My visits to my grandparents’ house in Madison Park in the late '30s were, in a word, exciting. The beach was heard before it was seen for the many family and friend gatherings. The youngsters swam near the shore in a roped area. The raft had a high diving platform with three levels, and it was busy.
At the southern end of the beach, my grandparents had a refreshment stand where throngs of people stood in line to buy burgers and hot dogs. There were picnic tables where people could sit and enjoy their meals.
Johnsons Marina, just east of the area, rented canoes, rowboats, outboards and larger vessels for chartered events. Ice cream and popsicles were sold in separate kiosks and cost a dime.
The dock was where you could partake of the exciting pastime “Penny, Nickel, Dime, get 'em every time!” It was a draw for many onlookers.
It was just too much to absorb to be able to tell my friends in Riverton Heights. School was tolerable at Shoalwater grade school. We learned upper- and lower-case lettering, even writing. Later in my life I worked for a firm where the project engineer asked me to write a paragraph for him — he didn’t know how to print. Yes, writing and printing have become a thing of the past.
The Army had Dad and us traveling, but when we lost him in war exercises, we headed back to Madison Park. There were no rentals to be found, so we lived in my grandparents’ garage, which is still standing. It was confining for sure. After school in the winter, with the already short days, we had to hurry home, socialize a bit before dark, and then it was lights out in case of enemy attack. None of us wanted to take a chance of losing our lives.
We were so sheltered during World War II. The beach changed, and you could feel the difference. First, it was quiet, with most adults and mid-teens having gone to war. Kids still dove for coins, but fewer of them did so. The only effects we saw of the war was when the wounded came to the park on a one-day pass. We asked a couple of guys if they would let us have their empty beer bottles, which we turned in for cash. They said sure and invited us to sit with them as they told about the war. Those stories really came through loud and clear, especially when one of them showed us his shrapnel-riddled side. That kind of thing could be useful today — hearing stories from those who’ve recovered from COVID-19, and maybe that would hit home for some who don’t believe it.
I remember a first officer in the Army, Lt. Hiller, was given battlefield commission. I had done some artwork for him, and I asked if he could tell me about his commission. He poured us some coffee, sat down and looked right at me. He talked about the guys in his unit when he was staff sergeant — he knew them by name. They had covered many miles in Korea and were suddenly under attack. By the fire, he knew they were outnumbered. There was no radio contact, as in no receiving, but maybe sending.
Eventually reinforcements and backup arrived, and here is where his expression changed. His unit had been wiped out — he was made 2nd lieutenant. He mentioned that if I found myself over there to keep my head down. Bottom line, communication was and is key. Later, I was accepted into a communication company and operated that same ARG19-26, which filled the rear of a five-ton truck. Lt. Hiller was in a hilly region, and it was a big problem to have to relay antennas to secure a signal. Much could be learned today by what he went through. All parties have to be fighting the same enemy. No snake oils, just guts and knowledge and a commonality.
Second week of basic training, 36 of us were in barracks and were looking forward to a night in Monterey to enjoy a tequila marathon at the Oasis bar. Hours before our big night, the ol’ man CO commander’s voice comes over the intercom.
“All personnel, put your cars in the motor pool, turn in all bedding, full battlefield uniform. Formation 0-2300 hours.” This was not fitting into our plans in Monterey!
That night we slept on box springs. Next morning after chow, on a bright, sunny 100-degree day, we were to march to the orderly room for shots. Oh joy! They injected cholera, typhus and another one for a chaser. Word was the serum had been kept cold. Little chance of that. Within a couple of hours, 36 of us all had the shakes and headed for the shower, but 36 guys do not fit in a six-man shower. We took turns in there trying to get warm while dealing with all the other side effects.
This was confinement at its best and even got to the point of us laughing and yelling, “I quit! I didn’t sign up for this!” I’m a casualty laying here on hard box springs in shorts and a T-shirt. Can’t remember if it was two days later when the old man yelled, “All units fall out in fatigues 0-600 hours!”
That fallout felt strangely good. We were brought to attention when the ol’ man says, “This company, 84th Combat Engineers Airborne, is exempt from mission!” You could hear that yell all the way to Madison Park.
We still weren’t feeling up to par, but no way would we miss the next tequila marathon, swapping stories, girls dancing, maybe a short fist fight or two.
Like today, when the chills are gone and there is no virus, we too can get back and celebrate in our own way and get on with life — knowing more about life. We’re all in this together! What a neighborhood to be proud of!