Archive for the 1940s Category

HOW I BECAME A PROTESTANT

It would be a great source of regret it any reader were to conclude from the title of this essay, that this is a religious piece. Banish the thought. Quite to the contrary, this vignette is an Army story. When we reach the latter stages of this inquiry, there will be a denouement that will justify the grand title that has been given to this small essay.

The events in question took place in the Summer of 1942 at an ancient United States Army installation called Jefferson Barracks. St. Louisans usually referred to it simply as “The Barracks.” It was located south of St. Louis on the Mississippi River. The fort or barracks was established in ancient times when the West began in Missouri. The Barracks had seen service in the Civil War in this country and in all the conflicts that took place thereafter. When a man enlisted in the Army or was drafted, his place of entry into military service was Jefferson Barracks if his home was in Eastern Missouri and perhaps in Southern Illinois.

The average stay at Jefferson Barracks was on the order of ten days or two weeks. During that time, the Army would be figuring out where the enlistee or draftee would be shipped for basic training. For this reason, there were many permanent party soldiers who were in charge of determining where the new soldier would be sent.

Every soldier at every base, whether new or older, would ask whether the food was acceptable and whether the discipline was within tolerable limits. At Jefferson Barracks, the food was quite good by Army standards. The discipline could be lived with, so Jefferson Barracks was rated a good place to be if you had some time that you owed the U.S. Army.

When you owe the U.S. Army some time, it is called a “hitch.” Merriam Webster calls a hitch a “delimited period of time especially military service.” For the regular Army in peacetime, the standard hitch was three years. That ended not long after December 7, 1941. From that time forward, enlisters and draftees were compelled to serve a hitch “for the duration of hostilities plus six months.” No recruiter ever featured this aspect of military service.

In the Spring of 1942, the U.S. Army told me to go home and wait for the draft when an attempt was made by me to enlist. The reason seemed to be that the Jefferson Barracks staff could arrange their entry procedures to induct the draftees who arrived on a set pattern. Enlistees, on the other hand, had no predictability as to numbers, so draftees were encouraged and enlistees were in the main, discouraged. And this was in a situation where a real war was going on. In any case, my enlistment started in the Summer of 1942.

Now as to the length of the hitch that enlistees were to serve, news belatedly reached our ears that in the First World War, hostilities technically continued from the end of the war in 1918 until a peace treaty was signed in 1922. At that point, presumably the “plus six months” would kick in.

None of us spent a lot of time worrying about the length of the hitch as we assumed something might happen in the meantime or that our death might solve everything.

Now there is one more consideration about entering the Army after December 7, 1941. For all intents and purposes, the Army created a new army for men entering service after the attack on December 7, 1941. It was called the “Army of the United States,” to go with the United States Army. My enlistment started as Private Carr, Army of the United States, or AUS. When my enlistment ended on November 8, 1945, my discharge said Sergeant Carr, AUS, was honorably discharged. All the while, the U.S. Army still existed for men who had not completed their hitch by December 7, 1941. The Army moves in mysterious ways and creation of the AUS seemed to be one of them.

The Army also moves in mysterious ways when it comes to assigning men to jobs. The Army probably in one of the Corps areas or even in Washington says, for example, it needs some more tank drivers or some more artillerymen or some more front line soldiers. So a requisition is then prepared. When a requisition arrives in the field, the soldiers there grab available people and send them to the proper school or, if there is no time for school, to the proper functioning unit. As an example, my close friend Tallis Liacopalus had always worked in eating establishments. So naturally, he became a tank driver. Al Strain, another close friend, who had always worked on cars, became an artilleryman because the requisition had to be filed. Al was available, so he became an artilleryman.

In my case, the Army ignored my years of drafting experience. The sergeant who handled my enlistment, said that my work on cars during my filling station career would be very valuable on airplanes. So after a time, my hitch had to do with being an aerial engineer. That is nice work if you exclude being shot at from time to time.

Well, now that you have been brought up to date on what a hitch might be or what the Army of the United States might comprise, it is time for what the French call the denouement, or the reason for this essay being written.

Before leaving Jefferson Barracks, every soldier had to have dog tags. Dog tags were not the proper name for the identification that is hung around the necks of soldiers. However, in all the time that was spent in the Army, dog tag was always the name given to the two tags worn by soldiers. Their real name is unknown to me.

At Jefferson Barracks, there were three soldiers in a work unit who had a device that stamped out every soldier’s dog tags. One soldier, a sergeant, had a master list with the full name as well as the serial number of the soldier to be dog tagged. My number was 17077613. The first “1” came because of my enlistment. Draftees were given “3” as their first number. The first “7” is because my enlistment came from the Army’s Seventh Corps Area which embraces seven or eight Midwestern states. The “T42-43” entry represents my inoculation against tetanus. The “0” in the left hand corner is my blood type and comes from the Army physical examination. The only missing piece is the religion of the new soldier. In my case, it is shown as a “P”. There were only two other designations available as far as can be determined. A Catholic would have a “C” or someone of the Jewish faith would have a “J” in the lower section of the tag. No one has ever told me how a Hindu or a Buddhist might be shown on his dog tags. My strong inclination is that they would be shown as Protestants. But in any case, the American Army had few Hindu or Buddhist enlistees or draftees.

When the Army had small groups, such as the one stamping dog tags, it is called a “DETAIL.” Merriam Webster calls it another French word. In any case, when the sergeant asked me for my religious preference, he was told that this soldier did not want a religious preference on my dog tags. It was therefore suggested that the space on the dog tags say nothing. The sergeant stood up and said that everyone had to have a “J” or a “C” or a “P” stamped on his dog tags. And the sergeant wanted me to come clean.

There was an attempt by me to explain that no prejudice hovered in my mind about other people stating a religion. My own choice was that there was no preference in my mind and that my desire was to leave that part of the dog tags untouched.

The sergeant of the detail said that my indecision was holding things up but, nonetheless, he would consult with a “higher authority.” Presumably that “higher authority” was a military person, or perhaps it was someone in the deity. It was assumed by me that a U.S. Army Buck Sergeant could make that inquiry of a deity.

