Saturday, February 23, 2008

Two Years in Navy – Part Two

My first duty after completing basic training was to be in charge of cleaning the toilets at the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station. Growing up there was not much maintenance on our toilet, the outhouse. It basically consisted of getting a small branch of a tree which would be used to help me get rid of spiders and the webs they built in the building. When Mother said it was time, Mark and I would dig a new hole using the dirt to fill in the other hole then we would slide the outhouse over to its new location. Inside toilets were relatively new to me; by this time I was use to doing anything that I was told and did not think this was such a bad job. I worked hard and did my best all week. On Friday the commander came to inspect the buildings and grounds. This was my first inspection and it about scared me to death when he came to the main toilet to inspect; I thought it may not be up to his standards and was not in it cleanest and most orderly condition. He came in and looked at everything two or three times. I just knew that I was in big trouble and he had found some things I had not done correctly. He turned to the Leading Chief to find out who was in charge of this place. The Chief identified me and said that I was assigned and fulfilled this task. The Commander looked at me and asked if I had cleaned toilets before this duty post. I told him we never had an inside toilet at home and that I had not seen many before getting in the Navy. I was relieved when he said that the toilet had never been this clean since he had been the Commander. He told the Chief to assign me to a better duty post. Later that same afternoon, I became Leading Chief's Yeoman which was the leading seaman for the whole field.

I was just a few weeks off the farm and I did not know anything about what I was about to do. Chief Flurey was a great guy and told me just keep my eyes open and not to let anyone catch on that I was new to all of this because I would learn quickly and be up to full speed in a couple of days. I did and it was not long before I was the most liked Sailor on the base. I found that through Chief Fluery I was in charge of the watch list and also had to approve all leave and liberty passes. By having this assignment, I did not have to stand any watches which made me a very important person. I witnessed once again how God takes care of his children when they don't know what they are doing. It did not take long for me to learn my way around this station. There were one thousand Sailors, two hundred Marines on guard duty, and five thousand civilians, which ran the commissary. There was an elementary and high school on the base. I was permitted to complete my high schooling in just six months and was able to graduate with my class at Cool Spring High School. Listen to me tell this story.

As time passed I discovered that I had several buddies that lived in the southern part of California which made it possible for me to make quite a few trips around the area. The guys enjoyed showing us the sites. Once we went on a three-day venture into the Mojave Dessert and through Death Valley. We visited several sites within fifty miles of Inyokern and China Lake. These included: Red Rock Canyon, Schoshone, Baker, Barstow, Four Corners, Red Mountain, Ridgecrest and China Lakes. We traveled in a Ford Coupe sleeping at night and driving all day. We ate what we brought with us and anything else we could get along the way! As we were walking around during our travels we would pick up soda pop bottles and throw them in a box in the trunk of the car. They were made of glass and used over and over by the drink companies. After collecting several, we would take them to a grocery store and were paid three cents for every bottle we turned in.

One weekend we made a trip to Lone Pine, CA, a small town about forty miles north of our base. All the nightclubs played country music. One night we had a chance meeting with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, they were in the town making a movie and insisted on us having dinner with them; they made it possible for us to watch them making the movie the next day. I believe he was filming the western, "Treasure of the Sierra Madre." Listen to me tell this story.

The Watering Place was about five miles from the base toward Inyokern, CA. Most of the guys went there to drink beers and dance with the local girls. I would drink a Coke while watching the others dance and sometimes I would talk to the girls. One night I left base and started thumbing for a ride. Along came my friend Brian on his motorcycle, he pulled over, off the road in front of me and told me to hop on. I got on and after we got started down the road, I found out that he had already been drinking. As we approached The Watering Hole, he decided to show off. He revved up the motor and reached the speed of ninety miles per hour; you can imagine how fast my heart was beating! Directly in front of the place, the motorcycle went out of control and jumped a six foot fence; both of us went about fifty feet across the dessert. Once again, God was watching out for me again, both of us only got a few scratches. That was the last time I road with someone on a motorcycle. That night, I had a beer and it ended up another fun day in the dessert. Listen to me tell this story.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Two Years in Navy – Part One

We got through the winter of 1945 and it was getting close to the end of World War II, J.D., Albert, and Paul were about to get out of the Navy so I thought that I better get in before they got home. I had a friend that often went with me to the skating rink and one night while at the rink, we decided to join the Navy together. When we went to enlist, the first thing they did was to check our eyes to see if either of us were color blind. My buddy was colorblind so he was not permitted to join the Navy but was able to join the Army. Right after joining, I was sent to Raleigh, NC for more tests. I must have passed them all because the next thing I knew was that they were putting me on a train and sending me to San Diego, CA for six weeks of basic training. I had only been to the beach in South Carolina once and other than that I had been to Charlotte, NC to visit my brother Fred other than those two places I had not traveled far from my home in Iredell County. When I was visiting Fred the big city of Charlotte, I would go along the railroad track behind his house and pick up coal that fell off the cars so he could use it in his stove. It was at Fred’s house that I first saw a telephone with a dial on it. It was an eight party line and I had fun listening to all the people talk. This type of phone was a candlestick phone, a tall one with the mouth piece at the top and the dial at the bottom. I though of my previous travels as I headed across the United States.

