Chapter Eight - The US Army and Return to Civilian Life




	I was disappointed when I got home. I do not know what I
expected but it was different from what I found. I took a few days to
get familiar with the changes made while I was gone. Alabama has
alcoholic beverage laws by county and Tuscaloosa was a dry county. That
meant you had to deal with a bootlegger or drive to Greene county to
purchase beverages and hope you did not get caught on the way back.
There was a place you could drink beer just across the Greene County
line, called Midway. Cars were about impossible to find but William
Hoggle sold me an old 1935 Dodge. William (Bill) Miller and I would
drive over now and then and drink a beer or two.

	Goofing off got old and I was ready to go to work. A different
contractor had the post office contract so I did not have a right to my
old job. I tried several places and I guess the results were best summed
up by the one honest answer I got at Hardin's Bakery. The man looked at
me and said, "We have too many veterans we are forced to rehire.
Veterans think the world owes them something and are generally very poor
workers. We have a few openings but are saving them for non-veterans. If
you know any non-veterans looking for work, tell them to stop by and see
us."

	Eugene Barlow was a good friend from high school and he was out
of the Navy and found the same treatment. He told me he had been reading
his Blue Jacket's Manual and was going back in the Navy. Gene went to
Midway on his motorcycle to drink a couple of beers and on the way back
he was  leaning on a curve and his head hit the fender of an Army truck
going the  other way and cut the entire top of his head off.

	Champ Lewis had decided to stay in the Navy. He was on PT boats
in World War II and a shell had gone through the radio room and missed
his head by inches. He went to New London, Connecticut for submarine
training and had a heart attack and died a week after he got there.

	L.B. Hughes had died on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Roy
Schmarkey had taken a shell in the chest and lost several ribs. He
married a Boston girl and stayed in Boston. William Hoggle was married
and working all the time. Bill Miller was too lazy to work and never
paid for anything. Many old class mates were killed in World War II. The
girls had all got married. I could not find a job and there was nothing
to do. I quit drinking and there was less to do. I talked to the
recruiting people and the Army recruiter told me there was a bill in
process that would permit them to give equivalent rank and if I joined I
would not have to take basic training and would be given staff sergeant
status as soon as the President signed the bill. I decided to go for it.

	I  Joined the Air Corps branch of the U.S. Army and was sent to
Wichita Falls, Texas. It developed that it was a basic training camp and
I would have to take basic training after all. It also developed that
the President did sign the bill the recruiter told me about but it was
not retroactive and therefore did not apply to me as I joined two days
before he signed it into law. I always felt I got the shaft but several
people have told me it is the breaks and I had nothing to complain
about. The end result is that I was told I would receive 16 weeks of
basic training.

	I felt like I ought to know my way around the service by now so
I started checking for problem areas and learned that company commanders
were concerned about property as the service had cracked down and the
commanders were responsible for all property, including the buildings in
their companies. My company had many shortages and many damaged
buildings. The commander was worried about it.

	I went to the commander and told him I could take care of all
his shortages and if he would put me in supply and carry me on the books
as receiving basic training I would guarantee he would have no shortages
at the end of my 16 weeks there. He agreed, and I did not receive a day
of basic training. I was rated, however, as outstanding.

	I found that the techniques I had used in the CCC worked in the
Army. It was a matter of getting to know people and being willing to
take a few chances. I had expected to be a staff sergeant and was a
private instead so I could not see how I had much to lose. I did a
complete inventory and found out what the shortages were and was
surprised to find there were some significant overages. I did a lot of
trading with other companies and made a real dent in the shortages in
record time.

	There were no shortages by the time basic training had been
completed. I had even managed to get damages to buildings repaired.
Everything was in good order. The commander had kept his end of the
bargain by giving me credit for basic training, with excellent ratings.
I looked forward to getting out of there and started checking the
bulletin board frequently for shipping orders. My name finally appeared
on the bulletin board but I was going nowhere. Based on my excellent
marks in basic, I had been selected for advanced basic, a six week
course. I was reassigned to another company and my commander had a talk
with the new commander and soon I was making up shortages in another
company while being given credit for advanced basic. I insisted on
marginal ratings.