While the sergeant was doing his consulting, my mind wandered to the various kinds of Protestants that then existed. There was a whole spectrum of choices. In the most conservative branch of Protestantism, there are the Episcopalians, the Congregationalists and perhaps the Presbyterians and the Lutherans. In those congregations, the preacher is often called a “Doctor.” Talking by the congregants to the preacher is completely unheard of. As a general proposition, the songs in these conservative congregations are often a thin gruel of unsingable hymns.

On the other side of the spectrum were the evangelistic sects – the Southern Baptists, the Pentecostals and the Nazarenes. Often, the preacher might be a layman who wore no robes. Throughout the proceedings, the congregations were encouraged to talk back to the preacher with shouts of “Amen” or “Halleluiah” or even “Now you are telling them.” The hymns in the evangelistic group will stick to your vocal chords. When “Amazing Grace” or “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” are sung, the congregants sing lustily, clap their hands or put their hands in the air.

At this point, the august U.S. Army was demanding that this new soldier identify himself as a Catholic, or a Jew or as a Protestant. In my barely 20 years of existence, there was no occasion for me to become familiar with Jewish religious concepts. Catholic beliefs were equally unclear to me except that it was understood that Catholics ate no meat on Fridays. My only religious exposure came as a youngster when my parents compelled me to attend their evangelical churches. From that experience, it was my conviction that religion was to be avoided whenever possible.

There was no anger on my part at anyone. What was being presented by the Army was a forced compulsory choice. My inclination was to not get involved in any way. The Army was saying that it was necessary to submit to military compulsion. My demurral was not acceptable to the U.S. Army or the Army of the U.S.

Again my thoughts turned to the spectrum of choices offered by U.S. Protestantism. In the conservative camp, it seemed to me to be a case of eating petit fours served with well chilled chardonnay. On the other end of the spectrum, there were the evangelistic sects who strongly favored red meat barbecues washed down with a locally produced beer.

My choice was, “none of the above.”

While all this was going through my mind, the sergeant of the detail hung up the phone and turned to me with an angelic smile on his face. He said, “You, Private Carr, are a Protestant,” which made me believe his conversation with “higher authority” was with someone higher than simply a military person. At that point, the soldier in charge of the stamping machine, put a “P” in it and pressed down. So while by belief in non-belief remained intact, there is no denying that the Army of the United States considered me a full fledged Protestant. My parents would have been proud of the man who stamped the “P.”

My service started 62 years ago and ended 59 years ago. In that time, there has been a chance to consider such frauds and mountebanks as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson or Billy Graham’s son. A good many of this group claimed that they started preaching the Gospel according to Protestant beliefs as child preachers. Perhaps they were pounding the lectern when it was a foot or two out of their reach. Not everyone believes those child preacher stories.

On the other hand, there is a stamp of genuineness to my situation. The Army of the United States, no less, bestowed a “P” on my dog tags after consulting “Higher Authority”. The serenity with which the Sergeant of the stamping detail announced my affiliation with the Protestant faith convinced me that ordinary Protestantism was not to be my ultimate goal. It was to be a no holds barred Protestant preacher in the mold of old Billy Sunday. In that case, even the original Billy Graham would have to concede pre-eminent status to Private Carr of the Army of the United States. Amen.

