Saturday, December 10, 2016

The US Navy and The Banana Caper. Where There Is A Will, There Is A Way.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The US Navy and The Banana Caper. Where There Is A Will, There Is A Way.

I graduated from Dow Jr. High and enrolled in Sam Houston High School which was downtown and was accepted into the Debating Society and into the School Band.  Previously I played the Cello and Violin, but this time was assigned the Base Viol.  I didn't mind as long as I could participate in the music program. High school was a complete change scholastically, but I applied myself and in short order was making friends and doing well with my studies.  Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond my control, I soon found myself in a pickle.

Houston has its schools assigned by wards, you had to go to the school in the ward where you lived.  Mother was forced to move into a ward that required I go to San Jacinto High School and that meant I had to change schools.  Up to that time, I had never had a problem with social Interaction with my peers. At Dow and Sam Houston, my friends and their families were in the same financial circumstances as I was experiencing. My clothing attire was in keeping with the rest of my peers and my mother saw to it that I was always neat in appearance, although I did have in my prized possession, a pair of black and white wing tip shoes, and a too large hand me down suit given me by my uncle.  I wore the whole get up  for special occasions such as music recitals etc.  Regardless, it was obviously not tailored to me.  But in those depression years, people made do, and I wasn't the only one wearing hand me downs. People, specially the teachers, understood.

San Jacinto High and Sam Houston High were rivals in all things. Students at San Jacinto were saddled with the pejorative term "The Tea Sippers" due mostly to the fact that the school was in a Middle Class ward where the families were much better off financially. This was reflected with students who drove their own cars, and wore seersucker slacks. On special occasions, students shirts had cuff links. I was always neat, but the best I could do for special occasions, was my hand me down suit. I was a site for sore eyes, and I knew it.  But not all students lucky enough to live a high middle income life style are pretentious snobs, and in short order I was included in the "Inner Circle" as one of the guys. As a Sophomore, I befriended one student who was a Senior.  He was in the debating class with me and was  one of the students who drove his own car. As an aside: (He became an extremely successful lawyer in Houston after WWII. If I were to mention his name, you would recognize it immediately because he was nationally known).  But get this picture.  He would invite our small group to pile into his car and go to Prince's Drive In where short skirted car hops would roller skate out to the car with trays that attached to the windows. On the trays would be hamburgers, malted milks and cokes, with abundant potato chips.  At the time, I was working for Western Union after school hours and on weekends, and I always had a few pennies in my pocket, but as was generally the case, not enough. I could go the malt, or the hamburger, but not both.  My friends knew this and quite often I would be the recipient of a treat.  But I could never accept without a sense of guilt or that I was somehow mooching.  It made me uncomfortable to say the least.  I knew it had to change.

On September 3rd. at 4 AM, I was waiting for the Houston Press to release what anyone with any grey cells in their brains, knew that war was coming.  Neville Chamberlain the British Prime Minister with his famous umbrella had just returned from Europe to proclaim that "We Will Have Peace In Our Time."  This, after getting a promise from Adolf Hitler, that he would not invade Poland.  Shortly after, Hitler broke his promise, and we headed rapidly into hostility. The rest is history, but for me, it was a momentous occasion. I  was given 100 of the extras "England Declares War." and off I went to hawk those extras which sold for a dime and which I made four cents from. Four dollars for a kid 16 years old was a lot of money, that and the twelve cents an hour I was paid as a Western Union Messenger Boy kept me in spare change, but not enough to keep up with my "Tea Sipper Friends."  As I said, something had to change, and so I set out to bring that change about.

That summer, I had tried to join the CCC's. (The Civilian Conservation Corp." but I was too skinny and frail to pass the physical. Reflecting on it I now realize how lucky I was they didn't accept me. Those guys in the three C's were given hard work to do. Fighting forest fires among other things comes to mind.  I would not have lived through it for sure. So I gave that up and decided the answer was to enlist in the military, and  I chose the Navy.

I remember talking to the recruiter, a Navy Chief Petty Officer (which later I would become myself), that I was 17 years of age.  He responded that I needed permission from my mother and a statement authenticating my date of birth.  I rushed home, and of course she refused. I remember getting on my knees with my hands clasped in sublimation pleading for her to sign. I cried out to her, and explained how unhappy I found myself to be, and she cried along with me. She had experienced sadness and grief as well and saw I was sincere in my pleas and why I was making them, so I prevailed and she signed the note I had written.

The recruiter showed surprise when I returned in such short order and I now think he never expected to see me again, but he accepted the signed statement, put me on a scale and said that I could not pass the physical because I was too skinny.  For my age and height I had to weigh in at least at 111 pounds, and I only weighed 110.  I asked if he could make an exception, and he said "No Exceptions." He replied "come back in six months and if you weigh 111 pounds you will qualify."  I left the recruiter pondering what to do.  I am absolutely sure now, that he was pulling my leg all along and was just trying to get rid of me. He probably guessed I was not in fact 17 and as for the weight thing, he used that as a ruse to get rid of what I am sure to him, was an annoying kid.

Not far from the recruiting office, there was a farmers market.  I would pass it every day going to and from while attending San Houston High, and would on occasion, buy a single banana. While living in Cuba as a child, bananas were a daily staple, inexpensive and abundant, and I happened to like bananas. I came upon a plan to pull one over on the chief recruiter.  I bought what must have been at least a couple of pounds of bananas and proceeded eating them in short order. It took some time, but I got them all in and promptly returned to the recruiter. The look on his face told me he was surprised to see me, and I said to him, "If I weigh 111 pounds, will you take me?"  He said sure, and when I stepped on the same scale that I had used only a few short hours back, with the same clothing attire and no visible means of cheating on my weight, I weighed in at just over 111 pounds. He looked at me with a bewildered look on him face, smiled and said "You Are In Kid."  

On September 30th. 1941, I was sworn in to the service of the US Navy having pulled off the "The Banana Caper."  To this day, I still like bananas.

Posted by Wallace Johnson MBA at 10:06 PM No comments: Email This Blog. Share to Twitter. Share to Facebook. Share to Pinterest.


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