Florida Theater on Forsythe St., downtown.

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Cindy told me that our cousin Clarence was in town.  He was our Granny’s grand nephew.  Aunt Ann Sue’s grandson, Clarence was a hick from the sticks, if there ever was one.  He was 22 years old, going on 60.  Our parents had told us that even though he was different, for us to be nice to him.  Previously he had taken my girl cousins and I to the drive inn movies.  He was plenty old enough to chaperone.  He dressed and acted like Gomer Pile.  He liked to wear mix matched clothes, with white socks.  He was one of the nicest persons that you would ever want to meet, just different.  His favorite pastime was rocking on the front porch swapping lies and swatting flies.

After I planted the seed in Cindy’s mind, she arranged an outing where she and Clarence would pick up my girlfriend and me, then we would go to the theater to see the movie.  I worked all day Saturday to earn the money.  I worked for my parents every day but that was supposed to pay for my room and board is what they said.  If I needed any money, I had to go out and earn it.

My cousin Earl and I went out to Bowie’s Dairy and under the shade of some old oak trees, we dug fishing worms.  Red wigglers and night crawlers, we sold them to old lady Hood.  Miss Hood lived next to my parent’s trailer park, across from Tiller’s grocery.  She sold fishing worms and would buy as many as we could dig.  After she bought them from us, she would take the night crawlers and break them in half.  We sold her our worms for a penny apiece.  Sometimes she would conveniently miscount in her favor and we would pretend we didn’t notice, because we knew we could always find plenty more.  That day we got paid ten dollars, so we must have dug about 1,000 worms.

Digging worms wasn’t that hard.  The cows from the dairy would lay up under the shade of the old oak trees up along the fence behind the old fire station.  They would poop big piles, every where, hundreds and hundreds of cow poop piles as far as the eye could see.  Using a potato rake, we would turn the dried clods over and bust them apart with the rake.  Jumping and wriggling worms would appear like magic, 10 to 15 sometimes more from every clod.

Earl and I each had a bucket and we would scoop up our bounty and move on to the next clod.  After about two hours we figured that we had more worms than Ms. Hood had money, she kept telling us how broke she was, we saved the rest for another day.  True to form, she miscounted as usual, poor mouthed us again and again but she did pay us ten bucks.  We were off to a good start.

After that we went by our Aunt Irma’s, she lived across the street from the Dinsmore Cemetery.  Aunt Irma was my aunt, but Uncle Bud, her husband was Earl’s uncle, so we figured that made us cousins, sort of.  Every Saturday, we mowed her grass and then washed and vacuumed her ’64 Oldsmobile.  It was maroon with a white top and white bucket seats, coupe.  It was one beautiful car.  We helped her to keep it that way.  Her sons had grown and left home, both had joined the army.  Aunt Irma would pay us ten bucks each for the chores.

We finished early that day, around two o’clock.  Earl had a motorcycle, a Honda 300 dream. It was ideal for our purpose.  I got on the back of the bike with a plastic laundry basket across my lap.  Earl would guide the bike up and down US 1, all the way to Callahan, while I leaned over picking up drink bottles to exchange for the deposit at Mr. Tiller’s Banner Food Store.  Mr. Tiller would give us two cents apiece for all of the bottles that we returned in the carton.  Sometimes we could find cartons too, but most of them were just “singles”.  Mr. Tiller would only give us a penny each for those, unless they were they big 32 ounce bottle.  For those, we got a nickel.  All told, in about 2 and a half hours we got a little over ten bucks.  Not a bad day for two steppers, because that’s what we thought we were, “steppers.”

I called Cindy up and told her it was “on.”  I had the earned the most money that I could call mine, in my life and I had plans for every penny.  She told me that they were gonna pick me up about 7:00.

It was okay with my Dad if I dressed like Clarence, I think they shopped at the same place but I wouldn’t stand for it.  Earl and I went to Levy-Wolfs in the Gateway Shopping Center and I paid $7.50 for a yellow fitted shirt, with pearl buttons, then I bought a pair of socks to match.  My Dad hit the ceiling when he found out how much I paid for that shirt.  He wasn’t too happy about the socks either, they cost me $2.00.  My Dad was something else.

Clarence and Cindy picked me up, we drove to my sweetie’s in Picketville, everyone got out of the car so that I could introduce them to her parents.  Angela’s Dad and Clarence were from the same neck of the woods, up around Waycross or Baxley.  Their kin were kin too, by marriage.  They seemed to hit it off.

Clarence was wearing checked pants and a striped shirt with a sport jacket.  You could say he was dressed to kill.  It sure killed me and Cindy.  She was going along with this to help me out, we were gonna have a great time, just as long as Clarence had a car and could chaperone us into the theater, we could care less how he dressed.  My girlfriend was kinda of quiet about everything.  She probably didn’t know what to expect.

Clarence stopped at the store to buy Cindy some cigarettes and bought himself a basket of peaches, he said “because they sure looked good.”  He offered to share but I was saving my appetite for cold drinks and buttered popcorn.  I never did smoke, the few times I tried it, I was with Cindy.  I guess it’s an acquired taste, to which I never did.

No problems getting into the movie.  Clarence went first, he was plenty of old enough, I had given him the money for the tickets; the usher never even looked at us.  He just tore our tickets in half and said “enjoy the movie.”

Since we were a little early for the show, we were able to get our seats in the balcony, first rate seats, right in the middle.  The news reel came on and when it showed clips of our troops over in Viet Nam, some of the people in the seats down below started to boo, loudly.  The Viet Nam War wasn’t that popular, some of the folks in attendance voiced their displeasure.

Clarence wasn’t with all of this.  He had put some of those peaches in his jacket pocket.  He took a couple out and splattered some those folks down below us that were booing.  The feature soon came on, that put an end to the hooting and hollering, that is until some of “R’ rated stuff started to appear on screen.

The movie was interesting, 3 girls doing the best they could to survive in Hollywood.  Just like the pills they were doing, they had their “ups and downs.”  The drugs and the alcohol proved too much for them.  I thought that Patty Duke favored my cousin Cindy, only I thought that Cindy was much prettier.

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Clarence had his feet up on the balcony, eating his peaches.  He was happy as a pig in slop.  When a scene appeared showing the girls taking pills or showing a little skin, he would blurt out, “I swan née” time and time again.  People would try to shush him and the usher would shine his light up at us, as if a warning or something.  Clarence had no idea what he was doing though.  When a nudie scene appeared old Clarence choked on a peach pit.  I had to get up and slap him on the back until he spit it out, right over the rail of the balcony.

When this happened the girls got up and went to the bathroom.  When they returned, they changed seats.  Clarence had been on the far left, then Angela, Me then Cindy.  After they returned, Cindy swapped seats with my girlfriend, sitting between me and Clarence.

While the girls were in the restroom, Clarence had stopped eating peaches and pulled out a pouch and put a wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth.  He started to spit over the rail but I stopped him.  Instead he chose an almost empty popcorn cup in the armrest between the two seats.  Cindy, not knowing this, reached innocently into the popcorn cup without looking and put a handful of tobacco juice laced popcorn in her mouth.

The movie might have been rate “R” but I don’t think any one was prepared for the words that came out of Cindy’s mouth.

I guess everyone remembers their first date.  I will always remember mine.  Clarence was killed in Viet Nam in 1970.  In 1971 Angela was working for a doctor that gave her an experimental drug for a headache.  Her Mom told me that she went to a party and drank alcohol.  She went to sleep and never woke up.  I came home on Emergency Leave, but I was too late for the service.  Cindy went on to be an Insurance executive for SWD, she passed away 3 years ago from a heart attack.  Now its up to me, to remember them, and I do, to anybody that wants to listen.

 

Guantanamo Bay

Ever sail one of these? It’s called a “Sunfish”, a day sailer. Just about the easiest sailboat to maneuver, you’ll ever find.

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Living in Guantanamo was confining at times. It was such a small Naval Base, near the center of the Caribbean Ocean.  During summer vacation, the dependent school children were offered a variety of summer sports programs to attend.  The first step was safety education, the “rules” do this, don’t do that.

The first summer we were in GTMO, mom had us take swimming classes, even Duane. In didn’t take him long, he was at home in the water, his disabilities didn’t add up to much, the waters made him buoyant.
We also took tennis and golf lessons, Mom figured that Officer’s children should know how to play tennis and golf.  Another reason might be that the Captain’s wife taught tennis, it might get her an invite to cocktails.
The second year we were there, We took sailing lessons at Special Services to get checked out on a Sunfish, a real small, cute little sailboat.  This boat was big enough for two adults, or as in our case, three small boys. We could go down to the marina and check one out for the day.  Special Services was kinda like a sporting goods library. You could check out any piece of equipment you wanted at no charge, you just had to bring it back when you were finished with it.