E. E. CARR
July 1, 2004

~~~
It’s less messy than a baptism, I suppose.
Anyway the part of this that I didn’t previously realize is the bit about hitches lasting “for the duration of hostilities plus six months.” You would just have absolutely no way of knowing when your tour would be done, especially if hostilities weren’t declared officially over for years after the fighting stopped. That could potentially have been a decade-long commitment, depending on how the war went.
I wonder though, why exactly the religion had to be so urgently identified in the same place as name or blood type. If you’re concerned with funeral rites, can’t that be looked up later once the body is out of combat? It seems like you could just as easily keep that in the same database where you’d keep next of kin, phone number, etc. Maybe some soldiers are very nervous that the wrong kind of religious authority would pray for their corpse on the battlefield; this makes sense as there are very little other things out there to be worried about.

TAKE ME OUT TO THE AFRICAN BALL GAME

The title of this essay is a bit misleading because at the time this game took place, Africans played no baseball at all. On the other hand, it is a celebration of a game played by GI’s late in 1944 or 1945 between two clubs whose managers disliked each other with such intensity as to border on hatred.

The game was played on a dusty diamond located on the British airbase at Accra, Ghana. Ghana, at that time, was called the Gold Coast. By the time the game was played, the Americans at this joint British-American base far outnumbered the Brits and, in effect, it was more of an American base than a British base. Nonetheless, we drove on the left-hand side of the road and we were paid in British West African pounds sterling.

Both teams had to make the ball last for the entire game and, if my memory is correct, we were furnished only a choice of two bats. Gloves were hand-me-downs that had to be returned to the Recreation Department at the end of each game. The stands holding the spectators could accommodate about 20 or 30 persons. The benches for each club were strictly nothing more than benches; they had no backs. One was arranged along the third baseline and the other was along the first baseline.

The leaders of the two clubs could not have been more unlike each other. The leader of the “Office Workers” was a man named John Lewis whose forces went to work in the offices of the administration wearing freshly-pressed khakis. The leader of the “Overloaders” was dressed in fatigues and his men did the manual loading of cargo aboard the many airplanes that flew out of Accra to bring supplies to the European front on one hand and to the Japanese front on the other. The head man of the Over Loaders was known as “Red” Sabbatis. Red came from the Boston area and was celebrated because he had once signed a minor league contract with either the Boston Red Sox or the Boston Braves.

Somehow or other, long before I arrived at Accra, there was bad blood between John Lewis and Red Sabbatis. The games between the two clubs were used to express that anger.

John Lewis was an older fellow, probably in his late thirties or early forties. How he ever got into the military is something I do not know. But John was a very straight-laced fellow who argued with umpires and expected to win every argument. I had no animosity toward John Lewis, but on the other hand I had no warm feelings for him. It gave me a degree of pleasure to beat his club.

Red Sabbatis, on the other hand, was a working man’s kind of fellow whom everybody seemed to like. I liked Red quite a bit. I liked Red even though he played shortstop, which was one of the positions that I had often played. All things considered, Red was a natural born leader not only of the ball club but of his Overloaders’ work crew working on the flight line.

The catcher on the Overloaders was a left-handed fellow named Prozak. I never recall hearing him referred to as anything but Pro or Prozak. If he had a first name, it escaped me. Prozak had been a six foot four inch left-handed pitcher and an outfielder and a first baseman in the semi-pro ranks and also had been given a tryout by one of the clubs around the Boston area. Prozak was very close to Red Sabbatis. Prozak caught the pitcher on the Overloaders using a first baseman’s mitt. Unfortunately, catcher was the other position that I normally played. So the options of playing shortstop or catching were denied to me because of the seniority rule and the fact that the manager played one of those positions.

Somewhere along the line, there was a fellow named Shorty who stood probably a little less than five feet tall. Shorty rolled his own cigarettes and appeared to always have a hangover. Shorty attended most of the ball games played at this dusty field and, from what I could gather, he understood baseball quite well.

The third baseman on the Office Workers’ team was a fellow who let you know that his background included wealth and a college education. He wasn’t particularly snooty about all of this, but he seemed to reflect the thought that he was a little bit better than the rest of us. I never knew his name or at least I can’t recall it, so we will refer to him as Van Cleef.

The rest of this cast includes Walter Bednar, a pitcher from Cleveland who was a thoroughly lovable guy. The third member was Eddie Boyce, an infielder from Brooklyn who was a little touchy because he spoke pure Brooklynese. When he addressed two people, for example, he would refer to them as “youse guys.” I liked Eddie Boyce quite well.

As it turned out, Walter Bednar, Eddie Boyce, and myself came to Accra late in the proceedings because we were returning from our Detached Duty in Italy with the Twelfth Air Force.

The Overloaders were an established team when we reported to Accra. The three of us played on another team for a game or two, with which Red Sabbatis made an offer to the three of us, to join the Overloaders. Walter Bednar became the pitcher, Eddie Boyce became the third baseman, and I was required to play second base, a position I thoroughly disliked.

The game was called softball but in point of fact the ball was anything but soft. It was simply a larger version of a baseball. It could be hit for more than three hundred feet and the ball stung if caught without a glove.

Because Accra is only five degrees above the Equator, the sun shines most of the time and the weeds grow all of the time. Games could be played late in the evening. The sun and the rain in the Equatorial Zone provided lots of rain which meant that the vegetation grew at an alarming rate all year long.

That takes us to the field itself. There were tie-downs for each of bases which meant that they were held in place fairly firmly. There was no pitcher’s mound, of course. The field was dusty most of the time except when it rained. The outfield was an interesting piece of work. In right field, a road ran along the edges of the field and on each side of the road were two drainage ditches, perhaps two and a half to three feet deep. Because of the vegetation that grew in those ditches, it was difficult to find out exactly where the ditches were. It was not unusual to see an outfielder back up and slide into the ditch and largely disappear.

In center field, about 350 feet from home plate, was the base morgue. The morgue was associated with the base hospital and there were some center fielders who were wary of the morgue and did not like to chase balls hit in that direction.

In left field, there was an obstruction very much like the wall in Fenway Park in Boston. The base at Accra had a large hospital which was built in a series of separate wings. Most of the wings or wards were about 100 to 125 feet in length and extended from a central structure. In this field at Accra, there was a ward that extended for about 70 feet into fair territory with the remainer of the ward in foul territory. The patients in this ward had no radio or television, of course, so they watched our ball games with great interest. That wing was a place where patients with venereal disease were treated. Soldiers have a wry sense of humor and always referred to the venereal disease wing as the “country club ward.”

