They Also Serve…War Years in the Norman (Okla.) Navy

(From the Memoir posted on this site)

At boot camp, I was named the company mailman, and suddenly everyone looked up to me. The job allowed me to skip a few marching and running drills, and I kept telling our CO, a high school football coach from Texas, that I had to see to it that the mail got through, on time, rain or shine.

And when the eight-week boot camp was over, the Navy was nice enough to send me home to Oklahoma. Comedian George Gobel, stationed at Altus, Okla., Army Air Base, later bragged that not a single Japanese plane got past Amarillo.

He had nothing on me. In my years at the Naval Air Technical Training Command base in Norman, no Japanese vessel ever was sighted on the south Canadian River…

The highway from Norman, Okla., to Dallas is an Interstate now, but in the time of World War II it was a two-laner, US 77.

It was a long haul, to Dallas and back, for a couple of bootleggers who were in the Navy and were performing what was considered to be a dangerous but valuable service for our shipmates at the Naval Air Technical Command Center in Norman. Dangerous, but valuable – and modestly profitable.

Oklahoma was a dry state, and sailors always are notoriously thirsty. Thus it was that we were always looking for someone going to Dallas who might bring back a bottle to fight the drought.

One the day my friend Red, from Kansas City, who had a late-model two-door Chevy, came to me and suggested we make a quick round-trip run to Dallas for booze. He pointed out Thanksgiving was near, Christmas was next, and the sailors were in a buying mood. They could, of course, buy from local bootleggers, but they were looking for a better deal.

How could we turn our backs on ours shipmates? We called Dallas and made contact with a liquor store on the north side. We got prices, marked them up moderately, then took orders from sailors.

We made our first trip on the day after Thanksgiving in 1944, so 2004 is the 60th anniversary of the launching of our enterprise, dedicated to the idea that no Navy man should be denied a ration of rum, or whatever – and neither should a civilian, if we had any left over.

We made the first run, and subsequent trips, without incident. We knew we might get shot down at any time, but we kept the supply line open, always spurred on by the idea that nothing was too good for the boys in blue bell-bottom pants with the 13-button fly.

But the time came when Red and I agreed our luck was going to run out one day, so we gave thanks that it hadn’t, and closed up shop. We had only one more brush with this service. It came when we needed some booze, and gave our money to a sailor named Green. So did a lot of other sailors, but we never saw him again. Neither did the navy, I heard later. He took the money and disappeared.

All I said to Red was, “Why didn’t we think of that?”…

And speaking of action: Every eighth weekend, I had to do Shore Patrol (Navy cop) duty in downtown Oklahoma City, supporting the full-time SP men, most of whom had been cops in civilian life. I hated the duty, and hated it even more when I was in on one arrest too many one night.

There had been a fight involving sailors in a second-floor pool hall, and I was with the regular SP men sent to clear it up. They arrested a sailor who looked like a born brawler – a huge man with muscles in his hair and a mean look on his face. The SP men asked him if he’d go along with us peacefully, and he said he would.

They told me to take him down the stairs and put him in the Jeep. Down we went, me one stair above him as we walked. Halfway down, without warning, he turned and swung his powerful right fist into my stomach and, I was sure, out my back.

It was two weeks before I could laugh or take a deep breath without big-time pain. It didn’t help that I learned an SP had broken his night stick over the head of the guy who hit me. He couldn’t hurt as much as I did.

After that, I restricted my law enforcement activity to telling sailors to square their hats and threatening to arrest them for urinating in alleys.

The way I looked at it, I done the Navy wrong with my rum running, but the Navy more than got even with me.

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