	When I completed my basic training I was given a medical
examination and the doctor found I had a hernia. Two days later I
received surgery. The doctor gave me a spinal and adjusted a ceiling
mirror so I could watch. It was very interesting. They took me to a bay
and in an hour the feeling returned and I got up and shaved. The doctor
came in and was really upset and made me go back to bed. He left and I
got up and walked around the ward talking to other patients. Some of
them had the same surgery I did and were still in bed after three weeks
had passed. The nurse made me go back to bed but as soon as she left I
was up again. The doctor came back and she talked to him. He came over
and asked me if I was going to stay in bed and I told him I was not. He
talked to the nurse and after he left she told me I was on K.P. duty and
would serve breakfast to everyone in the ward the next morning. Most of
those guys stayed in bed four weeks and I was working the next day.

	I was selected to attend airborne radar school in Boca Raton,
Florida and finally got out of Texas. I would get Observer wings but
actually be an airborne radar operator in the Air Sea Rescue Service.
	
	I was given a long recuperation leave that I really did not
need. I had known Bennie Andrus pretty well in Galveston. I called her
and talked to her about coming out for a visit and she said to come on
out. I took off to Galveston. When I got there we talked awhile and
decided we would have a week-long party and then get married. We invited
a lot of people to help us celebrate. Bennie invited a sergeant from
Fort Crockett and he had a cousin in Houston and got our approval to
invite her. Don't ask me how marriage came up. We were not in love.

	The cousin arrived from Houston and I will just call her Billie
Jo. When Billie Jo walked in and I looked at her, I knew I was in for
some trouble. She was actually around 35 years old but could easily pass
for 16. She was a beautiful woman and I mean really beautiful. We sat
around and talked awhile and Bennie decided she wanted to go bowling at
Fort Crockett. I told her I did not bowl and Billie Jo said she didn't
either. It was decided that Billie Jo and I would go to a family bar
near the house and Bennie and the Sergeant would go bowl and join us at
the bar.

	Billie Jo and I went to the bar and had a couple of beers and
then kissed. We were kissing again when Bennie and the Sergeant got
there and Bennie was pretty miffed about it. I told her we were just
killing time. We had a few more beers and went back to the house. Billy
Jo was staying there and we talked about me coming to her room but
decided we had better not. I got up early the next morning and Billie Jo
was taking a shower. When she came out of the bathroom she told me she
was going back to Houston and asked me if I wanted to come with her. I
packed a few things and we left.

	When we got to Houston we checked in at the Rice Hotel and spent
the day and the night there. The next morning we went to her house. She
had two children. I stayed there about a week. Bennie called and it was
just my luck that I answered the phone and she recognized my voice. She
asked me if I was coming back to Galveston and I told her I probably
would in a few days. The next day Billie Jo and I were talking and she
said she needed to warn me about her former husband. She said he was
still very jealous and had killed two of her boy friends. He had walked
up to the last one and handed him a knife and then shot him and claimed
self defense. I got up real early the next morning and went back to
Galveston.

	When I got back to Galveston Bennie asked me if I still wanted
to get married and I told her it really made no difference to me and if
she wanted to we would and if not, we wouldn't. She said she thought
maybe I should just pack and leave so I packed and left.

	Bennie was a really nice person and I regret what I did to her.
Her first husband was an enlisted man in the Army and was selected for
Officer's Candidate School. Bennie supported him all the way and when he
graduated she bought him several uniforms. After a few days he told her
she was fine for an enlisted man's wife but he deserved better for an
Officer's Lady and he wanted a divorce. She gave it to him with no
strings attached. Bennie was closely related to Slinging Sammy Baugh, a
well known professional football quarterback. She later married a man
who appreciated her and I was happy for her.