Sailing isn’t as hard as it looks. With the wind, no brainer, if you want to go left, push the tiller to the right and visa versa. Sailing against the wind, was a littler tougher. You pick out the point on the horizon where you want to end up and with the use of the tiller, you aim either 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock, keeping your destination in the corner of your eye. That’s called a tack, you run out the tack until you can’t go any further, then you “come about”, and run before the wind in the opposite direction, always moving forward.  If you want more speed you use a full sail and if the wind gets too brisk, lower the sail. If you use too much sail on a tack, you’ll probably tip over and capsize. Then everybody loads up on one side and tips it back up right, bail out the water and keep going.

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The bay was a beautiful place, to pre-teen age boys, it was paradise.  Mom kept a ship’s bell on the cliff, right next to a pair of ship’s binoculars, mounted on a swivel, to keep an eye on us.  We got to explore small islands, atolls (under water islands), reefs, bays etc.  Sometimes a large shark would decide to check us out, the Sunfish was 14 foot, I remember a hammerhead trying to pin us up in a small lagoon, being every bit of 14 foot. We beached the boat, even though we heard Mom’s bell going off high up on the cliff at the end of Radio Point, we stayed put until the shark left to play his games somewhere else.

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Boys without toys find something else to do, to tickle there fancy.  We climbed trees, hunted iguanas and bird’s nests, gigged frogs, gathered wild fruit, explored mysterious trails and when we weren’t allowed to go out on the reef or hunt in the jungle, we found other things to do.

Our dad had multiple duties.  He was the Asst. Admin Officer, the Discipline Officer, the Barracks Officer, Naval Intelligence Officer (I & E) and the Postal Officer.  He couldn’t be every where at once.  We knew that and had his schedule imprinted in our brains, so that we could show up where he wasn’t, to reap the benefits of being Mr. Frailey’s sons.

As the Discipline Officer, it was up to Dad to decide if minor infractions of the Code of Military Justice warranted a Captain’s Mass or other minor forms of punishment, like “extra duty.”  Extra duty could entail a lot of things, one of them being to serve as baby sitters for his 3 boys, while Dad and Mom went to the “O” Club for a couple of hours.

Since we didn’t have TV on the base, these wayward sailors would find other means to occupy our time.  We learned to cuss like “a sailor” early in life, much to our parent’s chagrin.  One of the first things I remember was learning to sit on my knees and disassemble a Colt .45 automatic.  I know what your thinking, I was only 8 years old true enough, but my brothers were 6 and 5.  They learned too.

The barrel bushing is the first piece off and the last back on.  It holds the barrel slide in place.  If I remember right, there were 9 pieces all told, including the magazine.  Be careful not to lose the spring.  We were shown how to place each piece in order, from left to right, easy to reach as we disassembled and reassembled the piece.  Once we mastered this technique, off would go the lights.  You’ve heard of doing something blindfolded, well turning out the lights has the same effect.

Next, we learned hand to hand combat techniques. How to grab some one from behind with your left hand under your foes chin and tilt it upwards as you stick your bayonet in his kidney, then twist it, to prevent him from hollering out.  Of course we didn’t use a real bayonet (at first).  Depending on the skills of the guy that kept an eye on us, sometimes it was “Ski” or “Tommy” for Thompson, “Smitty,” “Brownie,” on down the line, each with special skills. We learned to make Malatov Cocktails, how to use semaphore, Morse code, how to use flags to signal landing instructions to a jet on an aircraft carrier, Military jargon, the “P’s and Q’s” of the Black shoe Navy.  How to use you’re your clothes as a flotation device if you were ever on a boat that sank came in handy a time or two, we were always flipping a Sunfish over.

Yeah, we  grew up before our time.  We turned out to be some mean little shits.  Dad always called us his “Strikers,” a military term for midshipmen.  To us, there was no “hallowed ground.”  Nothing was safe.  Sure, we got caught, it was a small naval base, we always got caught and being the Discipline Officer, Dad saw to it that we always got punished.

Our house didn’t have a bath room, it was called the “head.”  Same with the floor, it was called the deck, the walls were called the bulkhead, and the mop was a swab.  When we walked anywhere in Dad’s view, in was in military alignment, no straggling.  Reveille was at 0600 hours, our beds were made by 06:30 hours, we scoured the reefs to see what treasures the outgoing tide had left us overnight.  At 07:30 hours we got ready for school, caught the bus at 0800 to further upgrade our education, always with a military slant.

Because of the heat, school was from 0800 to 1100, then a two hour lunch break.  The buses would take us home for lunch/siesta, then pick us up and it was back to school from 1300 to 1500 hours, Taps was at 2200 hours, that meant lights out.

After school, depending on the day of the month, we would look for our Dad where we knew he wasn’t.  We would check out the Admin Office when we knew he was doing Barracks inspections, just so we could sit at his desk, look for his cigarettes, drink coffee and eat doughnuts.  The Operations Office was next door with a glass partition in between.  We could see on a chart mounted on the wall just what ships were due in and at what dock they were going to berthed.   My brothers would take a grease pencil when no one was watching and write “Kilroy was here,” on the plexi-glass chart, a military joke.  We also wanted to see what dates ships were coming or going, the reason being that on the incoming ships the guys debarking from the ship would carry boxes of comic books and magazines that we could buy really cheap.  After a two to six month cruise, these books had been read from cover to cover. Two or three dollars would get a whole box.   The ships that were departing on a lengthy cruise would be good customers for what ever fruit we could gather.  Coconuts, bananas, pomegranates, avocadoes, mommasitos (Cuban Grapes), tamarinds, mangoes and more.  Scurvy was the scourge of the fleet.  No one could have enough fruit on a lengthy voyage.  We earned plenty of pocket money selling boxes of fruit.

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On days that our Dad was holding Captain’s Mass at the Admin Office, we would scoot down to the Post Office “looking “ for Dad.  Nonchalantly we would help the guys sort the mail, always looking for contraband.  Guys that has been transferred or their enlistments were up would have their mail stored in a “dead file” pending receipt of a forwarding address.  Sometimes suspicious packages needed to be searched.  We felt it our duty to give a hand in this regard.  Every suspicious package that smelled like fruit cake or cookies needed to be checked and sampled, we were duty bound.  It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.  Cuban cigars were considered contraband, but it seems like everyone was sending them home to the States.  We would sit at Dad’s empty desk and go through his drawers, find some “Monte Cristoes or a couple of “Presidentials” and help ourselves, filling our pockets with stogies when no one was looking.  Like I said before, we always got caught, but we were Mr. Frailey’s sons, the guys working were the same guys that watched us at night when our folks were off having cocktails and hors devours.  I could read as good as anybody there and would help sort mail, I loved doing it, to me, it wasn’t what I would call work, more like killing time so that I could find something else to get in to.

The “Lucky Bag,” was where they kept old uniforms, from guys who’s enlistment was up or guys that changed pay grades or like when a guy was transferred in from up north and he would discard his winter gear for summer uniforms.  We were too small to wear most of the stuff, but some times we would find a pair of shoes that fit.  The base didn’t have a shoe store, which was okay, we didn’t like to wear shoes anyway but when you are out on the reef, walking on sharp coral, it doesn’t hurt to have something on your feet.  Our special interest was in gathering old ammo belts and enlisted men’s white hats, sometimes a poncho or a back pack.  Leggings were of special interest too when we went on jungle excursions.

Heathens you might think.  Yeah, we were called heathens plenty enough, and some other salty names come to mind too.  Especially after my youngest brother Duane tried to light a Malatov Cocktail one night after we snuck out of the house.  We were behind the Navy Exchange were the gas pumps were, filling old rum bottles with gasoline.  Duane wanted to light one up just to check it out.  I told him to go ahead, just throw it on the pavement and run.  Well, he pulled out a Zippo lighter that we had com-shawed from one of Dad’s desk and tried to light the rag sticking out above the neck of the bottle, when he did, the excess gas that had spilled on his arm lit him up, causing Duane to toss the bottle up in the air.  It land up against the dumpster next to a bunch of pallets leaning up against the Navy Exchange.  We ran home once we realized that the fire was out of control, to act like we had been in bed the whole time.  The fire alarm could be heard all across the base, a signal for volunteers to come hither.  Of course we some of the first “volunteers” there.  We weren’t allowed to participate, just watch.  When we saw the firefighters were tossing ammo out of the sporting goods area into a dry ditch, we quickly took the opportunity to move as many boxes of ammunition into a nearby culvert.  Later after the fury had calmed down, we moved these boxes of shot gun shells and rifle and pistol bullets to our “fort,” a cave that we had dug into the cliff below our house.

