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.
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
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.
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
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.
3.2.3 SERVICE / WORLD
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
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
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,
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
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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