	This could have been the beginning of a successful and rewarding
career if I had the right attitude but I must admit my attitude was
really bad. I don't know why I have always felt it was my job to save my
immediate world from the local villains. I could have saved myself a lot
of grief by just being one of the oppressed and letting it go at that.
Circumstances have sometimes led me into a situation. That is what
happened at Boca Raton.

	The school was twelve weeks in duration and before it even
started, I was called to the Public Information Office (PIO). The PIO
wanted a series of twelve articles written for the Fort Lauderdale,
Florida newspaper and it was preferred they be written by a native
Floridian. The PIO had checked and I was the only student in the course
born in Florida. I was to give him an article every Monday morning
covering the events of the previous week. We discussed content and I was
told to write anything I wanted to and the PIO would edit it and remove
anything contrary to regulations or local policy.

	I gave the PIO my first article and he read it and said it was
great and he was not going to edit a word of my stuff. Maybe I should
have known he was referring to all future articles but I assumed he was
referring to just that one single article. I continued to write on the
assumption that he would remove anything offensive.

	The Base Commander was Colonel R. Beam. The base, as I remember
it, was long and fairly narrow and a bus service was required to get
around the base. There were many bus stops, each with a roof and
benches. Colonel Beam observed some men standing under one shelter and
not sitting down and had the benches removed from all bus stops. He then
saw some men standing in the sun instead of under a roof and had the
roof of every bus stop removed. The Colonel then saw some men walking
and discontinued the bus service. I reported this chain of events in my
weekly articles, along with my personal opinion of Col Beam as a
Commander.

	The Officer in charge of the school was named Dan and was
disliked by students and fellow officers as well. He was called
Dangerous Dan by everyone, behind his back. I openly referred to him as
Dangerous Dan. I reported many of his stupid and insipid remarks and
gave my interpretation of them. I came down on him pretty heavy with my
pen. In addition, I was reporting on the lack of quality of the food,
referring to it as slop and several less flattering terms. I reported on
the poor condition of the planes we were using for our training
missions, and the fact that one Major refused to fly in them and
frequently resulted in us going on training missions without an
instructor. In short, if it was unflattering, I reported it in blunt and
brutal language. I suppose I was at war with the Army Air Force.

	I had seven articles published when Colonel Beam sent for me. He
was very sarcastic, asking if the chair he told me to sit in was
comfortable enough or if I preferred his chair. I got up to try his
chair and he told me to sit down and shut up. I threw my cap on his desk
and sat down. He then read aloud, very slowly, and with great emphasis,
all seven articles I had written. I had not seen any of them after I
gave them to the PIO, but I soon realized all were exactly as I had
written them, with not a single word changed. I later learned that the
PIO was leaving the Army for a job with the Associated Press and had
decided to have some fun before he left. Unfortunately, the fun was as
much at my expense as that of the Army.

	When he finished, Colonel Beam looked at me and said, "Explain,
please." I told him I had been instructed to write whatever I wanted to
and the PIO would edit in accordance with policy. He said that would not
cut it so I just told him it was all factual and if changes were needed,
they should be changes in the attitude of him and his staff, not in how
I perceived what they were doing. I told him that in my opinion, he and
his staff were immature, inconsiderate and unconcerned.

	Colonel Beam told me that he would reduce me from PFC to Private
if I was worth the cost of the paper work. I told him to check into the
cost and if it was not too bad I would pay for it. He told me to get the
hell out of his office. I started out and he asked me if I had forgotten
something. I went back and got my cap off his desk and he said that was
not what he meant. I knew he meant I should salute him but I pretended
ignorance and said, "Oh, the remaining five articles? I will continue to
turn in one each week." He said to just get the hell out.

	The PIO was leaving when I stopped by and told him what had
happened and he said, "Good stuff for the next article, give him good
coverage." He said he was sorry he got me into it. I continued to drop
off an article a week in the PIO office but of course no more were
printed.