We had already been taught by Smitty or Tommy how to separate the gun powder from the casing.  We knew how to wrap this gunpowder in tin foil with BBs from the shotgun shells to make a little explosive device that would make a loud pop when tossed against a hard object.  We didn’t actually get caught until later when we tried to use them against the military police during “Operation NEGDEF.”  (Defensive maneuvers preparing against Castro

We used home made bolos to catch iguanas, slingshots to kill chukka, spears that we made at Public Works to gig moray eels and longusta and “billy clubs” that we got from the Shore Patrol as our first line of defense against javelinas.  We used all of these weapons and more almost everyday.  We lived in Guantanamo for four years.  I don’t know if we just got use to our environment, or if they just got use to us. It was our Utopia, our Shangri-la.  I never wanted to leave, but all little boys must grow up, I don’t know if the base was the same with out us or not, but my brothers and I carried a little piece of Gitmo with us the rest of our lives.

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Snuff Bucket

Gary and I were suppose to go dove hunting in southern Georgia, up around Hoboken.  I had to work on Saturday, so he went up ahead of me, to set some feed out in the fields to bait ’em, up.

My job was to bring the drinks and snacks.  Instead of beer, I filled the cooler with sodas and got three bags of Bar B Que chips and pretzels.  Driving up US 1, I munched down on some chips and pretzels and realized too late, that I had drove off and left the cooler.  Nothing to drink after eating all that salt.  No sweat, I’ll just stop off at the store at the crossroads by Racepond and get more. ………. You know that durn store was closed on Sunday and I was thirsty too.

I drove past Racepond towards Hoboken looking for a rag tied to a tree branch, our signal so I would know which dirt road to take.  I missed it.  Parched as I was I drove around for an hour looking, finally I came upon an old house in the middle of nowhere, with a large, very old black woman sitting in her rocker on the porch.

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She was holding a dripping spit cup and had dried snuff caked on both sides of her mouth.  Dry mouthed, I said “Granny have you heard any body doing any shooting this morning, I’m looking for my friends and they are suppose to be nearby.”  She said that she hadn’t heard a sound and dribbled a mouthful of spit in her cup, off of her bottom lip.

My mouth was so dry that I could barely speak, I asked her if I could get some water to drink?  She said “Yeah, but you’ll have to get it out of the well”.  I went over to the trough and there was a cast iron pump, the handle was so long on the pump that I couldn’t pump the handle and cup my hand to drink at the same time, so I reached for a nearby bucket.

Can you believe that old rusty bucket had snuff, dried all around the rim?  Now I was so thirsty I could croak, but I just couldn’t drink out of that bucket.  Then I noticed a gourd hanging from a nail.  This gourd had been carved out into a handy little dipper, but one problem though.  The rim of the gourd had dried snuff all around the edge. Whew man, that looked nasty.  Holding the gourd full of water, I noticed that water was seeping out of a crack in the bottom, I held the gourd higher and pressed my lips against the bottom and started slurping up that dripping water like no body’s business, gulping it down.  “Man o Man”  Even the “iron” taste in the water tasted good, I sucked down two gourd fulls before the old gal came up behind me and said “That gourd been hanging there for five years and ain’t nobody ever drank out of that hole like that, ‘cept for me and you.”

MVP

Remember the old TV beer commercial when there was a retired baseball umpire wearing thick glasses trying to read the label on a “Miller Lite” beer bottle and then a baseball player takes the bottle away and reads it for him.  Then the umpire looks at the guy and says “Hey, you’re Boog Powell?” I think it was back in the late ’70’s.
My brother Gary and I went to Key West to go fish one winter when a cold snap came through Jacksonville.  We were driving a pristine Chrysler Newport that was big enough for RV tags.  We thought we could make our trip on a shoestring, because we were low on funds.  The car was big enough that we could sleep in it.

We passed Marathon Key and then we were on 7 mile bridge.  This was before they built the new bridges.  My uncle J.P. Sharpe had helped build some of these bridges during the depression when men got paid 50 cents a day for President Roosevelt’s CC labor crews.  They built bridges, highways and railroad trestles.  He earned a dollar a day, because he could read, write and punctuate, so they made him a clerk.  Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, “white privilege.”

When we crossed over 7 Mile Bridge, it seemed like it took forever.  I held my breath every time we neared an oncoming truck, the lanes were so narrow that it seemed almost impossible to get past an oncoming truck without trading paint.  Nothing but miles and miles of open ocean off to the south, spotted with pleasure seeking sports fishermen trying to reach their favorite destination, in the Gulfstream.  We raced a train that was hurtling down the Seaboard Coastal Line, heading to Key West on our right side, we were doing our best to keep up.

I saw the spot where my Dad and I use to fish when I was 3 or 4 years old; the place where he told me to climb down before I fell in.  I didn’t listen and I fell  off of the concrete guard rail into the drink.  My cowboy boots and hat floated off, Dad wouldn’t pull me out of the water until I retrieved my gear.  When we lived here in ’55 everything was different, except maybe Sloppy Joes.  It was just like I remembered, except now it has walls across the front, were in the past it was “open -aire.”

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Back in those days, Dad had just made Chief.  We lived in Poinciana Trailer Park, right on the ocean, My sister Glenda used to grab my hand to keep me from chasing the cats as we ran across the path through Ernest Hemmingway’s yard on our way down Duval St. to get an ice cream.  We had no idea of who he was, that is until one day I’m with Dad at Sloppy Joes getting some mullet wrapped in newspaper for bait.  It was “open-aire” back in those days, walls on three sides.  There he was, a very large man, passed out dead drunk on a pool table with his mouth wide open.  I was in awe of just how many flies could enter his mouth while he was laying there snoring, without waking him up.  Dad just said he was “some big shot writer,” all I could say is, he was a drunk.

 

On our right, as we approached the island of Key West, the marina was chock full of nice cabin cruisers, sail boats and dinghies and houseboats.  Eager to get a start on our fishing, we parked near the marina, parking spots are hard to find in Key West, it’s grown so much since we lived there in ’55.

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Gary got out the cast net and we walked down towards the end of the dock, looking for a place to throw our cast net for some bait fish.  This was before my brother got into his “lures only” kick.  The surface of the water didn’t show much action and we wandered all over the docks of the marina, looking for some ripples to cast our net.

The boats that we walked between were big as trees in the forest, huge.  We came up on one that was backed in to the pier, on the flotsam was painted “MVP.”  Nice durn boat.  Gary took a pack of “Toastcheez” (peanut butter cheese crackers) out of our tackle box and crunched them up and threw the contents on the surface of the water.  That did it. Instantly the water became alive with action, the water’s surface boiling with fish roils.  I cast the net a few times and filled our bucket with cigar sized finger mullet.  They were perfect for bait fish.  Just about the time we got our fill of mullet in the bucket, we saw two bruisers coming down the dock towards us.  One guy looked familiar to me, big reddish blond guy, he kinda looked like the skipper on Gilligan’s Island.

Gary took and old pair of my sunglasses out of the tackle box.  It was missing one lens, Gary punched the other dark piece of glass out of the frame.  He put them on to make it look like he was half blind and when the two got near us, Gary jumped up and said “Hey you’re Boog Powell” just like the umpire did in the beer commercial.

Sure enough, it was him in the flesh.  He had a good laugh and told us he didn’t think that we were supposed to be in this area.  We told him we know, but we had just got there and couldn’t find an area where we were allowed to be and since we came to fish, we figured that if anyone asked us if we saw the sign, we would just say “we ain’t smoking.”  Big Boog laughed again, he was a jolly fellow to be such an intimidating guy.  He said “Well I see you fellows have got plenty of bait, why don’t you just toss your gear aboard and spend the day with me?”  What an offer.  He was talking our language.  Sure we’ll be your deck hands.  He fired up the twin Chrysler engines, smoked a couple cigarettes while he was waiting for it to warm up.  Gary untied the ropes and I pushed us away from the dock with a large boat hook.  We left the confines of the marina, passed under the  railroad bridge, then under US 1, heading south and then west dodging a few atolls, cruised pass Ft. Jefferson and headed towards the heart of the Gulf Stream.

It was a beautiful day.  Just think, there were people up north were freezing their butts off.  It made me wish that Gary hadn’t poked the lens out of my sunglasses, because the sun was bright and really beaming down on us.

Gary asked the big man if he came down every winter.  He said, “No, I live here all year round.”  Gary said, “I thought you played baseball?”  Boog replied “Not anymore, I’m retired, but I lived in Key West before I played pro-ball.”  Gary told him that he was a catcher on his team back home.  This seemed to hit a soft spot for the ex-baseball player.  He told us that in the beginning of his career, he too was a catcher but switched position to extend his career.

The water was a crystal clear blue, it made you feel like you could reach out and touch the bottom.   You could see starfish and sea urchins everywhere, as the boat sped past.  This was long before people started making the ocean their own personal garbage dump.  If we saw a beer can or trash floating on the surface, we made an attempt to scoop it up with the net.

