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ONCE WE WERE BOYS---.

The mold had been crafted; the die cast. When all the component parts were in their proper
places, the configuration would be pleasing to the Maker. Like earthen clay gouged from a
river bank or white sand gathered at a seaside to make fine glass or pottery, the raw materials had
to be molded and quenched and tempered and glazed. A process much like helpless babes growing
to boys and finally to men, it all has a beginning.
During the formative years, there are the parents, and the schools, and for most, a church or clergy
to enhance values and traditions. Sports may or may not enrich the mixture---the same with music
or ethnic teachings. Finally, at some early and seemingly irrresponsible age, the induction into the
military service will lend values and patriotism to the young persons life---values that will be
instilled so deeply that they will linger througout the young mans entire life.
Christmas morning, 1951, in tiny farm community of Oxnard, California, three young navy men
walked the street. All of the young men were about the same size and looked very handsome in
their bell-bottomed trousers, coats of navy blue. They were assigned to the near-by Naval Schools
of Construction Port Hueneme, California--the Home of the Pacific Seabees. Only recently, all three
of the men had travelled up from the San Diego Recruit Training Center. Their respective schools
that would teach the young Seabees some construction trade, would begin after the first of the
year--after the Christmas Holiday Season.
One of the young men was from the state of Idaho, one was from the heartland of America, the
Tall Corn State of Iowa, and the third was an unusual product of itinerant farm laborer parents---.
This young man's nickname denoted the area of the country he spent most of his time in---the
Great Smokey Mountains, hence Smokey was what his navy buddies called him.
A car pulled up along side the strolling Seabees---the window rolled down and the driver spoke to
them. 'Good Morning Men---I'm Jim Bradson and this is my wife Elenora---would you men like
to come out to our home and have Christmas dinner with our family--we have plenty and you'd be
very welcome'.
It was the season of good cheer, and California families seemed to always treat servicemen
good---hitchhiking men in uniform never had to wait long for a ride. Homes of strangers were a
haven many holidays for homesick military men. The Korean War was blazing on the other side
of the world--everyone had cause to do what they could.
A grand day was spent at the Bradson's home in Oxnard, California---all three of the young
Seabees were invited back on New Years Day to watch the Rose Bowl on the familes new
television and enjoy another meal. Willie from Iowa, Evans from Idaho, and 'Smokey' from
someplace on the east coast.
Later on in the year, when all three of the young men were stationed in the Philippine Islands,
building an airbase, they often recalled that holiday season back in California. Maybe Smokey
remembered the family and event more than the others---well Willie remembered too because Willie
was involved with helping Smokey write letters to the Bradson's oldest daughter---and reading the
ones she wrote to him---it turned out that Smokey could not read or write---he had fallen through
the educational cracks of the American school system. There was not a safety net for itinerant
farm laborers children to get a proper education. Smokey made his mark on naval enlistment papers
that was witnessed by someone who could write. Please read the story titled SMOKEY'S CRACK
by John Wilborn (Willie from Iowa).





low2go
J. Wilborn
Posts: 53
(2/17/01 7:47:41 am)
Reply SMOKEY'S CRACK--.
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SMOKEY’S CRACK