	The airborne training was particularly bad. We flew in C-47's
and B-26 bombers. When we got in the air we had to crank a radar unit
down below the plane. We then used the radar to plot a course and give
the pilot headings. The planes were in terrible condition and we
frequently listened to the ground crew telling the pilot what all the
known defects were. Parts and mechanics were in short supply. In
addition, pilots were required to fly four hours and make three landings
every month to retain flight pay. It was not unusual for up to seven
pilots to fly with us and for each one to shoot three landings. The
training flight was half over by the time this was done. Training
flights were supposed to be five hours but several times a Colonel would
insist he only needed four hours to qualify and insist on cutting the
flight short. The pilots were rusty and frequently missed the runway
when shooting landings.

	Our final examination was to navigate the plane from Boca Raton
to Jacksonville, Florida, then to Havana, Cuba and back to Boca Raton.
We were asked where we wanted to be assigned and I asked for McChord
Field in the state of Washington. I was assigned to West Palm Beach,
Florida, just a few miles away. I am certain Colonel Beam arranged that
for me.

	There was nothing to do at West Palm Beach as there were no Air
Sea Rescue planes. All I did was sit all day and then go to town and
drink beer. It was plain miserable. Someone finally recognized they did
not need me there and I was asked where I wanted to be assigned. I had
learned something by this time and put down Key West, Florida as first
choice and McChord Field, Washington as last choice. Sure enough, I was
assigned to McChord Field, Washington.

	I had been writing Mae Brucke for four years and although I had
never seen her, we felt we were candidates for marriage. I made the
worst mistake of my life and asked Mae if she would marry me. Mae said
she would and I was given a seventeen day delay in route to McChord
Field. I packed and left for Birmingham, Alabama to get married.

	Let me recap what I have mentioned before. One of my best
friends at Camp Icicle in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was
Charles Brucke. Charles was one of the five (out of 200) boys at the
camp with a high school education and worked in the supply room. He was
later made Supply Sergeant. Charles gave me his sister's address and I
wrote her a letter about once a week while I was in the CCC. We became
good friends. Mae was what I called a good buddy, just a plain old
country girl and certainly not much to look at. I liked her a lot and
she was always ready to cheer me up if I mentioned having a problem or
if she detected I was down in the dumps.
	
	I continued to write to Mae while I was in the Navy and then
when I got in the Army, but I had never met her. When the Army Air Force
decided to send me from West Palm Beach, Florida to McChord Field,
Washington, Mae and I decided I would get a delay in route and meet her
in Birmingham and we would get married. We had still never met and I
guess we just drifted into it from having corresponded so many years. I
still do not understand why we decided to do it.

	I got off the train in Birmingham and Mae was waiting on me. She
was so excited and happy about it that I kept putting off telling her I
did not want to get married. We found a doctor and had blood tests and
he back dated them so we could get a marriage license. I still kept
thinking I would find a way to break it to her that I did not want to
get married. An old man watched us get the license and came over and
asked if we needed a minister. We told him we did and in less than ten
minutes we were in his home "around the corner" and married. I still
could not believe we did it. We stayed in Birmingham that night and the
next day we rode a bus to Jasper and went to her Mother's home.
	Most of the Brucke family members were as nice as Charles and
Mae and it was a pleasure meeting them. I had 14 days delay in route but
after two days in Jasper with Mae I told her that I had to go on to
McChord Field, and left.

	I arrived at McChord Field several days early and was assigned
to an Air Sea Rescue unit. It surprised me that they had planes with
APQ-13 RADAR Units. It would have been more in character for the Army to
have had no radar at all. I was assigned to a crew after taking the
flight examination. It seemed like it would be a good assignment at
McChord if I was not worrying night and day about my marriage. I have
thought all my life that I never loved Mae and wondered why I married
her. Recently I realized that I married her because I loved her. Mae was
a fine girl and woman and I realize now we could have been happy if I
had given the marriage more time.

