It was early Saturday Morning in Washington. I had for some, now long forgotten reason, stayed over Friday night at the YMCA. I was walking from the "Y" back down to 12th and Pennsylvania to catch a bus back to the barracks at Henderson Hall. I was in my dress blues, again for some now unknown reason, when I rounded the White House. I notice a couple of men approaching but paid little attention until they were almost upon me. Great Gookamonga, it was Harry S. Truman accompanied by what I assume was a secret service agent (things were simpler in those days).
I snapped to attention and gave my best salute, as taught so long ago by my drill instructor. I can hear his voice now over lo, these 50 years when he said "Good Morning Marine, and how are you this fine morning?" I was flabbergasted but managed to stammer "fine Sir, and you?" He then spent a good five minutes talking to me asking where I was from, what my job in the Marine Corps was, what my parents did, etc..
It was one of the most delightful conversations I have ever had and the fact that the president of the United States would take the time to stop and talk with a young 18 year old Marine is to me the mark of a true gentleman. He finally said he had work to do, I saluted and my encounter with greatness was over. I would doubt that he would ever remember that early morning encounter but to me it was, and remains "one brief shinning moment".
It was May 1950. My three year enlistment would be over on June 11 and I couldn't wait. I had plans, plans I had had since I enlisted three years ago in Mobile, Alabama. I was going to get out, go home, and in the fall enroll in the University of Alabama. I would be back with my best friends, those I had grown up and attended school with. I literally couldn't wait. Little did I know that my plans were about to be changed forever!
It was a Friday night. My good friend Clarence Raymond Barte had been out on the town and awakened me with the news that he had met these three great girls (Bonny Lovel, Anita Dale, and Peggy McCormack) and further, he had made a date for him, me, and Orville Oliver Flowers to go to the zoo the next day! I told him I wasn't interested but he said he was madly in love with one of them Anita Dale, and we had to go. It being late at night and all, I agreed to go just to get him to leave me alone.
The next day the three of us met the three "girls" at the slopchute. From the moment I set eyes on Peggy McCormack my fate was sealed! I still had some stupid idea that I could date her for the next month and then return to my "plans" I did get out, and I did go home, but it was hopeless. There was no way I could live without her. I tried for two months but it didn't work so I dutifully returned to Washington and the Marine Corps. The rest, as they say, is history. We've been married 47 years now.
I was on Mess Duty; again! It was November of 1948 and I was one unhappy young Marine. It meant that I would be there over Thanksgiving and I had looked forward to going home for that holiday. It was the usual miserable duty, up at 4 AM, work until 7-8 PM and exhausted go out on liberty where you usually overindulged on cheap beer.
About halfway through the thirty day tour I woke up one morning feeling like crap. I naturally assumed that it was the result of the previous evening's debauchery but by mid-morning I was really feeling bad, fever, sick at stomach, etc.. I went to Sgt. George, the mess sergeant and told him I was sick. He said some fine mess sergeant words about all of us were screwups trying to get out of work and it wasn't going to happen. I was to get my butt back to work and I would be on the serving line at noon. I did my best to convince him that I was truly ill It didn't work and come noon there I was on the serving line!
The next day I was worse and collapsed at work. I was sent to Bethesda where I was diagnosed with a severe case of the flu. I wasn't lonely though, within a few days half of Henderson Hall, those whom I served that day, was in there with me!
This story predates my tour at Henderson Hall but as a pivotal moment in my life, I felt it worth including.
After graduating from boot camp I had been assigned, along with some others, to work at the General's Mess one Sunday afternoon. It was September in South Carolina and it was HOT! After finishing our work we were sitting out back waiting for a truck to pick us up. My friend came out eating a large bowl of strawberry ice cream. Now in those days there was few things I loved better than ice cream so naturally I asked him where he got it. He informed me that Sergeant Johnson had given it to him. Now Sergeant Johnson happened to be black.