The sky was full of birds that day.  While the Captain/guide was showing Gary how to work the boats controls, I listened to the purr of the twin Chrysler inboard engines and searched the skies for birds with a pair of binoculars.  I saw hundreds of seagulls and terns, quite a few pelicans and even a couple of albatrosses, “the mariner’s curse,” watching us from atop of the buoys.”  What I was told to look for, were diving birds.  The gulls flying high were searching for schools of bait fish, the ones that were diving, had found them and that is where we wanted to fish.

Mr. Boog showed Gary his arsenal of lures and different ways to knot use when attaching a leader for what ever type of fishing you were doing.  Me, I tried to make myself useful by volunteering to untangle backlashes.  The hold of the boat contained several nice Shakespeare, Schaeffer and Garcia rods and reels, but they were practically useless because they had been stored with backlashes.  In the heat of the moment, I guess Mr. Boog chose to grab another rod while the fish were biting and save the back lashes for a rainy day.  I didn’t mind, I was pretty familiar with back lashes.  On the ones I couldn’t untangle, I ran new line.

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They did catch a nice blue marlin that day, not off the cigar mullet but off the pompano that we caught with the mullet.  We took turns in the “Captain’s Chair, tag teaming up against the magnificent fish.  Mr Boog hooked it up with a small balloon on the leader, so that the bait would troll at a certain depth, then release once he got a strike.  I think now, looking back, that this is where my brother first started showing signs of interest in using lures to fish with, instead of bait.

We got plenty sunburnt in the middle of February.  Although we weren’t beer drinkers back then, Mr Boog had plenty of “Lite Beer” from Miller’s, we got drunk as skunks on the way back to the marina.  That night we got to sleep on the boat, happy campers.  Boog Powell, Baseball’s “Mr. MVP”, was a good host and ambassador to the sport of baseball.  Anybody else would have run us off, but the last thing he told us was “if you boys ever get back down here, look me up.”jet520

The Landlord’s Son

My Dad’s favorite saying was “Be more afraid of me, than you are of them.”  He meant it.  While he was still in the Navy, my parents bought a small trailer park, with plans to expand.  It took most of his military salary just for us to get by, he even sent his foster mother, every month payroll deductible.  The trailer park had to pay for itself.  That’s just the way it was, no bones about it.  My youngest brother Duane had Cerebral Palsy, he would go door to door to collect empty drink bottles from the coke machine, so that Dad didn’t have to pay the two cents to the Coke man.

 

Dad was deployed again and again.  That left Mom, me and my little brothers to make things work.  Every penny counted.  The payments on the park were $400.00 a month.  The lot rents were $18.00 and the weekly rentals were 55.00 including lights.  I remember we started out with 13 spaces, most of the residents were kin folk at the beginning.  When the folks went up to $22.00 a month on the lot rent, most of our kinfolk moved out.

Dad soon increased the capacity to 15 trailers to give us a little breathing room, but he was hindered by the fact that the state law required each mobile home to have its own septic tank and the required footage for a tank, took up too much room.  He put weekly rentals in the new spaces.  With lights, he charged $55.00 per week.

We collected our rents on Friday, when Dad was around, most every one paid on time.  When Dad was out of town due to military obligations some folks didn’t feel the need to pay, either on time or ever.  Mom’s way of collecting rent was different than Dad’s, especially after she lost her leg in a car wreck and was confined to a wheel chair.

Mom would send me out after dark to the delinquent renters and I would let the air out of their tires or disconnect the battery cables in their car.  The next morning we would sit on the front porch with an air compressor or a set of jumper cables, waiting for them to leave the house.  She collected her rent money.  If a guy came home drunk and beat the hell out of his wife, Mom would be waiting for him at the foot of his steps when he came out, with a frying pan, she knew how to use it too.

Dad’s way was a little different.  Even though it was just business, he took it personal.  “Son of a bitch, that’s my money you’re spending on beer and I don’t drink.”  Being a Naval Officer, he couldn’t do the personal confrontations.  Not that it was beneath his dignity, he couldn’t afford to have his reputation smeared.  I’ve seen him as the Officer of the Day, many times when we lived overseas, handle drunken brawlers, he was a man, he wasn’t scared one bit.  Instead, he would wait until it got about eleven o’clock and send me to knock on the door, asking for the man of the house.  Meanwhile, Dad would stand beside a tree in the front yard or just around the corner of the trailer.  My job was to ask for the man of the house.  Usually it was some big drunk (when you’re 12 years old, they are all big), that would come to the front door and size me up and say “oh yeah, what do you want?”

Then I would grab them by the straps of their wife beaters under shirt, jump up and put my feet in their belly and we’d somersault out into the dark, landing in the front yard in the dark, out of sight of prying eyes.  Dad would then step out of the gloom with his Shore Patrolman’s “billy club” and give them a few short whacks across the noggin, just to soften them up.  Then he would reach in their pockets and take his rent money, throwing the rest on the ground.  The next day, he bore no ill will.  It was “Hi, I’m fine, how are you?”  None of these guys would ever tell a soul what happened, I guess it was a matter of pride.  How do you tell some one that a 12 year old boy jerked your ass out in the yard and knocked the senses out of you and took your money?

If Dad told me to do something, I did it, without hesitation.  Like he always said, “Be more afraid of me, than you are of them.”

Gitmo

 

 

The 57th Anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis has just passed, this is my version of the events.

Dad made Senior Chief back in ’58, he applied for LDO (Limited Duty Officer) soon afterwards.  I was in the first grade at school.  He wrangled a slot in Officer’s Candidate School in Quonset Point Rhode Island. He graduated and became an Ensign, an Officer and a Gentleman by an act of Congress.

He took his appointment serious, never wavering.  Mom was proud of him.  She had told him years earlier that she wouldn’t marry him unless he promised to work and strive for promotion.  He didn’t disappoint her.

The military has a rule, that if an enlisted men gets promoted to an Officer’s status, he can’t serve with enlisted men that he shared a duty station with.  Soon after, he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.  His duty slot was Assistant Administration Officer.  It was a small base, his other duties included Discipline Officer, Barracks Officer, Naval Intelligence and the Postal Officer, many more.
He went ahead of the rest of the family to secure a housing berth and give Mom time to sell our house, put the cars in storage along with our household effects then get her, my brothers and I, the necessary shots required to go overseas.

At the time we left my favorite TV shows were Hop a Long Cassidy, Ozzie and Harriet and the Mickey Mouse Club. I remember that when we left, Annette was wearing pig tails, white blouses with a plaid skirt and black and white saddle oxfords.  Jimmy? Oh yeah Jimmy, well he still had freckles.  We returned to the U.S., Annette was wearing a bra and Jimmy was smoking stogies.

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Growing up on Naval base in Cuba was a kid’s paradise.  We ran wild, within limits, especially since we couldn’t go off the base.  My two brothers and I, Gary and Duane never had any toys, there wasn’t any TV, so we entertained ourselves the best way we knew how.  Most nights we listened to the radio.  My favorite programs were Gunsmoke, the Phantom, Dagwood and Blondie and the Lone Ranger.

When we arrived on a MATS flight (Military Air Transport) to join Dad in September of 1960 at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Mom had one large suitcase.  Half of it was her clothes and the other half were our clothes, no room for games or toys.  I was just starting the 3rd grade, so I guess that made me about 8 years old, Gary was 6 and Duane was 5.  If you needed anything of importance, you could usually go to Special Services and check it out, furniture, house wares, sporting goods, tools etc.

We got to play during recess at school with playground equipment, but at home it was pretty much what ever we could find to do on our own.  We invented games involving throwing rocks because we lived on a gravel road. We got in trouble for throwing rocks at buildings and vehicles, so instead we made up games that involved throwing them at each other.

 

We found a bicycle in the gully at the bottom of a cliff.  It was a godsend.  It didn’t have a chain, so no brakes, it was missing the rubber tire on the back rim but we could still ride it, if we pointed it down the hill we lived on and hung on for dear life.  At the bottom of the hill was Sherman Blvd.  It was the main drag throughout the base with a fair amount of traffic.  To stop the bike, to keep from running head on into oncoming vehicles we would put one foot down and try to lay the bike down on it’s side.  Sometimes we would get scrapes and bruises, just rip the hide off of our knees and elbows.  We ended up using a piece of rope for a rear tire.

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My youngest brother Duane had Cerebral Palsy.  He was crippled from birth.  Mom wouldn’t allow us to baby him or favor him in any way.  He did what we did or we weren’t allowed to do it.  When it came time for Duane to point the bike downhill, he wasn’t able to lay it down to stop, most of the time he would just go straight across the highway, through oncoming traffic and the brush on the other side, down the ravine where we found the bike.

