3.2 LEARNING EXPERIENCES

 

3.2.1 HIGH SCHOOL

 

I went to Christian Brothers College High School. (CBC). The Christian Brothers had operated a College in the 1920’s but it burned down. When they re-opened as a high school in the late 1930’s, they kept the name “CBC”. In these days of “loose morals” it is refreshing to be able to say that there has been a student pregnancy at CBC in all these years. The fact that it is an “all boys” school had a lot to do with it. It was also a military school. Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, (ROTC). We wore uniforms, did close order drills and studied military tactics. I was never the “warrior” type, but I feel that I benefited from the discipline and structure of it. Being in an all male school was good for learning, (no feminine distractions), but it left some of us ill at ease in the presence of girls. An army officer and non-commissioned officer were assigned to our school. We started out in 1939 with a Colonel and a Master Sergeant, but when the war came along we wound up with a Captain and a Staff Sergeant.

                                                  

      I’m not sure how I wound up there. My parents suggested it, (They knew an older boy who was going there and they liked his poise and attitude.) I checked it out, took a placement test and won a one year partial scholarship, so I decided to go there. Jack Sly decided to go there too. He also checked out St. Louis U. High and seemed to like it but decided on CBC. For years I wondered why. After 60 years, I finally asked him. “Because my dad told me I was going there, that’s why”. About that time Don Heitmeier and his family moved in next to Jack’s house. He was about my age, but a year behind us in school. He became the third member of the “Bel-Nor Bulls”, as we sometimes called ourselves. He also went to CBC.

 

We were taught primarily by “the Brothers”. (The Christian Brothers) They were a religious order of men, not ordained, but practicing many of the same disciplines. (They took a vow of poverty, for instance.) They were an eclectic bunch of characters. Brother Linus, as mentioned earlier, was very intelligent, colorful, person with a great sense of humor, but a strict disciplinarian. He was not above seriously slapping students who misbehaved, though I never heard any repercussions from their parents. He taught Latin and made it bearable. I may be the only person alive who thought learning Latin was worth the effort. (So many European language words have common Latin roots.)

 

Brother Theodore was a dramatic tyrant. He directed the annual dramatic presentation “Purple Patches”. It featured music, dramatic skits, (mostly comic), chorus “girls”, etc. He was dramatic in school, too. He would threaten to tear off his robe and go out in the street and direct traffic for a living. Then there was Mr. Klemm. He coached all major sports. He was called captain Klemm. He was just a civilian but he wore an  army officer’s uniform. He was my track coach. He called me Ott. He would crack a smile that lasted about 1/100th of a second. He tried to teach us to be “good losers” if all goes wrong. Jack Sly’s dad Leo used to say, “It’s one thing to be a good loser, but they don’t have to be perfect at it.

      

We didn’t have a parking lot for students’ cars, partly because we weren’t allowed to drive to school. In those ancient days very few high school students had their own cars even if their parents were rich. We also didn’t have school busses. We caught the Ferguson street car a couple blocks from home, transferred in the Wellston area, (not a nice neighborhood), took the Kirkwood trolley to Clayton Road and walked a couple blocks to school. It took 45 to 60 minutes all together but it wasn’t all bad. We usually got most of our homework studies taken care of “en route”.

 

  I was not much of a “joiner” at school. I loved football but failed to go out for it as a               freshman, and couldn’t make the cut as a junior with no experience. In four years I never missed a home football game, but went to exactly one basketball game. I did “letter” in track, first in the 880 yard run and later in the shot-put. Unlike most high schoolers we didn’t have to decide what we were going to do after graduation. Our choices were what branch of service and whether to enlist or wait to be drafted. It was 1943 and if you were classified 1A, as most of us were, those were your choices. In the summer of 1942 and 1943 I worked at Emerson Electric, who were building aircraft gun turrets. My first job paid 35 cents an hour.

 

As I graduated at age 17, I had a year of freedom and, as I was considering a possible career in aeronautical engineering, I spent the 1943/1944 school year at St Louis U. in a sort of pre-engineering course. I had enlisted in the Army Air Force, as it was known then and was not called up until August 24, 1944.

 

 

I visited the “old school” in April 2003, at our 60th reunion and toured the new facilities due to open in Sept. of the same year. Words like ostentatious, luxurious and excessive fail to describe the campus. At the reunion we estimated that tuition in 1943 was about $230 per year. For the upcoming year it was trimmed down to an even $7000.

