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Read an Excerpt
A NECESSARY WARRIOR
By ROBERT M. MILLER
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2009 Robert M. Miller
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSan Jose State College: The War Begins
I didn't think I would make it. It was spring 1941 and a quandary possessed me. Should I notify friends and family that I might not graduate? I agonized over the decision and finally decided to sweat it out and see if I could pull it off. I banked on my earlier good performance and the goodwill of my instructors. I did what little I could in the few remaining weeks hung on and hoped for the best. Finally I graduated from Chaffey College, Ontario, California on Friday, June 13, 1941. Several of my instructors gave me passing marks even though my work was inadequate and incomplete.
The whole sorry affair began when I started to work as the assistant manager of the California Theater, February 9, 1941. The California was the "second house" in Ontario, the first being the Granada Theater. The Andersons owned both, a father and only son business team dabbling in real estate and holding the Fox West Coast Theater franchise for the City of Ontario. Arnold, the son, actively managed the theaters although his father kept him on a short tether.
In the early winter of 1941 a friend of mine, the assistant manager at the California, told me that he was leaving and that I might be able to get his job. It paid about double what I earned and seemed an attractive opportunity. I applied and got the job. I performed well and both Andersons seemed pleased with my work. In fact by April 1941 they offered me the position of assistant manager of the Granada when the person holding that job accepted a higher paying manager's position in another city.
By that time I had become more aware of the problems associated with being the de facto manager of a movie theater. The hours were long and late. I worked Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from noon until closing and every night except Tuesday from six P. M. until closure—generally about midnight. I knew this when I started but Arnold assured me that there would be plenty of opportunities for study during the slow time after the box-office closed. These opportunities never materialized. I got further and further behind in my schoolwork and more desperate as the year progressed. At one point I calculated that I had ninety hours of activity committed per week. In the end I just hung on and hoped that my professors would extend a "courtesy grade" to me and allow me to graduate. Fortunately they did. I'm sure that my parents who witnessed the graduation ceremony had no idea of the close squeak I had.
For a brief time I flirted with the idea of staying with my theater job and taking a couple postgraduate courses at Chaffey. After a little reflection I decided that this course of action would only serve to delay my graduation from college. I notified the Andersons of my intention to leave on August 30, 1941 and applied for admission to San Jose State College at San Jose, California.
San Jose State reigned as the premier college of the California State College System. Initially a "Normal" school established to prepare teachers for the public schools of the State; it soon outgrew this mission and converted to a full four-year institution preparing students for service in a wide range of professions. In 1941 its Journalism Department ranked at the top of similar institutions.
On Sunday, August 31, 1941 I bade farewell to Ontario, Chaffey College, the Andersons' theaters and my girl friend Leona Nation. My father picked me up. We stuffed my belongings in the family car and I went home for a couple weeks to be with my family on the ranch at Romoland, California. I had been away from home for virtually two years with only brief and infrequent visits.
Those few weeks at home in the waning summer of 1941 proved idyllic. I had time to relax and enjoy the company of my parents, brothers, sister and my grandfather David Beck without the pressure of a job or deadline to meet.
* * *
Early in September 1941 I readied for my trip to San Jose. My mother persuaded me to take the train to San Jose, even though at roughly five dollars, it cost a couple bucks more than the bus. She said it would be a memorable trip, and so it was. Monday, September 15, 1941 my father drove me to the elegant, new Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. Passengers crowded the terminal and hustle and bustle prevailed, the Daylight, eighteen cars long, hosted nearly four hundred passengers.
The big orange, yellow and black streamlined GS Superpower 2-8-4 steam locomotive whisked us smoothly out of the station at 8:15 AM and through the sprawling suburbs of Los Angeles. Once past the environs of the city, the engineer "poured the coal" to this mighty, last speedster of the steam age and we hurtled along at a cruising velocity approaching eighty miles per hour, still short of its top speed of 120 MPH. I had a window seat to myself on the left side of the train and a spectacular view of the sea shore for more than one hundred miles. Lunch in the dining car at tables sporting white linen tablecloths, heavy silver and crystal cost one dollar. "I'm really living high on the hog," I mused. We stopped at Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Salinas before reaching San Jose. The journey filled all my expectations. I felt good about following my mother's advice.
The Daylight pulled into San Jose about five o'clock in the afternoon. I checked all my baggage except for my new portable typewriter and took the bus to downtown San Jose. To a country boy like me it seemed a large metropolis, although at the time San Jose was in reality a rather modest city. I searched for a hotel. Most of those renting for a dollar a night seemed rather "unsavory" to me and I opted for a somewhat more up-scale hostelry, the Hotel Vendome at a dollar and a half per night
After checking into the hotel I walked the five or six blocks to the college campus. I located the Dean of Men's Office and the Publications Office where I learned of the existence of a college men's board and rooming co-op—Eckert Hall, where I could get board and room for twenty-three dollars a month. After a lengthy walk I located the co-op only to learn that it was full. On the way back to my hotel I got lost and walked many miles before finally reaching the Hotel Vendome—a very tired boy.
In the morning, Tuesday, September 16, 1941 I sought the Dean of Men's office and filled out an application for work and an NYA blank. The NYA, one of President Roosevelt's Depression fighting agencies, provided jobs to impoverished youth at a minimum wage so that they could continue in school. I worked in the program while in high school and for a while at Chaffey College. It proved to be a lifesaver to many youth and me.
The Dean's Office provided me with a list of college approved residences providing board and room and I ventured to find a place to stay. San Jose had a large collection of huge old Victorian houses many of which had been converted to house college students. I picked out half a dozen of the closest and cheapest ones to visit. A little exploration revealed all either filled up, too expensive or otherwise unsatisfactory. Fees ran at least ten dollars a month or more and required a roommate. I finally took a room for seven dollars and fifty cents a month at 322 East San Salvador just a little over one block from the campus.