Since all vehicles had to be shipped in, the unwritten rule in effect was that you could buy a car from someone being transferred out, for a certain price and when you were transferred you sold the car to someone else for the same price. Most of the cars were mid ‘50’s vintage, black, dark green or gray.

The social caste of the base was arranged by color I think. No, not racial color, the color of the clothes people wore. The leisure uniform of the Officers was white and so was the working uniform of the Filipinos that served them, but they just wore tee shirts instead of a regular shirt. Unless the Officers were working, then they wore khakis. The non-coms (Chiefs) always wore khaki. The uniform of the day for Enlisted personnel was usually dungarees, except for Inspection, then it was dress whites. The service personnel that took care of the mundane duties, like groundskeepers and laundry workers, usually wore white T-shirts and khaki pants with straw hats. Military dependents could wear what they wanted to, but it was usually something white or light colored because of the heat.  If someone was wearing bright colored clothes it was usually after dark or they had just recently arrived.

Dad was an Ensign when we invaded Guantanamo.  We lived at 1 Radio Point, in the Officer’s housing area.  The first house across from the BOQ, Bachelor Officer’s Quarters, where the unmarried Officers lived and visiting dignitaries.  Behind the BOQ lived the Filipino servants.  Behind our house and down the cliff, was Public Works.  The shops for all of the maintenance gear on the base.

The Public Works yard (down the cliff below us) was cluttered up with ancient earth moving equipment from the construction of the Panama Canal.  We played and climbed the old rusty dinosaur-like cranes and bulldozers almost everyday, almost like “Monkey Bars” at the park.  Graffiti and initials covered the old equipment much like the hand prints in the sidewalk of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  We would imagine that the old rusty stuff still worked and we were lifting debris and bulldozing roads.

Further out Radio Point, surrounding the giant Radio Tower that received the communications that kept the base informed, were more Officer’s quarters.  The Captain and the Admiral lived at the very end of the point, (the point was covered on 3 sides by water).  Down the cliffs were docks and at the end of the point were man made reefs constructed from sunken barges and piles of concrete debris that ran out about a quarter of a mile.

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This area, was our Shangri-la.  We played on the reefs at low tide every day, looking to spear fish in shallow pools, collect whatever goodies the tide brought up and do what boys do.  We lifted every rock to see what was under it, clam shells, starfish, sea urchins any type of sea creature would we could capture to sell to the Filipinos.

The Filipinos believed in eating fresh killed meat.  They liked to butcher it themselves in accordance with their religious rituals.  We sometimes made a dollar a day, more if we went out on the reef and caught a moray eel or a stingray.  We broaden our horizons by venturing out into the nearby jungles that were down in the valleys between each hill, to hunt for wild game.

Our first conquest were wild pigs, we later learned they are called “javelinas”. The Filipinos would give us five bucks for a young pig. We weren’t that scared of them because they weren’t that big, but they were aggressive so we treated them with caution.  We knew where to look for them, they loved prickly cactus pears and at the bottom of every hill, there was a muddy puddle and a cactus patch.  Leading up from the creek we would find a tree with overhanging branches and Gary and I would find a place to perch over the trail while Duane would start throwing rocks at a group of feeding pigs to get their attention.

Then he would turn and run as fast as he could up the trail toward me and Gary.  The pigs would give chase after Duane but he would get to the tree line ahead of them in time for Gary and I to reach down and grab him and pull him up.  Then, while the pigs were milling about we would use a forked tree branch to pin a young one to the ground and sometimes stabbing the momma pig so she would run off.

After we caught a pig and made our trade with the Filipinos we would watch them butcher the pig by hanging it upside down and cutting it’s throat, catching the blood in a large metal pan about three feet wide (much like a sugar cane boiling pot but smaller). They would use this blood to boil their rice in, yuck is what we thought, but we would take the money we made and go to the Navy Exchange and buy comic books, bubble gum and candy bars.

We didn’t just hunt pigs, the biggest item in demand by the Filipinos were hummingbirds.  The old men would use them as aphrodisiacs.  We built small bow and arrows out of palm fronds and tipped them with needles from Mom’s sewing machine case, wrapping thread around the base of the needle joining it to the tip of the arrow and putting clear paper glue over top.  When we shot at them, we aimed just above them and pinned their wings to the tree and capture them alive.

.We also caught chameleons and iguanas with bolos that sailors showed us how to make and three foot long banana rats, tarantulas and snakes, mostly pythons.  We got our ass tore up when Dad heard about us catching pythons and boas.  We found a dried up pond where we could dig down through the cracked, dried cakes of mud and find frogs the size of a football.  These frogs would fill their bellies with rain water and then hibernate until the rainy season came again.

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As the years progressed we got to be pretty good hunters.  At night we would sneak out of the house to go out on the reef with a kerosene lantern and turn over rocks with a potato rake and gig longoustinos.  Longoustinos are like a lobster except they don’t have claws, we sometimes would get eels, octopi or coconut crabs.  We would get spotted by the Base Police (sometimes MP’s and sometimes the Shore Patrol), they worked for Dad so we didn’t get in any trouble with them, they would just call Dad and tell him they saw us doing this or that, we’d get a beating  yes, but the next night, we’d do it again.

Dad got to where he would rake the ground under our window, just to see if we left any footprints from the night before.  After we learned this, we started to climb out on tree limbs, so we wouldn’t leave any tracks.

Tree climbing, before I forget, boys without toys love to climb trees. We had pathways in the many trees that filled our front yard and lined the street.  We called it “hitchhiking”, when we would climb from one tree to the next without touching the ground. Our backyard had 28 mango trees.  Oh how I hated mangoes, but that was the best place to catch tarantulas.  I didn’t like to eat mangoes, though sometimes we did make a pretty good tasting mango ice cream out of them.

Our first Christmas, Dad had promised me a .22 rifle and my brothers and I, new bicycles.  Every thing had to be ordered through the mail from Sears and Roebuck or JC Penny’s.  Christmas came and went, no bicycles or rifle.  I got two Bobbsey Twin books which I read cover to cover.  Then I got my own library card and that opened a new world to me.

The library was just a few blocks away, even closer if I took the path behind the BOQ, down the ravine and up the next hill.  I read every Bobbsey twin book and then read the Hardy Boy’s Mysteries.  I think that’s where my thirst for adventure originated from.

Eventually we got our bikes, but I got sick of waiting for that rifle.  Dad finally took me down to the Armory, he was in charge of that too, and he checked out a 1906 Springfield 30.06 bolt action with a 3 shot clip.  He told me that if I completed a gun safety course at the rifle range, that I could use it until my rifle finally arrived.

Oh yeah, I was in my own world then. I completed the class and from then on every Saturday after I got my haircut. I would ride the bus with my 30.06 in it’s case to the rifle range and target shoot a box of shells.  Sometimes I used my imagination and pretended that the targets were Cuban solders getting ready to shoot at me and Teddy Roosevelt while we were charging up San Juan Hill.

The .22 shells were $1.05 but the 30.06 shells were $6.00.  That was a lot of money for a 9 year old, but the desire for money was in me and we hustled every dime we could.  When the .22 finally came in the mail I was mad.  I didn’t want that pea shooter.  Dad had ordered my brothers rifles too.  I think he was apprehensive about Castro invading the base and he wanted to make sure that we were able to defend ourselves.

Dad and I spent a lot of time at the Hobby Shop at night, building an eighteen foot Cabin Cruiser.  We sculpted the keel and the hull, built the ribs and covered it with plywood, which we fastened to the frame with Weldwood glue and brass screws, using a brace and bit.  That could be where I got my love for building stuff, it was something that my Dad and I accomplished together.

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During the summers the base provided enrichment courses that kids could enroll in, depending on the interest.  Our first year, Mom made sure we all enrolled in swimming classes. Then I took tennis lessons and Gary took golf lessons. The next year we all enrolled in a sailing course.  We could go down to Special Services and check out a 14 foot Sunfish.  We became adept sailors at a very young age.  The object being to keep your destination between 10 o’clock and two o’clock, tack left to go right or steer to the right to go left.

Mom would walk down to the Captain’s house at the end of the point and use his binoculars that were mounted on a stand, to keep and eye on us.  When it was time for supper or the tide was about to change she would ring the gong on the huge ship’s bell that was mounted next to it.  We knew better than to ignore her, no matter how much fun we were having.

There wasn’t any TV to watch, no cartoons.  Once a month the base would televise a World Series baseball game that they had on tape from three or four years before.

The third summer, we took diving lessons.  We had instructors to teach us they “dos and don’ts”, even though Duane was crippled on land, he could swim like a fish in the water.

Baseball was our sport of choice.  The diamond must have been an old grenade practice range and after many years of being baked in the sun, the infield was deadly.  Our coaches were usually officers with sons that wanted to play ball.  Once a month we would load up on a plane and fly to a base on another island to play against their team.  I got to visit many places that most folks just dream about.