Well, that is enough about the circumstances of the game that is under discussion here. Late in the game, John Lewis’s Office Workers had tied the score and had men on first base and on third base. The runner on third base was the disliked Sergeant Van Cleef, the wealthy man. Apparently John Lewis had flashed a signal from his perch on the bench, which he never left, to the runners for a double steal. Walter Bednar fired a fast ball to Prozak and the runners on first base and third base took off. Prozak came up firing to me. His throw had all of the earmarks of a major league fast ball. I caught the ball running in, about chest high, and fired it back to Prozak. With great good fortune, the ball was caught in Prozak’s mitt, six inches above the ground in front of home plate. An instant later, Van Cleef slid in to home plate and was called out because of the fact that Prozak had the ball and Van Cleef slid into it.

I was astonished when John Lewis, an argumentative fellow, did not dispute the call. I was also amazed that Van Cleef simply got up, dusted himself off, and walked to the bench. There was absolutely no argument that he was out and Lewis and Van Cleef accepted that fact. I was greatly surprised that they didn’t dispute the call.

In all of my baseball playing career, my throw to Prozak was probably the hardest I ever threw and certainly it was the most accurate one in my history. When we gathered around the pitcher to discuss the runner on second base, I had thought that Sabbatis and Prozak would praise my throw that saved the run. In point of fact, those two men simply took the point of view that that’s what I was expected to do and they offered no praise whatsoever. Eddie Boyce and Walter Bednar patted my behind and said, “How to go!”

That night in the barracks, Shorty, the guy who looked as though he had a perpetual hangover, was describing the game to three or four other GIs who lived in that barracks with all of us. Shorty contended that the throw from Prozak to me and my throw back to Prozak were the hardest that he had ever seen in his life. And he was full of admiration. When I walked by, Shorty asked me had I seen the game. When I told him that I was the second baseman, Shorty had trouble believing it. Prozak was probably six inches taller than I was and a lot heavier, so he could understand a throw coming from Prozak to me but my return throw was launched by a smaller fellow and Shorty simply could not believe that a man could throw that hard.

But now we come to the moral of this long story. In all of the games played by the Overloaders for the rest of that year, neither Prozak nor Red Sabbatis ever mentioned the throw. I was not dismayed by their failure to comment but I thought that the play on Van Cleef was worthy of attention of some kind. While those two teammates offered no praise whatsoever for the play in question, praise came from a very unexpected source.

In the mess hall, I was eating my dinner out of my mess kit and facing the back of the mess hall. I was distracted when someone tapped me on the shoulder and sat down opposite me. He complimented me on my throw to Prozak. Of all things, it was John Lewis, the Manager of the Office Workers whom the Overloaders genuinely disliked. Lewis sat down to eat his meal, dressed in his usual freshly-pressed khaki uniform, and started to discuss the game. Within a few minutes, along came Van Cleef with his mess kit, and sat down beside me. He touched me on the back and complimented me on throwing him out.

I was never particularly attracted to John Lewis and Van Cleef but I did not hate them as Sabbatis and Prozak did. I thought they were a little “uppity” but I let the matter rest there.

So the moral of this story about an African baseball game is that you never know where praise might come from. Similarly, those who are expected to give praise may not do so. This may not be the most startling revelation, but there it is. From that date forward, I looked at people in a little different light. If John Lewis and Van Cleef were decent men, which they were, then there must be hope for the rest of mankind.

And by the way, my memory tells me that the Overloaders won that game by one run. The men in the “country club” ward were greatly pleased with the outcome of this African ballgame.

E. E. CARR
May 26, 2006
Essay 191
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: I… I don’t have any experiences like this. There seems something so pure about it, I don’t know. The kind that bleeds nostalgia, that I’ve only ever seen in movies. Something that you can only get with a bunch of guys who need a distraction in a place a long way from home. I also think that this essay is actually helped by the dictation style; Pop’s voice comes through incredibly clearly.

Maybe stuff like this is still happening around me, and I’m just so far removed from the sporting world that I don’t see it? Seems likely. I guess it doesn’t help that I’m largely useless in any sport where you have do something that isn’t about running really quickly. Since baseball already has designated hitters sometimes, maybe I should propose the position of designated runner.

ARMY SERIAL NUMBER (ASN) 17077613

If one were inclined to study a map of the United States, he would discover that in the middle Western part, there is a river that flows from the north and winds up in New Orleans. That of course is the mighty Mississippi, which was celebrated in 1927 by Jerome Kern’s production of Showboat. In that stage play, the most moving song is sung by a bass, and is named, “Ol’ Man River”. You may recall his partner Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics about the river are, “he jes keeps rollin’, he keeps on rollin’, rollin’ along.” On its way to New Orleans, the Mississippi passes St. Louis. Further downstream, near the confluence with the Ohio River, comes a town called Cape Girardeau.

Missourians generally refer to that town as “the Cape”. Cape Girardeau enjoyed great prosperity as the West was being settled. In that era, heavy freight was carried on river boats that regularly stopped at the Cape to unload their cargoes for southern Missouri, Arkansas and the West. With the coming of railroads, highways, trains, large trucks and even airplanes, the prosperity of Cape Girardeau tended to diminish. Some freight still moves up and down the Mississippi and there are boats that carry tourists to and from New Orleans that sometimes stop there. But the halcyon days of Cape Girardeau are in the past.

In a few moments, we will return to Cape Girardeau, but for now the discussion turns to the grandchildren of the Chicka-Carr family. There are five grandchildren, all of the male persuasion. Their parents are affluent beyond the wildest dreams of the parents of Judy and myself. Those grandchildren know that college, of course, naturally follows after completion of high school graduation. It is not a question of whether to attend college, it is a matter of which college. Can the parents of those grandchildren handle an Ivy League tuition fee? Of course! My delight is to see how far, educationally, the family has traveled. My father attended on occasion, between crops, a country school where he finished the second reader. He quit school at age 16 or 17. I had no hope whatsoever of attending college but my two daughters are college graduates who married men having the same educational level. My father would be stupefied to learn how far his great grandchildren will go educationally.

Over the years, it has been my intent to remind the grandchildren that there are poor people in the world. Accordingly, for example, at the year’s end, I had dealt with Heifer International in Arkansas which provides farm animals to needy tillers of the soil. On several occasions, we have ordered goats because they are hardy animals who give milk and who will eat almost anything. But one year we gave them a water buffalo, which was described as a mighty animal engine to work on a farm. The whole idea in contributing to this organization, which enabled them to buy the animals and to distribute them, was to remind the grandchildren that there are people in this life who are much less fortunate than they are.

