(editor’s note: You guys asked for it, and here it is. Our story-telling friend Fran has agreed to tell some more stories. He said he’s scouring his place for some old photos. If we get them in time, we’ll post those too. Until then, enjoy Part I of his musings).
I spent seven years in the military woven between three wars, and had lady luck with me all the way… or perhaps the hand of God.
I haven’t the NY experience of you folks’ and all I can do is relate things that have happened to me over a life time. And I’ll send them all to you for the Bonehead society, and feel free to blog them. I’ve nothing to hide or be ashamed of, and some of them seem unbelievable (how I felt when they happened), but true to a fault they are as best my memory serves me. If the folks find it all interesting, then that is gratification enough for me, for I’m actually a happy man, and I read avidly the comings and goings of each of the Bonesters, rookies and old timers as well. I marvel at the breadth of hockey lore and knowledge that they all have and I spend quite a bit of time reading their inputs.
This first one relates to the period right after returning from Chicago in l950, ‘51 following two years at Southern New Haven State College, via the GI Bill of Rights given to all veterans of WWII. A lot of people believe that WWII ended in l945 but that is wrong. The “Period of the Emergency” was not closed out until Dec. 31 of l946, because there were still Japs in the islands who held out, and the die hard Nazis in Europe were still loose under the title of “Werewolves” as they called themselves, and gunning GIs and shooting and lynching Germans who cooperated with the allies, and also ambushing GI’s from the hidden enclaves. Most of them were SS. All photos are copies of the originals. I have no need for them.
A good friend of mine, who I grew up with, went into the 1st Cavalry div. and was sent to Japan with the occupation troops there. Prior to that he’d taught himself to speak and understand Japanese and he was wiz at languages. He spoke it so fluently that he became accepted by the Japanese people whom he came to like and admire…and they accepted him. He got in trouble there with the black market and got himself given a general discharge, (still got GIBill but they’d had no evidence against him.)
I went with him to the railroad station in New Haven where they plied their business. A small stainless diner called the coffee pot was nearby and a phone booth was their office. They were three Italian brothers whom I’ll not name, but they were right out of the Sopranos. I went up to one of them — I’ll call him Jimmy Mattz — told him I was a driver (never had even sat in a semi before this.) He said, “O yeah, well take that unit over there and lemme see ya park it between the other ones there.”
Now I’d been around other guys who operated semis and I saw how they did it, and knew about double clutching and all that, so I hopped into the big beast of an Autocar, and started it up, drove in a big circle, double clutching all the way, and backed up in low gear and while with one foot on the running board, the other on the accelerator but near the brake and slid it right in. He said “not bad, not bad ….but you ain’t no fu’in driver … you look like a college boy to me.” (From that time on all he ever called me was college boy). I told him , yeah I was a college boy, but nobody’s hiring them now, so now I’m a Gypsy. He laughed his butt off and said, “OK kid, here’s the deal. You take a load of spuds from Long Island, deliver them to North Carolina, then dead head to Florida, and Winter Haven, pick up a load of citrus and bring it to the NY market. I pay 100 bucks round trip and 50 bucks a day expenses.” (Now this was back when the minimum wage was about 50 cents an hour. I took it and next day away I went in his brand new Ford tractor. Thus began my life for the better part of that year as a gypsy driver. (You see I’d just spent a year in Chicago in school, and driving taxis for Checker and Yellow Cab Companies. Still got my teamsters union honorable withdrawal card.) So I was confident I could handle anything on wheels. So that’s how it all began.
His parting advice was, “Look, watch how you talk down there among those cousin f’ers, cause you’ll get yourself killed and everything else.”