In those long ago days a recruit still addressed NCO as "Sir." I, a son of the old South whose boyhood heroes were Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson had managed to spend the whole day without having to address the good Sergeant. When he told me to do something I simply immediately complied to avoid having to say "Sir" to a black man! I asked my friend to go ask Sergeant Johnson if I could have some. I was told bluntly to go ask him myself.
I thought this over and did what I have done most times in my life when principle clashed with practicality. I went to Sergeant Johnson and humbly said "Sir, may the Private have some ice cream"? It didn't hurt a bit and from that day forward I never saw another Marine as anything but green!
What do I remember after all these years about my tour at Henderson Hall? I remember being ordered there, I was perfectly happy as a member of the Guard Company at Portsmouth Virgina. I had just finished a tour of duty on the USS Midway and had settled into what was a pleasant routine. I caught in a "draft" requiring 10 people be sent to HQMC. I was a "real" Marine and the idea of being assigned with all those paper pushing pogues was abhorrent.
Like it or not I went and the first thing they did when I got there was put me on Mess Duty! That didn't' bode well for my future at HQMC. That experience aside, most of my other memories are pleasant.
I remember the "shack" the old wooden coffee shop located at the rear of HQMC where we would all meet in the morning for coffee, that is when we had a dime! I remember the long walks around Washington seeing the sights, over and over again. I remember walking to work in the morning, out the back gate, along the Arlington Cemetery wall with all the horse play so typical of young Marines. I remember reading the names on all those tombstones along the way and wondering who they were and what there lives were like. They still lay there now after these fifty years waiting for me to join their ranks.
I remember coffee breaks at a coffee shop somewhere in the Annex. It was a great place to meet, look at all the girls, tell a few lies, and express our joint hatred of the Marine Corps and the "lifers" for whom we worked. I remember Saturday night dances at Arlington Farms, the housing below the Annex populated by single female Government workers. I remember the occasional Sunday morning walk to Arlington to go to Church, a habit long abandoned.
I remember the night before an IG inspection when after the mandatory "field day" I walked to DC to get a haircut (I only had a quarter and no extra for bus fare). I remember the "Slopchute" and a camaraderie enjoyed that has never been repeated. It was the place to see and be seen and when I wasn't broke (which I usually was) I spent a lot of time there. I remember the "junk on the bunk" inspections and how I hated them. I was never prepared and always got my rear end chewed out.
I remember the liberty in Washington, meeting the girls (there were gazillions of them, a young man's paradise. I remember the excitement of the 4th of July and the fireworks over the monument. I remember the St. Regis bar at 12th and Pennsylvania, a fabulously, sophisticated establishment, at least for a 20 year old Marine. I remember the sinful delight at attending the old Gaiety theater, a real live burlesque house with genuine strippers. I once saw Gypsy Rose Lee there and though I had died and gone to heaven!
I remember being married on a sunny Saturday Morning in February 1951 to the love of my life which brought on a whole new set of memories that have lasted a lifetime.
Most of all I remember being young and alive, and you know, I remember every days as warm and sunny. It was a great time.
It was sometime in the late 40s, probably 48, that a group of us was indulging in 3.2 suds at the Slop Chute for the modest sum of 35 cents a pitcher. I think I was with old John Tickle and Gene Ryan because when I was indulging the probability was very high that we were together.
I did notice that a small group of three or four Marines from the Motor Transport crew were enjoying the company of a rather attractive lady, undoubtedly a civilian as I knew all the women Marines by sight if not by name. I didn't think much more about it until the next morning when the front page of the Washing Post had an article concerning a young lady found naked in front of the Lincoln Memorial covered only by a Marine Corps green jacket. So at noon chow time I wandered by the Motor Transport building to check on the old green jacket that had been hanging there for some time. It was gone!
I recently asked one of our group who had served in the Motor Transport Platoon back then about the incident and he declined to comment.