Over the years, the grandchildren have been told that they have contributed toward the purchase of goats and sheep and water buffalos etc. As the year 2007 draws to a close, in consultation with Judy, my wife, a decision was made to replace the farm animals with a product that comes from – don’t be surprised – Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Aside from caring for the less fortunate, it seems to me that there is a corollary responsibility to care for the United States. And so it was decided that the most poignant reminder of that duty might be a replica of my dog tags that I wore during World War II, from 1942 until November of 1945. I wanted the boys to know that patriotism demands sacrifice. And I wanted them to know that our freedom is something to be guarded jealously.

One way or another, Judy with her internet sources soon located a company in the Cape that provided exact replicas of World War II dog tags. I had no idea that a company would be in that sort of business, because the people to whom they would sell the dog tags are either dead now or soon will be. Most of us are well into our 80s or into our 90s. Manufacturing dog tags for people of that age is like manufacturing hub caps for 1947 Chrysler De Sotos or the ill-fated Crosley subcompact cars. A marketing executive would have told you that there either was no market or there will soon be no market. But nonetheless the people in Cape Girardeau were as nice as they could be and they produced exact replicas of the dog tags worn by this old essayist during World War II.

As you will note from the attached letter addressed to each of the recipients, there are two Costa Rican boys who call me their “Grandpa in America” as well as Daniel Commodore, a gentleman from Accra, Ghana. The Hidalgo boys won medals for their excellent play in a soccer match, which they presented to me. Those medals have been framed and hang near my desk where I can touch them. Daniel Commodore says that when I walk toward his work station at the Whole Foods Market here in Millburn, he often thinks of his own father. I am deeply honored and flattered.

And so it is that the dog tags have been distributed to the eight recipients with the fervent desire expressed in the letter that this old soldier hopes that they will never have to wear dog tags of their own. The boys can wear these dog tags or they can put them in the top drawer of a dresser or they may carry them in their pocket. But no matter what they do with them, they should know that this old soldier hopes that they should never have to wear their own dog tags.

If you read the letter written to the boys, you may discover that in 1942, I was a volunteer to serve in the United States Army. Of all the things associated with my service in the American Army, I am most proud of the fact that I volunteered. My parents disliked losing their last son to the Army but in their hearts they knew that it was the honorable thing to do. Some 65 years after my enlistment, I remain pleased to know that I did whatever I could do voluntarily. That takes nothing away, absolutely nothing, from people who were drafted. In my case, however, I felt a need to volunteer.

And so Army Serial Number 17077613 remains in retirement where it may continue to rest in peace forever.

E. E. CARR
December 9, 2007

ATTACHMENT A

Connor Shepherd Andrew Nollmann
Kevin Shepherd Will-yam Nollmann
Jack Shepherd Esteban Hidalgo
Daniel Commodore Fabian Hidalgo
Melissa Hidalgo

Señorita and Gentlemen –
In 1942, when a soldier entered the service of the United States Army, he was issued two identification tags to be worn around the neck at all times. The reason for issuing two such tags was that if a soldier were lost and his body were recovered, one tag was to remain with the body and the second was to be attached to the body bag or to the coffin. When an old soldier explained that rationale to me, I was impressed and realized that this was serious business. Soldiers have no reverence for what the Army has to say, and so it is in this spirit that soldiers universally referred to those identification tags as “dog tags”.

When I was discharged from the American Army in November of 1945, I had completed an enlistment of more than three years with 28 months being spent overseas. I wore my dog tags every step of the way. Recently, Judy found an internet provider who offered replicas of the original dog tags worn in the Second World War. The rubber silencers included here were completely unknown during my service.

And so I am offering you a replica of my dog tags to remind you of a principle or two. The first principle is that you should pay attention to what your parents tell you. But you should always have considerable doubt about what other people have to say. You must question whether it has the ring of truth to it. And secondly, hardly ever believe what you are told by the United States Army. This is eminently true when soldiers such as General Petraeus and General Colin Powell are prostituted by the political establishment.

These dog tags, which I would like to present to you, are authentic replicas of the ones worn by the soldiers in World War II. There is a notch on the corner of the dog tags. Nobody knows why it exists. The rest of the tag reflects my personal data. First comes name and home address. Zip codes came at least thirty years later. The “T43” is to designate that I had a tetanus shot in 1943. The “O” is my blood type and on the other side there is a “P.” When I enlisted, only three choices of religion were offered. There was RC for Roman Catholic, P for Protestant, and J for Jewish. When I told the sergeant in charge that I subscribed to none of the above, he arbitrarily assigned me the designation of “P” because I protested.

My serial number has some significance. The first numeral is one. This designates that I was a volunteer enlistee. Soldiers who were drafted were given “3” as their first numeral. About the only thing that was advantageous was that when pay day came, we volunteers were paid before the draftees.

The second digit, a “7”, indicates that I enlisted giving a middle western address in the United States. The remaining numbers are simply the serial number the Army assigned to me.

When I was finally discharged from the Army in November of 1945, I put the dog tags in a box in my dresser and for sixty some years they have resided there. I thought that this would be an opportunity for me to distribute the dog tags among my grandsons to encourage the principles that I outlined at the beginning. Again, those principles are: question everything that you are told by your elders, except by your parents, and believe almost nothing when it comes from the American Army.

I hope you keep these dog tags for a while, and specifically it is my hope that you never never have to wear military dog tags of your own.

Postscript: The Nollmann and Shepherd young men are our grandchildren. The Hidalgo boys are the children of Costa Rica immigrants. Those boys have adopted me as their “Grandpa in America”. They are the ones who won metals because of their soccer excellence and made a gift of those metals to me. Daniel Commodore comes from Accra, Ghana, and works at the seafood counter in the local Whole Foods Market. He said on one occasion that when I approach his counter, he thinks of his own father. I am honored and flattered. The final fourteen months of my service in the American Army were served in Daniel’s hometown. Now with respect to Señorita Hidalgo, it should be stated that dog tags are a masculine memento which are not proper for a beautiful young child. In place of dog tags, when the time is right, a suitable feminine memento will be offered to Señorita Melissa.
dogtags