 

 

3.2.2 EXPERIENCES

 

By this time in my young life, I had been privileged to see some major events;

 

 I went to the 1933 world’s fair in Chicago. In those days, with travel and communication limited as it was, these fairs were a major means of communication, education and demonstration of a community’s capabilities. I don’t remember much about the fair. (I was only 7). I do remember the train ride with aunt Mary and grandma, and afterwards watching various scenes through a stereo viewer brought home as a souvenir. I do remember a demonstration of an unbreakable hair comb which we bought. It was hammered, twisted and otherwise abused by the “hawker” without breaking. When my 2year old brother got a hold of it, he twisted it once and “snap”, end of comb. We jokingly agree that this was where I met my future wife. She was there, less than a year old, in a stroller, with her grandma. Considering the age difference, we probably didn’t notice each other.

 

I also went to the New York world’s fair in 1940. That was the year of our familiy’s only really big vacation. In fact it was a combined vacation/ business trip for dad. We saw New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Niagara falls. In Philly, I touched the liberty bell and was scolded by a guard. In Washington, I remember dad getting “stuck in a park. The park, like the city is built in a circle, and dad went around a circle three times looking for an exit not marked “no right turn’. He finally had to ask a cop for help. At Niagara, I remember looking up at the falls from the boat “Maid of  the Mist”. We went along a walkway at the bottom. The mist was so heavy we had to take off all our clothes and put on “slickers and hoods”.

 

 In May of 1940 I got to see the Kentucky Derby. I believe it was aunt Mary and the three cousins and their boy friends that took me along. Mary Ellen’s boy friend at that time, Jack Dolan, was a cousin to jockey Carrol Bierman, who rode the winning horse at the previous year’s Derby. It was won by Whirlaway, setting a record time that lasted for 21 years. Afterwards we met some of the jockeys, including Eddie Arcaro, who rode the winner. Next morning they gave me a ribbon that (they said) was from the winner’s bouquet. I’ll never know if it really was, but I displayed it proudly for years.

 

In 1952, I went to the Indy 500. In those days there was no stock car racing, so this was “the big one”. As an engineer I was impressed with the action in the pits and at the ingenuity of the fans in the infield. They were stretched out on blankets oblivious of the race, or in makeshift bleachers on the bed of raised dump trucks. There was an experimental Diesel powered machine which failed miserably. Bill Vukovich led most of the way, but crashed with about 10 miles to go. (he won it the next two years but was killed in a crash in a subsequent “500”. Troy Rutman won the race . It was the last race won by a front-engine powered car. The winning speed was about 130 mph. Pretty paltry by modern standards.

 

In the late 40’s and early 50’s I was privileged to watch several major golf tournaments in St. Louis, including the U S open. Got to walk alongside of and talk to the likes of Sam Snead and Ben Hogan. I also got to see several World Series games over the years. I was lucky to have witnessed some of the great sporting events in this country.

 

This has nothing to do with important and wonderful experiences, but, as April is the month of my birth; For several years running, I spent my birthday incapacitated. I lost my tonsils In April. Then I lost my appendix in April. (I remember this one clearly because my new friend, Jack, visited me in the hospital on my birthday and explained in detail what a beautiful day I was missing out on). The following two years I had ingrown toenails treated in April. After that April returned to normal.

 

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3.2.3 SERVICE / WORLD WAR II

 

I enlisted in the Army Air Force (AAF) in 1943. I was called to active duty, (inducted) Aug. 24, 1994. I spent my first weekend at Jefferson Barracks, Mo. (St Louis), after which I went to Amarillo, TX for basic training. The area is flatter than Wichita. Training was very physical. We were mostly 18 or19 year olds. The old man of the outfit was 24. We were surprised how the old timer kept up with us. The barracks were covered with tarpaper and heated by a couple of pot bellied stoves. It being Summer, that didn’t matter much.  It was so windy that the corners of the barracks were tied down with guy wires. Of course no one had air conditioning at that time. The town didn’t amount to much, but it didn’t matter because we got about one weekend pass in six weeks. We were tested for qualifications for pilot training but I didn’t make it, partly because at that time they didn’t have many openings for pilots, bombardiers, navigators or other officers. There were plenty of openings for gunners. There was a song we sang at that time, (To the tune of “My Bonnie lies over the ocean”);

They promised him wings made of silver

 

They promised us bars made of gold 

 

But now he’s an aerial gunner

 

He’ll die when he’s nineteen years old

 

 Next stop was Fort Meyers Florida. Again with flat sandy soil, tarpaper covered barracks and, (as I recall) pot bellied stoves. At no time did we need heat there. Who would have thought Florida could be flatter than Texas.