When I got on the train, I could not stay away from the window. I had my head stuck out of the window during much of the trip. With the coal burner sending black smoke out all day and night you can imagine what I looked like when I arrived in San Diego. The trip was five days and four nights, we had to ride in an old car that had metal seats and if we would not have been able to walk around I don't think our bottoms could have stood the trip. At night the seats were made into bunk beds with curtains hung over them; with all of the racket we could not get much sleep. At night I tried my best to sleep since all day I could not keep my eyes off of the window. I wanted to see everything that there was to see! I had read about our country in history and geography but it was not like seeing it in person. The mountains, flatland, desserts, and Rockies all were new to me. When we reached California, seeing all of the orange and other fruit trees blew my mind. Listen to me tell this story.

When the seven of us finally reached the Navy base and got off the train, they were waiting for us so they could take us to Camp Decatur for basic training. At that moment I could tell that everything would be just fine because right away we were told everything to think and do; all we had to do was follow orders. I liked that since I did not know what was going on anyhow. The training was easy for me because I had been accustomed to walking and running five or more miles at a stretch all my life so the workout did not bother me at all. I did have a hard time keeping in step with the others since I had never done it before. However, after the trainer hit me across my bottom a few times with his saber I caught on right quick. Everything was going good and I was turning out well. Listen to me tell this story.

I liked KP duty and the others did not so some of them would give me three dollars to do their KP duty, to me that was good money. KP duty is "kitchen patrol/police" work under the kitchen staff assigned to U.S. enlisted military personnel. It would include food preparation, dish washing and pot scrubbing, sweeping and mopping floors, wiping tables, serving food on the chow line, or anything else the kitchen staff wanted us to do. This was in addition to our normal assignments. Listen to me tell this story.

Three weeks into our training, the Merchant Marines started to strike and the Navy took all of the older Sailors from our base to man the Merchant ships. It left us to help train the new recruits. Our commander asked if there were any barbers in the group and no one raised their hand. He asked if any of us had ever cut a head of hair; I was scared not to say I had so I raised my hand. Immediately he sent me over to the barber shop. I told the man I had never seen a pair of electric clippers and he said that did not matter since all I had to do was cut all the hair off every head. I worked in this assignment for three weeks. Listen to me tell this story.

The weekend before getting out of boot camp I got a three day pass to go to Mission Beach, an amusement park in San Diego. This was my first time to see a roller coaster. I studied it closely and it looked safe enough so I bought a twenty-five cent ticket and got on the thing. I was doing great until that darn thing got to the top of the first hill and all of sudden everything fell, the train cars and my stomach. I did not think I would last until it got to the bottom, I did but the coaster kept on going up a hill and then down again! When I got off the rolling nightmare, I said that I would not ever get on it again. I thought that the worst was over; little did I know what lied ahead. Later that same night, my buddy wanted to ride the double Ferris Wheel. I spent another twenty-five cents and we got on the huge contraption. Everything was going good and I liked this ride much better than the roller coaster. As we went to the top for the third time, one of the hangers on my buddy's side broke; it took about an hour for them to get all of us down. They gave our twenty-five cents back and as far as they were concerned, all was well but I did not think so and it took many years before I could get on an amusement park ride again. Even now, if you would offer to pay for my ride I would not get on another Ferris Wheel. Overall that was one of my best excursions I took while stationed in California. Later, I was able to travel to Hollywood and visit all the sites around southern California. Listen to me tell this story.