	A Marine plane with 32 Marines aboard was reported missing and
we were told we were going to search for it when the weather cleared. It
was snowing so hard you could not see two feet ahead of you. The parents
of one of the Marines were very wealthy and influenced their Congressman
and Senator to use their influence to get us in the air without regard
to the weather and flying conditions. Someone came to the barracks to
take us to our plane and we had to hold hands to keep from getting lost
in the snow. I turned around and went back in the barracks. I was not
about to get in a plane with those flying conditions.

	Our plane took off and the pilot got lost and landed in
California. The Marine plane was not found until the snow melted the
following spring. I was sent to the doctor and he disqualified me for
flight duty because I had refused to fly. It did not matter that I was
right and there was nothing that could be done. I was assigned to menial
tasks and it was obvious there was no future for me. Fortunately, about
this time there was a push to reduce personnel and it was announced that
anyone below a certain rating, and married, could apply for and receive
a hardship discharge. I applied and was soon on the way to Alabama
again.

	My Mother and I had a house very close to the courthouse in
Tuscaloosa. I went to Jasper and got Mae and brought her home. I found a
job at B.F. Goodrich, building truck tires. It was third shift work and
very hard work at that. The tires we built were so heavy that when I
first started I could not lift a tire to the overhead conveyor when I
finished building it. The job was tough and then when I got home it was
even tougher because I did not love Mae. The tire plant unionized and
things got even worse. The Union agreed to piece work and standards were
set and I was paid 32 cents per tire and making about eight per shift,
which came out to $2.56 per day. Then my machine broke down and the
foreman said that the Union contract specified I would sweep floors
until the machine was fixed and be paid $1.00 per hour. I had made one
tire when it broke down. I checked my time card the next night and I had
not been paid for the seven hours I spent sweeping floors. The foreman
said that the Union contract specified that my hourly pay would not
begin until the mechanic arrived to fix my machine and he had not
arrived when I left so I had no hourly pay coming. I quit the job when
he told me that. He asked how much notice I was giving and I told him
the same amount of notice they gave me when I swept floors seven hours
free.

	I went to the office the next morning for my final pay and they
said it would be mailed in 30 to 60 days. I picked up a bench and told
them they could write me a check right then or get the office torn apart
with that bench. They wrote me a check. I started working with my Mother
upholstering furniture the next day.

	Mae got pregnant and things drug on. Mae decided she wanted to
go to Jasper and have the baby there where she knew the doctors. She
said it was time for the baby, even though she barely looked pregnant.
We arrived in Jasper on Saturday and went to the clinic across the
street from the hospital. The doctors were listening to an Alabama
football game but checked Mae and laughed and told her to come back in
five or six months. She insisted it was time so a doctor took us to the
hospital and had her admitted and went back to the clinic. The baby was
born between the front desk and her room.

	The baby was perfect in every way and we named him Charles Henry
Bowerman, after Mae's brother. The doctor billed us for delivery but I
refused to pay as a nurse actually delivered the baby and the doctor had
nothing to do with it. He did not push the matter. I went back to
Tuscaloosa.
Mae & Little Charles
Mae & Little Charles

Mae and I never lived together again. I sought and received advice from just about everyone I knew on what to do. I finally decided it was best to get a divorce as soon as possible. The divorce is the only thing I ever did in my life that I am ashamed of. I cannot justify it as Mae was never unfaithful to me, she was a good woman, she had my child, she was a Christian. No matter how I try to rationalize I still understand I did her wrong. She loved me and I did not realize I loved her. She tried to do everything I asked to please me and I discarded her. I will go to hell for that. I know now that I did love Mae. I went to several lawyers and every one of them told me that at that time adultery or being in prison were the only two grounds for divorce. I found one lawyer who said he could do it and turned it over to him and in a few days we were divorced. Mae was awarded custody and child support and I paid her child support for twenty years. Mae is still alive and still living in Jasper. God bless her for taking such good care of our son.
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