LT JR Frailey
Our Dad was the Asst Admin Officer when we first arrived at the base, he was promoted to the Admin Officer and had many other duties.  He was also the Postal Officer, Discipline Officer, Naval Intelligence Officer, the Barracks Officer in fact he had so many duties I don’t know how he kept track of them all.

Being the Discipline Officer his job was to dispense punishment for infractions to the Code of Military Justice.  Sometimes men with minor infractions were invited to babysit my brothers and I to avoid a “Captain’s Mast,” while my parents went to the Officer’s Club.

These guys thought it was funny to teach us to cuss and fight hand to hand, we were shown how to disassemble and reassemble a Colt .45 blindfolded.  It all starts and ends with the “barrel bushing.”  Squatting with our knees folded under us and place the parts in front of us in the order we took them off, so they would be in order when we needed them to put it back together.  We were taught hand to hand combat and staged mini fights in our living room, how to stab a guy from behind with a bayonet in the kidneys and twist the blade so the victim couldn’t holler out..

Some of the guys taught us semaphore, how to communicate with flags, morse code, tie knots and make Malatov cocktails.  Soon afterwards, we were behind the Navy Exchange practicing with the Malatov Cocktails.  Duane lit the rag and threw the bottle up against the dumpster.  The dumpster caught on fire, then the Exchange caught fire.  When the Fire Brigade got there, they started tossing out the flammables.  When they started tossing out the ammunition, Gary and I were standing in the crowd of onlookers, we started grabbing boxes and cases and hid them in a culvert.

We ended up with cases and cases of shotgun, rifle and pistol shells. We came back the next night and hid them in our “fort”, a hideout we had built on the cliff below our house. We had been shown how to take the gunpowder from a shotgun shell and the BB’s, wrap them in tinfoil and make a little bomb.  All we needed to do was throw it up against something solid and it would explode.

It wasn’t long after that, we started filling coconut shells with gunpowder, we made light able fuses out of shoestrings dipped in lighter fluid. When we had to gather all of the rotten mangoes out of our yard, we used a wheel barrow and dumped hem into the ocean. When the fish would gather to feed off of the rotted fruit, Duane would drop coconut bombs on them and watch them float belly up.   We never got away with anything, we always got caught and we always got beat, by Dad or Mom, but it didn’t stop us.

Dad beat us with big branches and Mom preferred the supple willow branches, either one did the job.

The base was saturated with outdoor movie theaters, at least five.  The Officer’s had their section, the enlisted had theirs and so did the civilians.  I think there were 5 in all. We sat in lawn chairs outside when the weather was good.

One night when Dad was the OD (Officer of the Day), I accompanied him to the theatre by the PBY’s (sea planes).  We were watching “Ole Yellar” and a guy hollered out “Somebody help him he can’t breathe”.

It was coming from right behind us in the civilian section, where the enlisted men would sit with civilian women that worked on the base as maids.  There was a young sailor bent over choking and gagging, his buddies were slapping him on the back, trying to dislodge whatever he had caught in his throat.

I had been sitting next to my Dad as his guest in his designated seat as Officer of the Day.  I had been whittling with the knife dad had bought for my birthday.  As I stood staring at the crowd, Dad grabbed the knife out of my hand and flipped out the smallest blade.  He went to the young sailor and had his friends hold him down on the ground, flat on his back.  Dad gave me his flashlight to hold steady on the man’s throat and reached down and made an up and down incision above the breastbone in the small hollow spot on the man’s throat.  Then he grabbed the straw out of the drink I had left in the chair, cut it to about four inches and placed it in the incision.

Just has soon as the straw was in place, you could hear his breath like a whistle coming through.  He was going to be alright, hooray.  The base Hospital was on the other end of the base, a corpsman that had been watching the movie rushed the guy to the emergency room.
I was amazed at my Dad. I asked him how did he know how to do that.?  He told me that as an enlisted man back in WWII, his buddy had caught a piece of shrapnel in the throat from a Japanese Zero while they were mounting the anti-aircraft gun on a submarine deck while they were topside.  He said he held the guy down while the corpsman operated.  He said he never forgot it, stuff like that sticks with you.

I’ve been wanting to tell this story for more than 50 years and I don’t want to leave anything out.  I might have to go back here and there to fill in some gaps, so bear with me.
I haven’t told y’all about the Bob Hope USO shows. Every Christmas, Mr.Bob would start his annual USO show in GTMO (Military acronym is GTMO, civilians use Gitmo, but it’s the same place).

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His troupe would be there for two or three days depending on the weather.  GTMO was his “shakedown cruise”.  They stayed at the BOQ across the street from our house.  Mom looked forward to it, she was an entertainer herself in her own way.  She knew that the bar at the BOQ wasn’t completely stocked, they usually just had rum, the drink of the Caribbean.  She stocked Vodka, Gin, Vermouth along with Bourbons from Kentucky, Scotch you name, she had it.  Mom was a member of the Navy Wives Club and knew a thing or two about socializing.  She liked to sing and dance.  She told me that she had once sang backup with Little Jimmy Dickens on the radio in her early years, in the nearby town of Baxley, Ga.

At night after the USO show, Mom would send me over to the bar at the BOQ searching for olives for her “Martinis”.  My job was to lollygag so she could come in search of me and she would introduce herself to the “stars”, and then invite them over for drinks.

One thing would lead to another and then there would be a crowd at the house. My brothers and I would peek out from our bedrooms to see Mom laughing it up with Bob Hope, Andy Williams, Perry Como and Dad dancing with Anita Bryant or Sandra Dee or a drunken ZaZa Gabor sprawled out on our couch.

Mr Bob liked to play golf and asked me if I knew how to caddie.  I said “Sure Mr Hope” and he said “just call me Bob like every body else” and Mom told him “We’re from the south, and my boys better call you Mr. Bob”.  I caddied for him twice.  The second year he was drinking rum in the hot sun, a definite “no-no”.  An iguana ran up to the hole after he dropped his putt in the hole and ran off with the ball in its mouth.

I had a set of bolos in the golf bag, because the golf course is where we hunted iguanas, I tossed the bolos before he got to the rocks and retrieved his ball.  When I turned to give him back his ball, Mr Bob was stretched out on the green, passed out.  I guess he fainted.  The next year he didn’t want to play golf, we played tennis.

Mom had been one of the members of the Navy Wives Club to organize a “Carnivale” charity event to benefit enlisted personnel when they needed emergency funds. She was able to talk Ms. Gabor and Ms. Bryant to dance with her at the show, while the men did a “Limbo” routine.

Dad and Perry Como did a “Homer and Jethro” act. They smeared burnt cork on their faces and put black wax over their teeth to make them look like hillbillys.  They wore straw hats and white deck pants and shirts.  Dad played a number ten washtub with a broom stick sticking up out of it with a string tied from the top of the broom stick to the top of the overturned tub, it made a pretty god base fiddle and Mr. Perry played a banjo, made from a bed slat and a pie pan, strung with fishing line.

I can remember the song they sang. “Fancination, She’s too fat in the first place, you know it’s true.  She’s too fat, in the second place too.  Turn me loose, from your caboose blubber.  Let me scat like a cat, away from you.  She had nine buttons on her night gown, but could only fasten eight”.  I guess you had to of been there. It was funny then and still is to me now, over 50 years later.

The base newspaper was named the GTMO Gazette, it came out three times a week. It ran important stories from the AP on the front page, listed events and promotions, the uniform of the day and on the back page listed the menu for the base Galley, where military personnel ate.

Sometimes the Officer’s Club would organize junkets to different islands in the Caribbean.  Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Haiti, Barbados etc.  My parents would go, sometimes bring back souvenirs, always brought back cases of rum from Puerto Rico, crafts from Haiti, etc.  They would get a married couple to stay at the house with us boys.  They would just be gone for about 48 hours.  We were always in good hands.
My youngest brother Duane, the one with Cerebral Palsy was always getting into some unbelievable situation or another.  When they were distributing Polio Vaccines at school, they brought out a tray of sugar cubes that had the Polio Vaccine squirted on top.  I liked it better this way, the year before they gave us shots, I hated that.  This year we were standing line to get our sugar cubes from the school nurse, Duane was at the head of the line.  I guess because of his disability.  Just before they started distributing the vaccines, the base artillery opened up for target practice, Boom! Boom! Boom! Kids being kids, we all ran to the window to see what we could see.  This went on for about 15 minutes.  After the shelling was over, we got back in line to get our medicine, only one problem.  During the artillery display Duane had ate every single one of those sugar cubes.  Two trays full. They took Duane to the Dispensary to pump out his stomach and the rest of us had to wait another month for another shipment of vaccines to come in.