At last we had finished our basic training! The morning that I was to go home on a fifteen day leave, we were standing inspection when the officer got to me he stopped and pulled down my blouse and said that I had to report to the sick bay. After I arrived I was told that I had the measles and I would have to remain in isolation for seven days and that could not go home for another week. I did not get to ship out with my classmates; a week later I took my leave fifteen days, five days going home, five days at home, and five days going back to camp. When I reported back, I was sent to the Navel Ordnance Testing Station in the Mojave dessert at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station(Armitage Field) China Lakes, CA. Listen to me tell this story.
The whole story... Listen as I tell about my basic training.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Growing Up - Ages 17-18 – Part Two

We had a school play, Ted Drops In, when I was in the tenth grade. It was a three-act play and lasted about one and a half hours. Johnny James played Ted and I played his buddy Lonnie, he had the leading part and I was his sidekick playing the comedy role. After the play was over, it seemed that everyone came up to me to say that I had stolen the lead from Johnny. I don't think I did but it was nice to know that folks thought I did a good job with the part I played. Johnny and I knew that one part was nothing without the other; we held on to that and our friendship kept strong. Throughout high school we were a team. If he had a headache I would take the aspirin, which shows how close we were. Nobody saw one of us without seeing the other. Listen as I tell this story.

When we went to play basketball, the girls played the first game and then the boys would play. I liked some of the girls that played basketball so we would get to ride together to and from the games. That is about all of the dating that I did in high school. On the nights that we had games, I would come home from school and do all of the chores around the farm, eat supper, and run four miles across the woods to US-64 to catch a ride to the school that we played. The night after the game I would be let out at the same place I was picked up and I would walk or run through the woods to get home. I would slip into the kitchen and eat some more corn bread and milk before going to bed. Most of the time it was around midnight and I had to get up at five a.m. to build a fire in the stove, do the chores, and get ready to go to school. Mother would get up and cook us a good breakfast, hot biscuits every day! If you have a good homemade biscuit you have a good meal. We usually had meat, eggs, corn meal mush, and jellies. Sometimes when I would get home from school, Mother would tell me if I wanted something for the next morning breakfast I would have to go down the woods to the hickory nut trees and kill a squirrel. I would go into the woods and sit and do my homework while waiting for a squirrel to come out and get in the right spot. I would shoot it on the first try; on the way back to the house would skin it and wash it off in the horse trough. I would take it on into the house to clean it and put it on the stove in the fire room. I would let it boil until it was done and just sit it in the hall. When Mother got up she would roll it in flour and fry it in some hog lard. She would make some brown gravy and a pan of biscuits. That was some good eating! Today I see squirrels running everywhere and I could not eat one even if I was hungry. Listen as I tell this story.

We would grow sweet and Irish potatoes. In the fall after we gathered them, we would go our into the back yard and dig a hole four foot square and about one foot deep. We would put some hay in the bottom, add the potatoes and cover them with corn stalks and straw. Finally we would cover them with dirt but kept a hole in the top so on the hot days of winter we could let some air in to keep them from starting to rot. They would not freeze and we had potatoes to eat all winter and into spring. When we killed hogs we would salt down the hams, shoulders, side, and fat back meat. We would cook the sausage and can it in jars. We would put some sausage in long cloth tubes that mother made. These would hang on the back porch. We would eat from this supply until the meat started tasting real bad and then we would throw away what was left.

I never did have a steady girl while I was in high school since I would not have any way to go see her or take her on dates. It was only at ballgames and other activities in school that I had an opportunity to talk to the girls. I think I just loved all of them but always thought that no one loved me. That might have caused me to join the Navy as soon as I did but I am sure that having four brothers already in the Navy may have had a little to do with it. I did not want to be the only one that had not been in the war.

The fall before I enlisted in the Navy, Mother wanted me to drive her to Charlotte in the 1936 Ford that Albert had left with us so that we could visit Fred and his family. Everything was going great as we traveled down US-21 toward Charlotte until we were close to Huntersville, NC. I was going about sixty miles per hour when suddenly I looked up and saw a huge Greyhound bus stopped in the middle of the road. I was right on top of it before I realized it was not moving! My heart seemed to leap out of my skin and I know my heart rate was close to 200 beats per minute! I slammed on the breaks but it was like I had done nothing; of all times for it happen, my breaks did not work. I saw oncoming traffic on the other side of the bus so the only thing I could do was go between the bus and the service station which was only about thirty feet back off the road. I passed the bus doing about fifty miles per hour on the wrong side and in a gravel parking lot; the car caused a large cloud of dust and gravel as I was passing. The bus driver had just opened the bus door for the passengers to get off. If he had done that a few seconds earlier or if I would have been a few seconds later, there would have been folks in my pathway and I imagine I would have killed them. Once again God was watching out for me. When this happened it caused me to have a growth spurt in my growing into a man and made me take a reality check! We ended up having a good visit Fred and his family. On the trip home I don't think I drove over thirty miles per hour. It was an experience I will never forget!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Growing Up - Ages 17-18 – Part One

We did not get electricity on the Propst Farm until just before I got out of the Navy in 1948. When I came home on leave for the first time, I discovered that we had one light hanging from the ceiling. You had to reach up and turn it on. Since there were no wall outlets, if we wanted to plug something in, we had use the ceiling socket adaptor so often times there were cords hanging from the ceiling. I am pictured here in the field near the house.