Connor’s Commentary: When I received these tags, I remember being interested by Pop’s comment that nobody knew what the notches were for. Consulting the internet, the prevailing theory seems to be that the notch was employed in the use of the “Model 70 ‘Addressograph'” machine, a tool of the WWII-era Medical Department. The tool basically made a rubbing of the dog tag and put it onto paper, and the idea with the notch was, it held the tag in the machine and made sure it wasn’t upside down. For pictures you can check out https://www.armydogtags.com/a_PurposeNotch.php.

I keep Pop’s tags in my apartment, but I am careful never to wear them in case I am hit by a bus or asteroid or something and my remains are identified as Ezra. E. Carr Jr., born 1922, which I imagine would be confusing for the coroner.

IN DEFENSE OF BUTTONS

It is possible but unlikely that there are men and women around the world whose memory is so long that they can remember a time when the existence of zippers was completely unknown. Zippers today appear in a multiplicity of places. They are on our clothes as well as on some of our plastic bags that we put into the refrigerator. They are on our luggage, and there are some foods and medicines that come in what are now called “Ziplock®” bags. Indeed at this point zippers have become ubiquitous throughout Western society.

Needless to say, this was not always the case. Baby boomers and those citizens who are now approaching their sixties will deny that this was ever a zipperless society. To those whose memories are a bit shorter than mine, I suspect that they believe that zippers are timeless devices and were delivered by some celestial beings as part of our heritage. But that is not the case. My memory is that before the 1940s, zippers were unknown to Western civilization. If they existed during World War II, they would have been denied to the general public on the grounds that metal was used to construct zippers. If my experience is any criterion that might be relied upon, it is clear to me that zippers were unknown until near the end of the Second World War. During the roaring twenties and during the great American Depression of the 1930s, America and the rest of the world depended upon buttons. Buttons are not glamorous but in point of fact they get the job done. In clothing, they held things together and prevented public nudity which is a virtue in itself. Even fan dancers relied on buttons. Some sixty years later, during the 1990s, when editorials reminded Bill Clinton, the President of the United States, that he should “keep his zipper shut” would have proved incomprehensible to those of us who endured the tribulations of the twenties and thirties. In passing, it should be observed that in the cases of certain Governors of the great states of New York and New Jersey (Spitzer and McGreevey), perhaps the same advice should be applied.

During the period before the Second World War, buttons appeared everywhere on men’s clothing. There were buttons of course on shirts just as there were buttons also on men’s trousers. The most important part of men’s trousers is the fly. My recollection is that there must have been three or four buttons on men’s flies in addition to the top button which gathered the left and right parts of the pants together. It goes without saying that buttons had a time span before they would come off. At an early age I learned to replace the buttons on my clothing using a large needle and a thick thread called “Coats’s Number 9 Thread” which would guarantee that the buttons would stay around for a while.

In those bygone days, there were men who wore suspenders which were attached to buttons inside or outside the waistband of the trousers. In the front of the pants I believe there were four buttons, two on each side, for the use of suspenders, with one or two buttons at the back side of the trousers. When a man lost a button on his suspenders, it was a very mild embarrassment. Losing a button on the fly of men’s trousers or even two was a major embarrassment. Buttons would come off from ordinary wear and tear and certainly they would come off when the clothes were laundered or cleaned. Before appearing in public, every man would make certain that his buttons were in the proper state of mind. So you can appreciate that my skill with Coats’s number 9 thread and a thimble was well appreciated by the young gentlemen who wore my clothes and walked in my shoes.

As I have said, buttons were ubiquitous. Ed Dady, who served in the United States Navy during World War II, reported that on one of his early uniforms there were 13 buttons on the trousers. You may recall that in the beginning there were 13 states that constituted the United States of America. Whether those 13 buttons commemorated the original states or whether the difficulty in tending to so many buttons was intended to preserve the chastity of American sailors is not for this essay to contemplate. Sailor man Dady was a good man with the needle, as a needlepoint plaque that hangs on my wall will attest. Perhaps Ed Dady and Ed Carr should have stuck to their sewing instead of going to work for the Bell system. In my own case, after I joined the United States Army, which was a zipperless society until sometime after I left the service, I found that military laundries do not repair the buttons that are torn loose during the washing process. And so, in view of this situation, I kept a supply of buttons, Coats’s number 9 thread, a thimble, and a big needle on hand to repair the wounds inflicted on my clothes by the Army’s laundries.

At the end of 1944, I was very fortunate in being chosen as the Crew Chief to bring back the oldest C-47 (DC-3) in Europe to its maker in San Bernardino, California. This happened in Naples, Italy. The plane was flown from Naples southward into the large American-British base at Accra in what is now called Ghana. When I presented my travel orders to the Quartermaster there, they issued me a piece of luggage called the B-4 bag. This was a marvelous piece of luggage with zippers fore and aft as well as inside and outside. I retained this B-4 bag even after the war because it could carry suits and uniforms for days on end without mussing them.

At that point, I had been told that I would no longer be needed in the combat zone and that I could return to my original Air Transport Command unit in Accra, Ghana. On my return trip to Accra, I managed to squeeze eight bottles of Budweiser into the side pockets of the aforementioned bag, which made me very popular with my friends in Accra.

My research for this little essay included an inquiry into women’s dresses, about which I know very little. I consulted with a gentle lady, Hana Fischer Davis, who originally comes from Holomóc (phonetically Olomotz), Czechoslovakia. Hana reports that in the pre-war period that we have under discussion here, women’s dresses had no zippers. They relied entirely upon buttons. I tried to be as polite as possible when I inquired about dresses that had buttons down the back. Hana led me to believe that sometimes those buttons could be buttoned before the dress was donned but on other occasions, if it was impossible to reach the buttons, a friend – preferably a female friend – could do the honors.

Now before this essay is completed, it is important for your old essayist to state that he believes that zippers are a great boon to civilization throughout the world. I am fond of zippers but my fondness for zippers does not bar me from having a great liking for the existence of buttons. From time to time, zippers get off the track, which causes enormous consternation. But buttons are always there, and they present no great impediment when they fall off.

There is one further thought here having to do with the zippers on men’s trousers. When men’s trousers incorporated zippers, they included also on the waistband a button. The zipper could be pulled up and the button could be buttoned and the belt could be fastened and everything would be right with the world. In recent years, however, the top button has been replaced at the waistband by hooking devices. In many cases during the manufacturing process, the hooking device becomes squashed, making it nearly impossible to fasten the waistband. I suppose that trouser manufacturers are intent upon saving every fraction of a cent from eliminating buttons in favor of the hooking devices. But it appears that those devices will be with us and I suspect that we will have to live with them.