 

Gunnery training was sometimes fun for a guy who loved flying. We fired 50 caliber machine guns out of the “waist” window of a war weary B24 bomber. The windows were open to a 200 mile an hour slipstream and there was no insulation in the plane and it was so loud that we couldn’t talk to each other without intercom, even if  we touched our foreheads together.  The planes had finished a tour in Europe and would creak and groan. One day on a return trip the pilot tried to see how slow he could go without stalling. He stalled and we found ourselves floating in mid air in front of an open window. The spent cartridges we had collected and boxed were now scattered on the floor again. I learned about “ zero-g” early on.

 

 The weather in Florida was not friendly. Heat and humidity. I would hang up my freshly washed clothes in the afternoon and they would still be wet in the morning. The people were not friendly. Anywhere else I went it seldom took more than five minutes to hitch a ride. Florida was the only place I couldn’t get picked up. One night we got stuck in the swamp between town and camp for hours and finally caught a bus back to town. Next morning we took the bus to camp. And the mosquitoes in Florida are like no others. You can always tell a Florida mosquito. It has a white spot between it’s eyes, about the size if your fist. ( I stole that story from a comedian called Bob Burns, the Arkansas traveler. He played a sort if a trombone, made of water pipes and other things with a funnel in front .It was called a bazooka. The military bazooka, having a similar profile, was named after it.)

 

After gunnery training I was shipped to Lowry Air Force Base, Denver, Colorado for remote control gunnery training. Denver was a very friendly town of about 250000 people then. The barracks were permanent and well kept. It was invigorating exercising in shirtsleeves in the thin air surrounded by snow-peaked mountains. It was many years later that I realized that Denver is as flat as Wichita. It is a city in the bottom of a “bowl”, surrounded by the mountains, facilitating pollution as the city grew in later years. Mom and Dad got to visit me there that Thanksgiving and a good time was had by all.

 

I learned to operate and maintain the B 29 fire control system, consisting of one or more unmanned turrets, controlled from a remote firing station. After training was completed, while waiting to be shipped to our next destination, we were “chosen” for two weeks of “permanent K P. This consisted of 14 to 16 hours per day sweating over dishes, pots & pans and scrubbing garbage cans. It was the second nastiest job I ever had in the service.

 

Then it was back to good old Florida. This time it was for training as a member of a  B-29 crew, at MacDill Air force base, near Tampa. The B 29 was a “high-tech” machine for it’s time. It had pressurized cabins when commercial planes didn’t. We went to war in air-conditioned comfort complete with ashtrays. We cruised at altitudes above 30000 feet. Commercial planes didn’t do that till jets came along. Once, when a hurricane was headed our way, the planes were flown to safer ground. With it’s long range capability we flew to Grand Island Nebraska. We landed in a 50 mile an hour wind. At that time, Jack Sly was near Lincoln, taking radio training. I had no trouble hitching a ride 90 miles each way to visit him. When we returned we learned that the hurricane winds never exceeded 50 miles per hour at Tampa, though there was heavy damage to Navy planes in the Miami area.

 

From there I got my only furlough, and, as much as I disliked Florida, I found out why it is so popular with winter travelers. I left St. Louis on the way back, in November, in soggy, freezing, icy conditions. When I landed in Tampa the warm sun and green grass were intoxicating. In August 1945 we had completed crew training and were expecting to ship out to the Pacific theater of operation in two weeks or less, when the first bomb hit Hiroshima. (Actually, I would have shipped out sooner but for an accident I had. I was cleaning a .50 cal. machine gun barrel after firing several hundred rounds through it, when it rolled off the table, I tried to grab it, and it burned my hand. While recovering I couldn’t perform the maintenance tests, so as I was reassigned to a later crew.)

 

On August 14, “V-J day”, I happened to be on leave in town, and there was truly dancing in the streets. Although my son Steven thinks the atom bomb was a terrible thing, I tried to convince him that many lives, both American and Japanese, were spared by eliminating the imminent invasion of the Japanese mainland. And most importantly, I might have been one of them.