We weren’t allowed to help Duane when he fell, which he did all the time.  Mom wanted him to be independent.  But, sometimes he used his disability to his advantage.  Any place that had a stairway was a playground for Duane.  If he saw a woman wearing a dress coming down the steps, he would fall or trip, just so he could pretend he was hurt but what he was really doing, was looking up her dress.

One day Duane called the base police and told them that Mom and Dad had gone to Jamaica on a junket and left him home alone, by himself. He told them that he hadn’t had anything to eat in a couple of days and could they please bring a couple slices of that pizza from the Galley that he had read about in the Gazette and hurry, because he was starving.

Mom had been in the backyard hanging up clothes on the clothesline.  There weren’t any clothes dryers on base back then.  When she came back into the house, there was Duane sitting at the table eating pizza with two Base Police, one on either side of him, babying him up.  One pouring him some soda and the other getting him another slice of pizza.  Duane could tote an ass whooping just as good as me and Gary, but he didn’t care, as long as he got some pizza.

While we were in Cuba, Duane received at least 6 operations on each leg and wore casts and braces for most of the 4 years we lived there.  When he felt like he deserved some attention, he got it.

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Once we finally got our bicycles we went everywhere, even the restricted areas were no one was allowed.  Kittery Beach was for Officer’s and their families.  Windmill Beach was for the enlisted personnel.  Every weekend the Base Police were called out to settle an armed disturbance, I remember seeing blood every where, guys crawling up the face of the cliff shooting at the Shore Patrol.

Our favorite beach was in a restricted area, surrounded by a minefield. It was up against the fence that separated the base from Communist Cuba.  Once in a while we would ride our bikes out there after we had swiped a pack of hotdogs from the fridge.  We would throw a piece of hotdog out in the sand, known as “no-man’s land”.  The stray dogs that would follow us out there would rush to eat it, we would mark their paw prints in the sand with sticks, so we would know where to step on the way back.

There we would find the best sea shells, swim naked and look for treasures washed in by the tides.  You never knew what Duane was gonna do and sometimes he would beat the dogs to the hotdog and eat it.  I would holler at him but he would say “I don’t care, I’m hungry”.  Occasionally a dog would step on a mine and then blood and guts went every where.  The explosion would garner unwanted attention and again we would suffer the same form of punishment.

One good thing did derive from our expeditions.  This was the time in history leading up to the Bay of Pigs.  Dad also worked for Naval Intelligence.  They needed a means of communication with the freedom fighters to coordinate their efforts with military personnel.  They started using the bodies from the dead dogs (what was left of them) like a Trojan Horse.  They would hide communiques inside the dead bodies and throw them over the fence, to be retrieved by the revolutionaries.
I got a silver dollar every week for my allowance.  It wasn’t given to me, I earned it.  Dad would send me out with different labor parties to make sure that I knew what “hands on” meant.

Sometimes I helped to unload mail bags at the Post Office and sort mail because I could read about as good as most of the sailors that worked for Dad.  Other times I would get sent out to help the Sea Bees build “Pill Boxes” that were scattered all over the base.  Sometimes I worked at the Galley, washing dishes.

The trash crew was a group of Filipinos that formed the major labor force on the base. Filipinos from the Philippines were granted US citizen ship for them and their families after a 6 year enlistment.  William Taft, then governor of the Philipines was assigned to replace Theodore Roosevelt as the governor of the Panama Canal.  Roosevelt had been appointed to be Secretary of the Navy.  Taft brought with him, to his new position, thousands of Filipino workers to help build the Panama Canal, these men formed “tongs” or gangs. (I think this was around 1911).

The thousands of workers were paid monthly in gold and silver coin.  The military adjutant overseeing the military aspects of the construction was Marine General Upshur. One month the payroll was robbed and for over 50 years no one had a clue as to who or what happened to the money.  One clue was the majority of the money was uncirculated 1901 Morgan Silver Dollars, encased in leather bags.

After the construction of the canal was completed, these men and their families, along with the construction equipment were scattered across the Caribbean to fill the needs of the many Naval Bases that were being constructed to protect the entrance of the Panama Canal in case of war.  The barges that were used in the Canal zone eventually ended up in Guantanamo and were used to build a protective reef at the end of Radio Point that led up to the docks.

When ships pulled in to port at the docks, my brothers and I were always anxious to greet them.  We would trade fresh mangoes and bananas for boxes of old comic books that sailors would take with them on a cruise to fight the boredom.  Sometimes these boxes contained Playboy and Penthouse magazines.  To us, these were like solid gold.  The Filipinos weren’t allowed to buy magazines with naked white women at the Navy Exchange and they were willing to pay more than the cover price for these old magazines.

Since we were out on the reefs almost every day we knew every nook and cranny.  The old barges had been sunken in place end to end, with slabs of concrete placed on top. Where the first barge had been placed, it blended in with the sandy beach landscape and had a large coconut tree leaning out over the top.  Gary climb to the top of this tree one day to get some overhanging fruit, his weight and the erosion of the beach sand from around the base caused the tree to lean over even more, exposing the roots and making a large opening that led to a small cave inside of the barge.

Inside the barge, it was dark and stinking, Whew, I can still smell it, it was that bad. Looking inside we found stacks of leather bags, stacked about 4 feet high.  When we tried to pick one up, it shredded scattering silver coins everywhere, all 1901 Morgan Silver Dollars.  We knew we had found pirate treasure, but didn’t want to tell anybody.  It was our secret.

Oh boy, more comic books, more shells for our rifles, more snicker bars and sodas.  Just more, more, more.  We use old palm fronds to cover the entrance, then went about our every day routines.  Hunting, fishing, riding our bikes and going to the pool at the Officer’s Club.

We were little gangsters. We figured every body was fair game.  We did deserve every ass whooping we ever got, and there were plenty.  Looking back we had the attitude that we wanted to live like “Pirates”, we weren’t afraid of being punished. Arrrrh!

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We were confident that we could live with the consequences once we got caught.  It never was a question of were we gonna get away with it ‘cause our Dad was in charge and we knew we could handle his “ass whoopins”.  The main reason we went to the pool besides the refreshing swim was to swipe money.  Duane was doing his thing at the stairs, standing guard while Gary and I would go through the lockers where everyone kept there clothes after they changed into their swimsuits.  We pilfered loose change, no not all of it. If there was $1.75 we would take 50 cents.  A couple of lockers and we would have enough for some fries and a couple of vanilla milkshakes at the concession stand.

A couple weeks after our discovery of the silver dollars we were at the pool doing our thing and we found a 1901 Morgan Silver dollar.  This was in the pants pocket of a young doctor that often swam in the lagoon near the reef.  Well, we put the dollar back and made a mental note to keep an eye out for the guy when we were near the reefs.  It wasn’t very long afterwards that the young doctor was found dead floating face down in the waters we swam in, nearly every single day.  We were stunned and scared shitless. We thought that the Filipinos were behind it because they were always watching us.

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It wasn’t too long after that, while sitting at the breakfast table, Dad saw me and Gary playing “football” with a silver dollar.  It was one from our “stash” a 1901.  I didn’t think he would notice one from another but he did.  He said, “Hey where did you get this? This is a 1901 Morgan Silver dollar”.  Then he told us and Mom about the rarity and the story about the unsolved robbery at the Panama Canal Zone fifty years before.  Uh oh, “Damn Naval Intelligence”, I thought.  Mom tried to take up for me, she told Dad that he was dreaming up shit, and that every week he gave us our allowance in silver dollars.

He chewed on it until Mom left the room and then he wanted to know the truth.  We spilled the beans, mainly I think because we were afraid the Filipinos were at fault for the young officer’s death and they were gonna get us next.  The amount of the money when it was loaded up and counted was staggering.  I don’t remember exactly how much now, but the money that was counted didn’t match up with the money turned in.  Dad was a straight arrow and when he found out about it, he skipped a couple rungs of the ladder in the chain of command and suffered the consequences.

His report to the way higher ups wasn’t received well.  He made a grave error, never skip the chain of command.  Even though he got a commendation letter from then President Kennedy for his handling of the dependent’s evacuation, his next duty station after we left Cuba was a Sub Tender out of Norfolk.  Not exactly a desired duty station for a young officer looking for promotion.  The good thing though, was we were able to skip the ass whooping this one time.

“NEGDEF” was held once a month, out came the fatigues and C-rations and K-rations getting every one prepared just in case Castro decided to invade.  “Water Condition Bravo.”  Do not wash your car, water your yard or waste any water.  Castro would cut off the water supply to the base every couple of months, like after President Kennedy sent him a thousand tractors as a good will gesture (you never hear about that). These were all lemons, Ford 8N rejects. Castro was so pissed he had them painted up like Easter eggs and lined the fence with them on permanent display.