George J. "Ski" Gumulinski and I lived in the same squad bay, the northeast corner top one in Barracks 12 which harbored the masses from mostly "A" and a few from "B" Company. We had a lot of characters in that squad bay: Harold "Abby" Abrams of Jewish ancestory who proclaimed his intention to, quote, "Get out of the Corps and make a fortune selling guns to the Arabs." John Tickle who entrusted me with his pay so he would have beer money every day until the next payday. John Moffett who learned the hard way about cross-dressers. Ski was the mischievous type.
One payday night it was necessary for several of his friends to coax him down from the barracks roof where he was pretending to be an ape, with remarkable success. George "Red" Vobora was in charge of the squad bay opposite ours. It had an exterior ladder, so we frequently passed through Red's squad bay to exit the barracks. It was really this unfortunate fact that created the problem, or should I say the situation, that attracted Ski's attention and his artistry.
Ski had purchased a small gas powered airplane, the kind that flies in a circle guided by control cables. It was on a Sunday morning when Ski and a couple of friends took it out for a solo flight, crashed it, and were returning to our squad bay via Red's squad bay. Ski had, in addition to the badly damaged plane, a six volt battery, coil and condenser that were necessary for starting the motor. When properly used, this combination could deliver a pretty solid jolt of electricity.
It was the habit of many Marines "sack in" on Sunday mornings and, as luck would have it, Ski passed the bunk of a Marine who was sound asleep, apparently having a very nice dream about a young lady or ladies. Evidence of his amorous state protruded from his scivvie shorts. The opportunity was too much for Ski to resist. He quickly stripped one of the wires, created a series of properly sized, spring-like coils which he gently placed over the protrusion and then grounded the other wire to the metal bunk bed which was in contact with the victim's body. A spin of the prop created the necessary jolt of electricity.
I didn't see the event but I heard the scream. Witnesses claimed that it was the first recorded instance of levitation, the victim having risen straight up in the horizontal mode for about three feet before doing a quarter gainer to land on his feet swinging. He beat the hell out of Ski who was laughing so hard he could not defend himself.
It was June of '46" on a Thursday, and I was working the night shift in the Muster Roll Section, lst Wing, lst Deck along with about 20 other young Marines who faced slow starvation on Subs and Quarters. I roomed with my buddy Donald Gotschall who was a good looking cuss and worked for some general on the day shift. A few minutes after midnight when I got off work Don came home and announced that he had met an unbelievably sexy young lady with whom he had a date the coming Saturday night, and that he had arranged a date for me with her best girl friend who lived next door. I fully expected to get the worst of that bargain.
On Friday I left the home where I roomed and forgot my key. I found an open kitchen window on the first floor and was part way through the window when Don's date appeared and so the first glimpse she had of me was my bottom half. I was impressed. Don had seriously understated how attractive she was. The next night, when Don and I rang the doorbell, his date walked out, took my hand, and led me off. Don was left with my date who was a lovely girl only about three inches taller than either of us.
I proposed on our second date and we were married in January 1949 after I had been promoted to sergeant. It will be 49 years in January 48 and we have six children and l7 living grandchildren. We retired from the Marine Corps in 1980.
From the time it was built until long after I left there in '49 Henderson Hall relied for heat and hot water on coal fired furnaces, one in each barracks and major building. The Headquarters and Service Company Marines assigned to the onerous task shoveling coal into the furnaces were referred to as members of the "Black Gang" for obvious reasons. Silvestro R. Verri, or "Joe Komoko" was a member of the Black Gang having been reduced to those circumstances by reassignment from the Guard Platoon due to having been caught asleep on the Main Gate in the wee hours of the morning.
Joe was a friend of mine. Joe was, like so many of us back then, a bit "off" the norm. He consistently claimed to be the illegitimate son of a Catholic priest, which no one believed. Fortunately Joe was a nice, friendly guy. An unfriendly Joe would have been a problem as he was well over six feet tall, extremely dark and hairy, and had the longest arms in proportion to his height that I have ever seen. Joe was also uncomfortable with any rank above that of private.