Now as I have said, I have no debate with the existence of zippers. On the other hand, I wish to point out that buttons have their merits as well. I suppose that if Bill Clinton were told to keep his buttons buttoned, it would not have the panache of the headline which told the former President about keeping his zipper locked up. But that is of small moment. I have a fondness for buttons and Coats’s number 9 thread. A man who thinks highly of buttons and Coats’s number 9 thread can’t be all wrong. I rejoice in the fact that in this essay I have come to the defense of buttons. That seems to me a holy and patriotic endeavor.

Finally, there is one other thought to be offered in defense of buttons. As far as I know, every man’s suit coat has four buttons on each sleeve, slightly above where the sleeve comes to an end. Curiously, there are no button holes to go with these buttons. Therefore, scholars such as myself must conclude that these buttons are sewn on the sleeve for the purpose of decoration and the enjoyment of the owner of the coat. These sleeve buttons, as useless as they are, may attest to the defense of buttons as a general proposition. If that is the case, then they are welcome to this space in the essay that is being presented to you on this occasion.

E. E. CARR
April 23, 2008
Essay 310
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: A little time on Google reveals that allegedly, men’s sleeves were fitted with buttons to prevent people from wiping their noses with them. In a more extreme take on a similar idea, another article alleged that Fredrick the Great of Prussia insisted upon the buttons to keep his soldiers looking prim on the battlefield, and preventing them from wiping gore and sweat off their faces with their sleeves. Apparently nobody in these scenarios would think to simply use the other side of the sleeve. Who knows.

In other news, sewing a button back onto a coat is about the only thing I can do with a needle and thread. When I was younger, I learned a stitch called the “whip stitch” which is a very basic way of fastening two things together, and which is used for precisely nothing because it looks terrible. But I bet I could still do that.

TO GIVE ONE BIG FAT RAT’S ASS

Over the years I have been a big consumer of sports news.  Specifically, I have followed the fortunes of the New York Mets and before that the St. Louis Cardinals.  When the fall and the winter came, I followed some of the St. Louis college teams but after the war, I was much interested in a hockey club named the St. Louis Flyers.  As a matter of interest, you may like to know that the nickname for the St. Louis University college team was called the “Billikens.”  I wish I could tell you what in the world a “billiken” is.  But that is beyond my comprehension at this point.  Besides it was the name of college teams and I did not progress to that level of education so it is no wonder that I do not know what a “billiken” might be.

But those musings are behind us now.  In recent days the headlines involved pro-football.  Apparently there is an income of something like $9 billion to split up and the owners were in a dispute with the players.  A week or so ago the owners and the players reached an agreement and we were assured that the pro-football season would take place.  I imagine that sports fans who are nuts about football heaved an immense sigh of relief.  But that sigh of release did not involve a contribution by myself.

For several years I have maintained the attitude that I would not give a fat rat’s ass to the pro-football coffers.  I don’t go to the games and I rarely read what the results are.  I do not follow their fortunes on the radio because none of the names make sense to me anymore.

Now I find that the New York Jets have hired an ex-convict to be their wide receiver.  His name is Plaxico Burress.  Plaxico embodies what has caused much of my disinterest in pro-football.  Plaxico is a big man, over 6 feet 5.  He is 33 years old, yet more than one team has sought him out after his prison term was finished.  That is because he is mean and he can dominate most defensive backs.

Now, apart from wide receivers such as Plaxico, I find that in recent years a lineman who weighs less than 285 pounds is sent to put on some more pounds.  I suppose my disinterest in the fortunes of pro-football started with an incident shortly after my arrival overseas in January, 1943.  After about four weeks on the troop ship, we landed at the port of Dakar in Senegal.  You may recall one of my essays in which I said that the captain tooted the horn so loud that every spy in the neighborhood came running to the port to question us about where we had come from.  The spies concluded that we had left from an eastern port of the United States and their pronunciations of Boston, Charleston, and so forth were of great interest to me.  But among the GI troops I believe that on no occasion did any American soldiers reveal where we had come from.  Actually the port that we left was Charleston in South Carolina.

In any case, after our arrival, we were gathered into groups and taken to an American facility north of Dakar called Rufisque.  There was a little time to kill and it was decided that we should play a bit of football.  Miraculous as it may seem, one of our troops had a football.  He was automatically the quarterback.  I was assigned as a lineman, weighing about 150 pounds.  Opposite me was a former standout with the Chicago Bears named Coddington.  The dirt on which we played was red sand and it blew very easily.  I learned a good bit about that dirt because Coddington rubbed my face in it for all of the game.  So I guess my views on professional football are biased.  And if you asked me, I would say, “Damn right, they are biased!”

As the time has gone by, the players have become bigger and taller and meaner.  And the fans, of which there are millions, demand rough play.  As you can imagine, when two 250-pound people running at full speed collide with each other, the only word is mayhem.  But that is the essence of pro-football.  And the coaches demand that their players outmuscle and outwork the opposing teams.  Pro-football is not a finesse sport.  It is a sport where might makes right.  And the collisions result in concussions.  The inevitable result of concussions is damage to the brain resulting in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  I cannot be happy with a sport that produces concussions, dementia and Alzheimers.  And so it is that I do not give a fat rat’s ass for what will take place this fall ending in February with the Super Bowl.

I deeply regret that come October or early November the baseball season will end.  Baseball has room for finesse and its players are graceful.  Football players on the other hand are crude.  Plaxico Burress set the example of all that I find repulsive about pro-football.

I used to be a great hockey fan, primarily of the St. Louis Flyers, then later of the Chicago Black Hawks.  Hockey players these days practice being as mean as possible and the fans seem to enjoy fistfights.  In point of truth, pro-football fans and hockey fans are much like the Romans who fed human beings to wild animals in the coliseum.  Pro-football fans want mayhem as do the hockey fans.  And the pro-football coaches as well as the hockey coaches demand mayhem from their players.  Only now in 2011 are the governing bodies of pro-football looking into the fact that repeated concussions produce Alzheimer’s and dementia.  I can only tell you that when two 250-pound people run at each other and collide, there is going to be a concussion or two.  But until now, every year the authorities of football have elected to ignore this evidence.  The fact that a pro-football career averages only three and a half years ought to tell the authorities something.