Don’t titles grab your attention--every time you write a story, you have to think of a title.
What if GONE WITH THE WIND would have been FRANKLY MY DEAR, I DONT GIVE A DAMN.
If you think this is going to be one of ‘those kind’ of stories because of the title--well, it isn’t. I
had mentioned to you recently that term of ‘FALLING THROUGH THE CRACKS’---life’s ‘bad
breaks’ for certain people--everything isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be--it’s raining
soup and you gotta fork. As I tell these stories to you, the names of course are changed to
protect the innocent--any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. So it will
be with Smoky--I made that name up--he used to talk a lot about the Great Smoky
Mountains back east--how his ancestors from Scotland had settled there in the days of
Daniel Boone. I could have as well named him Gator or Peaches or Spud or Cherry--the
reason I say that is that Smokey’s family had become migrant farm workers--during the
Great Depression years, their own farm had failed and they had lost their roots. The large
family travelled over the road and spent a lot of time harvesting in Florida for instance, the
Gator handle--or picking peaches in Georgia and cherries in Alabama and potatoes (spuds)
wherever they were grown. Schooling for the children was sparse or even non-existant.
Smoky had less than a second grade education--his numerous brothers and sisters fared little
better, if at all.
I met Smoky first when we had just completed boot camp in San Diego. We had been
herded onto a train for a trip up the California coast--I had been assigned a Navy
Construction School--when I finished school, I would be a Navy Seabee. Smoky was
assigned to the same base but not for school--his assignment was called General Detail. He
would work three months mess cooking and then on to barracks cleanup. Smokey and I got
along good so we stayed in touch those sixteen weeks--myself in school, Smokey cooking
and cleaning. As fortune would have it, we were ultimately ordered to the same Mobile
Construction Battalion. That unit, having just returned from duty in occupied Japan, and in
several months time, due to go to the Philippine Islands. The Korean War was raging and a
mountain needed to be moved to build an air base to serve that area of the Pacific. Near
our California base was a small town of Oxnard--lots of gals and other diversions, however
Hollywood was only 50 miles away so liberty everywhere was outstanding--didn’t need a
car--get out on the highway in uniform and the good folks would pick you up and haul you
pretty much where you wanted to go. More than a few times, invites to their homes for
meals would also be in the offing. I met a family down in Santa Monica (friends to this
day--fifty years later) but Smokey met a family right in Oxnard and began dating their
daughter. I met her a couple of times, but not until a few days before shipping out when our
battalion had a Farewell Dance, did I realize Smokey and Cindy were very serious about
one another. In early June 1952, we boarded a troopship and headed for the
Philippines--twenty two days it took us to reach those lovely islands--rainy season--living in
tents--mud--mud--mud. Smokey had a whole bundle of letters waiting at our first mail
call--all from his true love in Oxnard--the first of many--Cindy wrote every day---sometimes
several times a day. Smokey couldn’t read her letters--he could scarcely read typewritten
words and barely sign his name. Smokey had fallen through the cracks of the American
Public School system. Well, need I tell you who was to become the personal confidant for
Cindy and Smokey. I recall those feminine letters so well--they smelled so good--and Cindy
was very capable of penning long, interesting letters. The first time Smokey approached me
for my assistance--to read Cindy’s letters for him, I was kind of embarrassed--so was Smokey.
Smokey as a good and private person--I realized how it must have made him feel to have to
ask for such a favor. Well, we got acclimated to the strange goings on--about a week after
reading Cindy’s letters to him, he asked for my help to write Cindy--hell, by then the feet was
wet--might as well dive in all the way. The letters began pretty much as ‘HELLO--HOW ARE
YOU--I AM FINE--I HOPE YOU GET THIS LETTER SOON--GOODBY and very reluctantly the
emotional fact of LOVE SMOKEY, was mentioned. I mentioned I had met Cindy--a very
attractive and level headed young lady but after a few returns for responding to Smokey’s
letters, she become quite giddy--plans and happiness and futures together were at the
forefront of their relationship. Smoky would get embarrassed as I would read Cindy’s letter
to him--but he kept bringing them to me. I had been assigned to work on plumbing
installation--Smoky was back mess cooking again--in the evenings he would come over to
my tent and we would share Cindy’s letters. A while later I was sent to work in the
refrigeration shop--right near the mess hall and galley, so I saw Smokey a lot then . We
would write Cindy twice a week--it was no strain, and in fact, I become an active player in
this strange drama--I come to enjoy playing the role. The Navy had an information and
education program (I & E Office) --helped men like Smokey get their GED--in Smokey’s
case, helped him with more basics of reading and writing. Smokey and I had progressed in
our letter writing to Cindy--statements of love and devotion were readily exchanged--plans
on Smokey’s return to stateside were openly discussed--lives being spent together was as
open as the HOW ARE YOU’s used to be. I asked Smokey one time what he wanted to strike
for in the Navy--he told me he wanted to become a welder--a steelworker. At the
refrigeration shop where I worked, were the ice making machines--met a lot of crew leaders
who would come for ice for their water and I would visit with them. One older reservist was
named Lew Pividori out of New Jersey--a master steelworker --a builder of sky scrapers. I
asked Lew if he would consider taking this young man Smokey, when he finished his mess
cooking duties on his crew. Well, the story does have an eventual happy ending--Smokey
had a knack with the welders stingers--he could lay a bead of weld very few could
compare with. His training with the I&E Office did him good also--he had special
abilities--almost a photographic mind and memory. I got to read less and less of Cindy’s
letters to Smokey, however I still had to write his letters for him. Lead pencils were a great
deal more common of writing instrument there in the jungle than ball point pens--I can still
picture Old Smokey, his stubby little lead pencil--blunt on the point, chewing on the end of
his tongue, nose almost down on his paper, diligently practicing his long hand script. It
would come to pass however, that a transition must eventually take place--Smokey would
have to begin writing his own letters to Cindy--Smokey would have never made a good
forger--try as he might, he could not mimic my penmanship, so we devised a story--not a lie
really--maybe a ‘little fib’ for everyone’s benefit. Smokey was to tell Cindy that he had hurt
his writing hand and was having to print with his other hand--it worked and Smokey took
over. Smokey had got off mess cooking and had become one of Lew’s best young
strikers--I would see less and less of him--we stayed in the Philippines that first tour for thirteen
months--shoving that big old Mountain Meritan out into the salty depths of Subic Bay--we
were building a fine air base. When we returned to the states in July 1953--the Korean Truce
had just been signed. The battalion scattered far and wide on military leaves-- I went back
to see my relatives in Iowa--when I retuned to California a month later, we started to
prepare for returning to the Philippines again. I saw Smokey only one more time--this day at
the personnel office, he was preparing to check out of the battalion. In his training and
dealings with the battalion I&E Office, it was noted Smokey was very adept for learing
languages--he was being reassigned to a joint service organization up in Monterey,
California. It was called the Armed Forces Defense Language Institute and that is where
special operatives and interpreters were schooled. It seemed that training someone like
Smoky would be especially easy because not so much would have to be ‘unlearned’. As
Smokey and I visited that day for the last time, it may have seemed awkward at
first--actually it seemed as if Smokey was getting a better break than I--he wasn’t having to
return to the basic-basic existance of jungle living--there may even be a commission in his
future--and his future was to include Cindy--our Cindy--me and Smokey’s Cindy --that giddy
girl who sent those perfumed smelling letters, had agreed to be Smokey’s wife on his
graduation from the language school--I mused if he ever told her about the letter writing. I
asked Smokey how is family was--he thought for a moment like he was running figures
through his head and remarked off--handedly “well, I suppose they are doing the peanuts in
Georgia--no, maybe the tobacco up in Kaintuck”.
Wilborn sends.


high2fly
*Senior Chief Of Staff*
Posts: 1552
(12/26/02 6:43:32 am)
Reply Re: SMOKEY'S CRACK--.
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Cheif, you quys had the respect and admiration that I never saw. I don't know about any of the others from the nam era. I never got so much as a thankyou.

By the way, very strange title.
 
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