My first story on Joe took place the winter of 47-48 when we in Barracks 12 woke up to cold squad bays and no hot water. A delegation repaired to the furnace room to inquire into the circumstances of this serious matter. Joe was sitting in front of the open furnace door holding a coat hanger, upon which several marshmallows were empaled, over the barely glowing coals. When asked why the hell he had let the fire die down so low he replied, "I had to. How else could I toast my marshmallows." Silly that we should ask....
Now it is the summer of '49 and I am the NCO in Charge of the Henderson Hall swimming pool. John Hlubb was a lifeguard then. Frank Roth, Stanley Pehowic and I think Sam Gonzales took care of water purification. Joe like to hang around the pool. On a crowded Sunday Joe showed up with a Frankenstein mask, a rubber pull over mask. Joe took off his dungaree jacket and put it on backwards. With the mask on and given his size he looked real - and decided to act real. My wife Dolores was in our little office when Joe entered from the men's shower room. Dolores screamed. This pleased Joe. He was a success. Then he walked out into the pool proper. Little kids screamed and ran to their mothers. I tried to get him to stop but he was on a roll. His next move was to pick up Frank Roth by his dungaree jacket and pants and, holding him at arms length and horizontal, Joe walked him to the side of the pool while Frank pleaded, "No Joe, please Joe, my watch, my wallet, damn it Joe, let me down." Joe did, he dropped Frank into the pool. Joe exited to the continuing screams of little kids.
That same year, on a Sunday, my wife ran out of cigarettes. Joe overheard her lament. Joe volunteered to get her some. He returned about 20 minutes later with a couple of packs. On Monday morning it was learned that someone had broken into the Post Exchange and only two packs of cigarettes were missing. In the very early 50s I heard that Joe was killed in Korea. I never checked it out. I never wanted to. I suspect it was true and, knowing Joe, he was probably going back into danger to help a buddy. Joe was like that.
I met my future bride Dolores in June and in September she moved with her family to Wilmette, Illinois so we had to endure a long distance relationship. In May '47 I was promoted to corporal but since I was supporting my mother with a family allotment plus insurance and the mandatory bond allotment there was little left to finance a leave.
At that time we were also strictly forbidden to take employment of any kind in the civilian sector. My love for Dolores was stronger than the need to adhere to regulations and so I took a job setting up pins at the bowling alley above the theater on Columbia Pike in Arlington. It is still there. Back then pins were hand set on spikes which rose from the alley when a pedal inset into the end of the alley proper was pressed with a foot. Needless to say this was hard on shoes and since I had to depart Henderson Hall in uniform I wore my dress shoes to operate the pedal.
After some three months of pin setting I had nearly saved the funds for my leave when I noticed that there was a small hole in the top of one of my dress shoes. So I had to either survey the shoes which meant turning them in for a free replacement or pretend that they had been stolen in which case I had to pay for them. I elected to try and survey them.
I took them to the survey counter at Battalion Supply where the lieutenant turned them over, saw that they had not been half-soled and worn through the second sole, and bluntly returned them to me with the comment that I should damn well know the requirement for surveying a pair of shoes. "But sir, there is a hole in the top." He looked, "I'll be damned. How the hell did that happen?" Sir, I don't know but I come from a farm and the cows used to get grubs under their skin that would come out through a hole in their hide (true so far), and I would guess that one of grub holes healed over and left a thin spot in the leather. I know it felt kind of thin there when I was spit-shining them and then this little hole appeared." The lieutenant stared at the hole for a couple of seconds and said, "Well - you can't wear a pair of shoes with a hole in them." I got my free pair of shoes. Thereafter I was damn careful how I put my foot in that hole for raising the spikes.
About a month later I took $125 out of the bank in the Navy Annex and went on leave to Illinois.