But youngsters still aspire to make their college teams, which are the breeding ground for the pro-football players.  It is of some significance that pro-football conducts a draft of college players.  This is a remnant from the experience of operating a minor league system.  The colleges provide that service.  But when a youngster becomes a star in college, he can look forward to a career of – on the average – about three and one half  years before he is discarded and new people take his place.

So I hope that by this time you have concluded that your Uncle Ezra will be working on essays and reading – hearing – books.  I am old enough and big enough that any taunts that I am a softie will have no effect upon me.  So I say that when hockey and football scores are announced, I must say that I won’t give a fat rat’s ass for any of the results at the end of the schedule.

 

E. E. CARR

August 4, 2011

Essay 582

~~

Kevin’s commentary: Usually with this commentary I try to add insight or at least find a point of contention, but here there simply is none. I have never and will never understand professional sports, I don’t think. The only thing remotely resembling a sport that I “follow” is a competitive video game called Starcraft that I suspect 99% of the population would not consider to be a sport in the slightest. But it is pure competition and skill and to my knowledge nobody has sustained any concussions while, say, micromanaging a flock of mualisks.

ESCORTS VS. PLAIN OLD PROSTITUTION (POP)

I do not intend to claim great expertise in the field of escorts or in the field of plain old prostitution.  What brings all of this to mind is an incident earlier in April of this year wherein some Secret Service agents had a soiree in Cartagena, Colombia and then invited the women to their hotel rooms, where I suppose some sort of sexual activity took place.  There was a messy altercation when one Secret Service agent offered his prostitute the sum of about $47.  She was highly insulted and claimed that this was the rate for plain old prostitutes and that the Secret Service agent must have known that she was an escort.

She was quite emotional but as best as I can discover through the translation of her Spanish remarks (this incident happened in Colombia), she was enraged because the going rate for an escort was approximately ten times that of a plain old prostitute.

As you will recall, the Director of the Secret Service has gotten into the act and a large number of the agents have been disciplined.  I was vaguely familiar with the difference in price for an escort vs. a plain old prostitute.  It now appears that several Secret Service men will find the end of their career looming, whether the women were escorts or prostitutes.

The Secret Service agents should have talked to me.  I would have told them that a night with a plain old prostitute was not worth jeopardizing their careers.  Now as for escorts, I have no record of intimacy with what they do or what their charges may be.

If you go back to the era around 1940, I do have some experience with three prostitutes.  Those who have followed my career may remember that before I went to work for AT&T, I had an illustrious career as a filling station attendant.  There was an occasion when I was on duty early in the afternoon at the Schroth Mobil gas station in Clayton, Missouri.  Two comely women drove into the filling station with a tire that had been punctured.  I changed the tire and put on the spare and told them at the same time that I would return their patched up tire to them the next day.

They seemed to have a significant amount of interest as I changed their tire.  Very soon I deduced from their conversation that they were prostitutes on their way to work at a location in the theater district of St. Louis.  The following day when they returned to reclaim their tire, the women made it reasonably clear to me that if I imposed no charge on them, they would “take care of” me.  I do not mean this in a sinister way at all.  In short, they were trading sex for my fixing their tire.

I was a young man then of perhaps 18 years.  I explained that my boss, Carl Schroth, would not think well of this proposition.  So in the end I fixed the flat tire and was told by the two prostitutes that if I wanted to be taken care of, they would be on duty at a place of prostitution, a whorehouse, slightly east of Grand Avenue in St. Louis.  I never took the women up on their proposition but instead I went to work for AT&T and then joined the American Army.

The second incident was recorded in an essay written a good many years ago.  On that occasion at the end of the Second World War, I was riding on an ancient bus filled to the gills.  The bus was old and it leaked exhaust fumes.  That three-hundred-mile trip from Memphis to St. Louis was an enjoyable experience because it meant the end of my military career.

As I said, the bus was filled to the gills with passengers and their luggage.  When the passengers were seated, I discovered that there was a woman sitting next to me.  She was anxious to tell me the story of her life.  As I recall it, she came from a farm in Arkansas and had decided that the best way to make “real money” was in prostitution.

It took that bus about six hours to make the trip from Memphis to St. Louis.  This included a stop for rest at a town called Blytheville, Arkansas.  As the young woman was spilling out her story, she said that she could provide sexual favors to me.  She explained that the bus would stop for about 30 minutes in Blytheville, and that she could take care of the sexual business.  My guess is that she had been on the Memphis to St. Louis bus before because she knew of the Blytheville stop.  In any case, I turned her down as politely as possible, explaining that my wife was waiting for me once we reached St. Louis.

That is basically my experience with POP or plain old prostitution.  In St. Louis or on the trip between Memphis and St. Louis, there were no such thing as escorts.  If I had told this then-young woman from the farm in Arkansas about the going rate for escorts, I suppose that she would have established the first escort service in the Mississippi Valley.  But, alas, I knew nothing about escorts at that time.  I suspect that there are a few Secret Service agents who wish that they had been as naïve as old Ezra when it came to escorts and plain old prostitutes.

But now the secret is out.  Escorts can command ten times the rate of a regular prostitute.  I have no idea what escorts do that would make their services so valuable.  It may well be that escorts attempt to get their clients inebriated, which would make them more willing to pay for the escort services.  But as you can see, I am clearly out of the escort vs. plain old prostitute business.

If however a trip came along for me to go to Cartagena, Colombia, I might establish what escorts do to make their services so valuable.   And if I could go back in time and locate the three women with whom I was temporarily associated, I would tell them that the escort services are the way to build a vast fortune.  Ah, but I cannot go back in time.  Those women, like myself, are approaching their 90th year.  All of which brings to mind the lyrics from the opera “Porgy and Bess.”  One song about old age said:

Methuselah lived 900 years.

Methuselah lived 900 years.

But what use is livin’

If no gal will give in

To no man of 900 years?

 

And so I leave you with my experiences with mid-western prostitutes.  This will probably not give you a full-fledged briefing on the subject of prostitution and escorts.  But, boys and girls, it is all I’ve got.  And if you can find a theater company producing “Porgy and Bess,” please go to see that wonderful opera.

 

E. E. CARR

May 3, 2012

 

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Please don’t confuse the acronym for Plain Old Prostitution by the nickname by which I call my grandfather. I could see how this may have been slightly unclear.  Anyway, this is the last one I’ll post tonight; I hope it starts to give some idea of the breath of subjects that these essays will touch on.