The Navy brought in large ships to make desalinated water for the base drinking supply. That was terrible stuff. If you bathed in it, it was so thin it wouldn’t rinse the soap out of your hair.  We bathed in a rain barrel on the backside of the house.  Lights in the homes were to be cut off after 10 o’clock.  No movies, no traffic, stay indoors and the military would conduct training maneuvers across the base.

This was our cup of tea, so to speak.  We had paths laid out in the tree branches were we could come and go unseen.  We would pepper the MP’s with our little home made bombs when they drove by with their search lights mounted on the back of their jeeps.  There usually was an SP (Shore Patrol driver) and a MP (Military Police) riding shotgun, drove by and we hit them with a couple of our little pop bombs, they would shine the search light on the tree branches searching for insurgents.  It was us, they had to know, how could they not?

Duane dropped coconut bombs in the dumpster behind the BOQ, that was really good for an ass whooping.  We had our little forts all over the cliffs by the house.  We piled up real good throwing rocks, stored water in canteens and several boxes of C rations, just in case. We hid our bikes up in the tree branches just so they would be safe.

Dad could have let us know, but it was a secret.  I’m sure he shared it with Mom after we went to bed.  Dad might have been Naval Intelligence, but Mom was the brains of our outfit.  Dad drafted a letter informing the residents of the base of the Evacuation Plan, it was sent up the chain of command, all the way to COMNAVAIRLANT and after it was approved, the plan for evacuation went into effect. Each family was hand delivered the letter telling us to pack up, what to pack and when to be ready for pickup.


14542720_10202226459380517_390151060_n(4)Just like that.  One day we’re getting ready to fight and the next day us kids and other dependents were being shipped out.  Aw, we had just strung some barb wire, beneath the cliff beside of our house.  They did a great job without us but we had another adventure to look forward to.  The school buses arrived about 8 am, just like we were going to school but instead of going west to Victory Hill Elementary, they headed the east, the other way towards the docks where they kept the PBYs (Sea Planes).

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There was berthed the USS Upshur, a ship named after the Marine General that was in charge of the military interest during the construction of the Panama Canal, when the payroll was robbed.  This was too big of a coincidence for me.  I wondered about it for the whole 3 days we were aboard ship.  I kept wondering when the other shoe was gonna fall.  The Upshur had a big old gaping hole for a door way in the bow, for loading and unloading since it was a troop transport ship the bow had doors built into it, so it could be easily loaded from either side.

We stood in line as we boarded, getting our names checked off of the Master List.  Since I was 10 years old, I was sent to the stern in the ship’s company berthing area.  The bunks were stacked to the ceiling and they were about 16 inches above each other.  Mom, Gary and Duane were sent to a Stateroom located in the upper bow.  Each Stateroom had about 20 people in it.  They sat on the deck or were leaning against the bulkhead.  Cotton mattresses were rolled up during the day and spread out at night for sleeping arrangements.  This was our home for the next three days.

Our destination was unknown, military secret.  Loose lips sink ships.  We had life boat drills every morning, everyone one on topside was required to wear a life jacket.

Thinking that Mom had her hands full with Duane who had his legs in casts from a recent operation, I snuck up to her stateroom and commandeered Gary to go with me.  We were all over that ship.  The fact that our Dad was an Officer, didn’t cut any ice on board the USNS Upshur.  If we got caught pulling our shenanigans (and we did) we suffered the consequences.  We swabbed decks, helped peel potatoes, carried the Captain coffee, polished tarnished brass and even got to throw bags of waste products off of the fantail.

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The inside of our berthing space was like a giant boys club. Pillow fights, fist fights, gang fights we had them and the sailors seem to encourage us.  I had quite a bit of sea duty already from the many excursions that Dad sent me on that I was already familiar with what ever came next.

Gary and I knew semaphore, when we seen the American flag flying upside down, we knew there was something going on. On our leeward side were two Russian frigates following us about a 500 yards away.

Scary oh yeah, the Upsher was unarmed, a troop transport ship, carrying military dependents  The crew carried handguns to ward off boarders but there wasn’t much more armament than that.  Gary and I snuck into a lifeboat and had grabbed a couple of flare pistols but we only had two flares apiece, when Gary “accidentally” shot one towards the Russian ships that night, they were confiscated, taken away from us.

We would use our T shirts as “flags” and send rude messages to them.  We knew the ships weren’t up to any good and the dark forbidding clouds that followed us didn’t help.  I found a notebook full of paper on the third morning.  We were up on deck with the guys on my baseball team.  I got the idea to draw a cartoon of Kruschev bending over to kiss an American eagle on the ass, then made an airplane out if it and tossed it towards the Russians in an act of defiance.  The other guys on deck wanted to follow suit, I gave out notebook paper until it was gone.  Every one had their own idea on how to make the perfect airplane or make the most insulting cartoon we could imagine.  Before we tossed the planes overboard into the wind, we all stood in a line with our backs to the Russians and we gave them a “Full Moon Salute”.  We dropped our drawers and bent over, showing our ass. Then somebody hollered “Ready Two” and we stood up in unison, fastened our pants and then rushed to the hand rail to see who’s plane could make it the furthermost before it disappeared into the whitecaps.  One by one the planes were swallowed up by the waves.  When a sudden gust of wind would pick one of our planes up and give it new life, we would all give a cheer.  One plane made it almost within a hundred yards, a slight groan arose when it finally succumbed to the depths, but it was soon replaced by a cheer.

A solid white Coast Guard cutter appeared coming out of the fog behind us, forging it’s way in the four foot seas between us and our evil looking dark gray Russian escorts.  Who knows what was on their minds, we could only guess, but one thing we did know for sure, we were entering American waters and the Coast Guard had our backs.

CUTTER SHAMAL (FOR RELEASE)

The weather started getting colder and by the time we reached Newport News and disembarked in Norfolk, Va., it was downright chilly.  October 22nd when we left, 3 days later must have been around the 24th or 25th.  There was snow on the ground when I came down the gangway.  I was wearing deck pants, a V- neck half sleeve beachcomber shirt and a pair of rubber flip flops.  A photographer from AP took mine and my Mom’s picture and the next day it was plastered on the front page of every newspaper in the Unites States.  A lady from The American Red Cross greeted me at the bottom of the gangway.  She gave me a cup of hot chocolate and a red, second hand hoody sweatshirt.  I didn’t care, if it was second hand, it kept me warm.

The Navy Band played Stars and Stripes, it made me feel like we were heroes.  We had relatives there waiting on us, to greet us at the docks.  It truly was a great moment in American history.  I kept wondering about poor old Dad .  Did he remember where I kept the shells to the 30.06?  What about my dog Tippy?  Did anyone feed him?  My brothers and I had strung barb wire up and down the cliff behind the house and fastened beer cans with pebbles inside to make a noise, sort of like a burglar alarm.  I wondered did our design work?  Did the Cubans invade?  Did any one find our forts?

That stuff was a thousand miles away now.  We were on our way to Jacksonville, with my Aunt Alice.  We lived in Jax. for about 3 months until it was deemed safe enough for use to go back.  I was in the 5th grade at Arlington Elementary.  I was proud of who I was and my family and what we had been doing for the last 3 years.  I wanted to tell the world who I was and show off my skills, more importantly to brag on my Dad and the other men, husbands and fathers that stayed to fight if need be for our country and our rights.

Looking back now, I think my teacher at the time must have been a liberal because he didn’t want me to talk about it when my classmates expressed interest and in fact he punished me when I did.  I remember my cousin Cindy was in the class across the hall and she cried when she saw me getting licks through the window in the door.  I laughed because those three licks didn’t measure up to the lickings I was use to toting and after I laughed, I got three more.

Our return to Gitmo was kinda melodramatic. Not all of my friends returned.  Our house had been used as a military barracks because it had 4 bedrooms and three baths.  My dog Tippy acted strange almost like he didn’t remember us.  We went to Protestant Church on every other Sunday and to the Catholic Church in between.  I was told that Tippy attended service at the Catholic Church, almost like he was looking for us.  The Catholic Church always kept the doors opened and he would walk in and sit at the foot of our pew when they started playing church hymns on the organ.  Tippy used to follow the bus to school and sit under my desk during class.  The teacher gave up on trying to stop him.  It was too hot to shut the door and he didn’t cause any ruckus.  I think every boy should have a dog like that.

Mom told me years later that she didn’t worry about us boys so much as long as we had Tippy with us.  I know that the Filipinos hated him, he didn’t care much for them either. Several times a month we would wake up and Tippy would have all of the white uniforms that the Filipinos had washed and hung up on the line stacked up in a pile under my bedroom window.  Almost like he was ready for us to come out and play.  The last time I saw him, he was running down the gravel road as we were leaving to catch a plane, with a clothesline full of white uniforms in his mouth and strung out behind him, with two Filipinos chasing him with a machete.  You wanna know something, I kinda felt sorry for those guys.