Before I was discharged from the Navy, Albert had married Pauline Ellis. Mark had married Margaret Houston before he went into the Navy. As soon as J.D. got home, he bought the Propst Farm of fifty-two acres and was farming it. I was always amazed that he could pick over three hundred pound of cotton in one day compared to one hundred pounds, the best I could do. Mother lived with J.D. and Colleen for several years. Later, Albert built her a little two room house in his back yard where she lived for quiet a numbers years until she was not able to stay by herself. At that time, she moved in with my oldest sister Edna and later with Ola, my other sister. She lived there until she died in 1973.

I started attending Cool Spring High School in the fall of 1942. I met Johnny James who became one of my best friends. Our friendship lasted until he died in 2002. He went to college and became a professor at Florida State University and I went into the Navy on leaving high school. We lost touch with each other until 1990 when we started connecting at our class reunions; our friendship remained strong over the years. We both made the basketball team the first year and played guard together all the time that we were in high school. Johnny and I were the first boys ever to take the homemaker class. I had helped to cook for many years and the teacher though that I was a good cook. I caught on to sewing and was pretty good at that too. I learned to sew patching my clothes; we never did throw anything away we just patched it and wore it again.

One day in late spring after entering Cool Spring High School the previous fall, five of us boys decided to skip going to school. Our plan was to get off the school bus before it arrive at the school and meet at Vaughn's Pond which was about two miles from school. We all brought our lunches and we played in the pond all day and met our buses where we departed from them that morning. We thought everything went well and were proud of ourselves for pulling off this incredible deed. Just as homeroom started the next day, we were called in to the principal's office. Mr. B. M. Madison appeared to be quite mad; he made us sit for about ten minute before he said anything. He asked if we knew what we were doing there and we all said yes. He asked us what we though he should do about our playing hookie the day before. We told him that he should give out the punishment since we were the ones that did the bad thing. He thought for a minute or two and gave us a choice to take ten lashes with his big leather belt or be suspended for three days. We all chose the ten lashes. We all were very ruff young boys and we knew that he could not hurt us too badly so we bent across his desk and he gave us our punishment. This all took place right inside the open window in the school picture. Listen as I tell this story.

There were eighteen boys and the same number of girl in our class. As years passed we had some that dropped out to start working, get married, or go into service. By the time the class graduated, there were only twelve each and everyone knew each other very well. There were not many activities in high school. There was Future Farmers of America (FFA) and shop for the boys. In shop I made a wheelbarrow and some other little things. Johnny’s dad was the agriculture teacher and he would not let us get away with anything!

During my second year in high school I got a job driving a school bus making twelve dollars a month. At that time I was not sixteen but I had a lot of experience driving our 1931 Ford. Mark drove a bus the year before. About every day when he we got home he would let me drive the bus and sometimes after the last student got off he would let me drive it the rest of the way home. Back then all you had to prove your age was to take a Bible with your birthday in it which was good enough. That is how I was able to enter into the Navy early. I quit school in the eleventh grade to enlist in the Navy. I attended school on the base where I was stationed and was able to finish with my class when I came home on leave. All of the roads were dirt. In the winter the rain would cause big ruts in all of the roads. The area where I lived was one of the worst routes in Iredell County. The buses had governors that would not let them go over thirty miles an hour. I was able to drive all winter without getting stuck. One day I was called into the principal's office and the supervisor from the bus garage was there. He wanted to commend me on the winters driving. He shared that no one was able to drive that route without getting stuck up many times and wanted to know how I was able to get through all winter without getting stuck. A lie would have been easier but I had to tell him the truth, I told him that on every rainy day I would plug the governors on the bus so I could go a little faster to prevent getting stuck. His commending me suddenly stopped and became a long lecture on bus safety. I got fired for the rest of that year. I was hired again the next year and by that time it paid twenty dollars a month. Listen as I tell this story.

I remember that when I got my first check I went to Gabriel’s Clothing Store in Statesville and bought a used suit and a wrist watch. I had seven dollars left over because I did not have to buy a shirt since the salesman gave me one. I went to the five and ten cent store and bought mother a little pin, a hand holding a heart, for one dollar. It was one of the prettiest things I had ever seen and she really loved it. She had it when she died and it was just as pretty as ever. I spent another dollar on getting my picture made in my new outfit. I thought I looked real good.