 

The following ten months, after I was no longer needed, I resented the time waiting to get enough “points” to earn my discharge. I knew it was a necessary evil, but I felt like I was “marking time” and getting older.  For a long time we did nothing. Then I was assigned to permanent guard duty and issued a .45 cal. automatic pistol. This “sidearm” was issued prior to WWI for killing drunken Moros. The .38 cal. pistols used in the Philippines did not have enough “stopping power” to prevent drugged natives from using their machetes on the troops before expiring. The large slug had great stopping power, but only if it hit the target. It had a powerful recoil and was very inaccurate in the hands of a novice. In basic training I did well with the carbine but failed with the pistol. So they gave me one.  Later I got to fire for record again I failed again.

 

Later I was transferred to Almagordo AFB, New Mexico, to help close down the base. The most memorable detail I got was to clean the grease trap at the mess hall. I found out there is something more disgusting than a “ripe” outhouse. This was THE nastiest job I ever had in the service.

 

I was “mustered out” from Fort Sheridan, Ill, (near Chicago), on July 2, 1946. A chilly wind was blowing in from Lake Michigan. It was a “cold day in July” literally when I became a civilian again.

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                    

 

  3.2.4 COLLEGE/SINGLE LIFE

 

   I got home from the army on July 3, 1046. Mary Ellen and Dick’s twins were born three days later. Mary Ellen and Dick were staying with us due to the housing shortage following the war. All these newly united families needed to live somewhere but there were not enough homes to go around. I wanted to go to college to become an aeronautical engineer but I couldn’t find a suitable university anywhere nearby, so I went to Washington U. and took up mechanical engineering. It turned out to be a good choice because there was a broader demand for mechanical “expertise”. The “GI bill” paid my tuition of $520 per year. By the year 2003, the tuition was up to $29,000 per year. The GI bill was the wisest thing our government did in the twentieth century. These were the people who wanted an education and showed their gratitude by leading our country to the post-war productivity and prosperity

   we may never see again.

 

I went to school by streetcar for the first year and a half. I’d been saving for my first car since 1942, but as I got more money, the cost kept going up. For four years during the war there were no new cars built due to the war effort. Finally, I had the money and there was a shortage of cars. The families who couldn’t find housing were competing to find cars. In 1941, a new Chevy cost about  $800. By 1947, when I was “allowed” to buy a new car, a new  1947 Chevrolet club coupe, loaded with extras, (radio, heater and seat covers), cost me $1490.

 

Washington U. was a “city” school, no great school spirit, “amateur” athletes, peopled by a lot of war veterans, some married with children, not into the hazing of freshmen, etc. Jack Sly went to Illinois U., a campus town, big 10 football and other sports, etc. In four years at W U, I went to exactly one football game. ( I was filling in for a guy who had a blind date, but had appendicitis instead.) Meanwhile, I went to Champagne-Urbana to see the Illini two to four times a year. This was good “basic training” for a date. Drive160 miles, watch the game, drink a few beers, (celebrate victory or drown our sorrow), stop for dinner on the way home. This was a good way to test a date’s endurance, sense of humor, patience, etc.

 

Because of my prior credits at St. Louis U, I did not have a “standard” schedule at Washington U for the first two years,  so I didn’t make many friends. In the final two years, when we branched out and specialized, the BSME,( mechanical engineers) became like an extended family. The 50 club, as we called ourselves, consisted of 64 men, half of them married, between the ages of 22 and 39. We kept in touch for several years after that.

 

A word of wisdom about going to college. You don’t go there to accumulate information to solve today’s problems. You go there to learn how to learn so you can solve tomorrow’s problems, which haven’t been invented yet. Professor Kippenhahn, who was my teacher and later a co-worker, said that the world’s fund of knowledge doubles every 10 years. He said that in 1950, so the rate of gain has certainly increased since then. When I graduated there were no transistors, much less microchips. A computer filled a room and required it’s own air conditioning system. A cataract operation required several days recuperation followed by thick glasses. And a credit investigation took weeks, not minutes. When my dad died, I thought his life span, (1898-1974), had seen a greater change in lifestyles than anyone before or since. From kerosene lamps , outhouses and horse drawn wagons to watching a man walk on the moon, live on TV, but I think my generation  has seen greater changes in the way we live. Greater is not necessarily better.

 

Following graduation, I had reached the peak of independence.  I was living with my parents, earning $240 per month, banking every other check, and when I came home from work there was no homework to spoil my evenings. Till love moved in.

 

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