Sal Russo, a junior music major working his way through school by playing the saxophone in a dance band, signed on as my roommate. We shared a large front upstairs bedroom with a good bed in an old Victorian house. Our "housemother," a plump, white-haired grandmother, lived downstairs. Four additional boys occupied the remaining two up-stairs bedrooms. All six of us shared an old-fashioned bathroom just off the second floor hall.
After finalizing my room arrangements I walked to the Hotel Vendome and took a taxi to my room with my luggage. Then I returned to campus for a class schedule and registration material. I met with my department head, Dwight Bentel and made out a class selection—this time only twelve units: Publications Staff, Photography I and Psychology.
Later I went back downtown to check with the manager of the Fox theaters about a job. His assistant told me to come back Monday afternoon. I then returned to my room and wrote a letter home. I asked my brother Wendell, who, in contrast to me, enjoyed comparative wealth while working on a survey crew, for a loan of fifteen dollars. My school fees totaled five dollars for Photography and one dollar each for Publications and Psychology. The aggregate of all fees and tuition totaled thirty-five dollars a quarter. He loaned me the money, which I later repaid.
Late that night I went to bed a very tired boy but full of hope and a sense of adventure. I remember the night air redolent with the heady fragrance of drying prunes. San Jose lay at the head of the Santa Clara Valley, the premier prune-growing region in the world.
San Jose State College had the look of an Ivy League school about it with walls of ivy-covered brick and stucco. Large trees shaded its walks and grounds. A tall campanile, whose bells tolled the hours and on special occasions its carillons sounded an ancient melody, graced the main building. Forty-two miles of electric railway separated the college from Oakland and fifty-seven miles from San Francisco.
Wednesday, September 17 I sought the Dean's office and secured the names and addresses of possible employers. I interviewed for a nighttime janitor job that paid fifty cents an hour. All the men working there looked like "walking beer kegs." They were anxious for me to work for them but I decided that I would only take the spot "in a pinch." Instead the following day I took a job washing dishes and making sandwiches in the "Little Dutch Pie Shoppe." It paid forty cents an hour and meals during duty hours. I worked 12:00-1:00 P.M. and 5:00-8:30 P.M. five days a week and eight hours on Saturdays and Sundays. On Wednesday mornings I mopped the floors. I labored approximately thirty-eight hours a week for a magnificent wage of a little over fifteen dollars. I judged that I could make it.
On Saturday, September 20, 1941 I took ten hours of tests required of all new students—a long hard day. They consisted of a paper and pencil IQ test, math, reading and achievement exams in science, literature and history. I did quite well scoring in the top decile.
My schedule entailed three courses for twelve units—the minimum for a full time student. I learned my lesson at Chaffey—no more over scheduling for me. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 1:00-2:00 P.M. Photography 1 claimed my time, with Photo Lab on Tuesday and Thursday 8:00-11:00 A.M.; Psychology 55, 11:00-12:00 A.M. Monday-Friday and Publications Staff, 1:00-5:00 P.M. Monday-Friday.
Soon schoolwork and job pushed my nose to the grindstone. The editor detailed me to general reporting on the Spartan Daily, the college newspaper. Shortly, the Drama Department beat and the copy desk, where I edited copy and wrote headlines, expanded my responsibilities. By the end of the first quarter I had been promoted to Copy Editor. All the news copy of every day's edition passed over my desk. Once a week I served as Day Editor, which meant that I put out the paper for that day. At the end of the second quarter I moved up to City Editor. I assigned stories and supervised the reportorial staff. For the following year the department scheduled me for Editor-in-Chief, but the war intervened.
* * * Mrs. Bessemer, a plump, sixtyish matron addicted to flowing flowery dresses and oodles of flamboyant jewelry, ran the Little Dutch Pie Shoppe. God had endowed her with a sharp, quick temper and very definite opinions, which she was wont to express at every opportunity. Her marriage to a man twenty-five her senior had been blessed with one child, now an adult son, who dropped by several times a week for a piece of pie and the gushy affections of his mother. She reserved none of this amour for her husband, a balding, gray-haired man of seventy-nine years known by all as Pop. A taciturn, pipe smoking thirty-year Army veteran, he had served in the Boxer Rebellion in China. He washed dishes when I wasn't at work and cleaned the grill at closing time. She bossed him unmercifully and showed not the slightest bit of affection or concern for his welfare. An outside observer would no doubt think him an itinerant handyman doing some chores for his meals.
Every morning Mrs. Bessemer baked a couple dozen pies but two fortyish southern women did the main cooking. Naomi worked full time and her sister-in-law worked part time and filled in when Naomi had a day off. Both women avoided the proprietress and her temper outbursts and criticisms. They winked at others and me when she commenced throwing things around the kitchen or made unreasonable or unwarranted demands. Fortunately Mrs. Bessemer had a short memory and the stimulus of her pique soon forgotten. All the women detoured a bit out of their way to be nice to grumpy, old Pop. Everyone in the restaurant shared the opinion that our boss treated her husband rather shabbily.
I soon discovered that our "mother superior" ran the restaurant on the cheap. Certain items notably pie and meat entrees were not on the employee's menu. She didn't like me to change the dish wash water frequently: too much soap and hot water consumed. I liked to keep the water hot and sudsy and replenished it when she wasn't nearby. She also saved unused butter and bread from diners' plates and rinsed off salad dressing from large lettuce leaves and garnishes. These were recycled. She consigned the bread to toast and stuffing and the butter to baking and cooking. Jelly went back in the jar. The waitresses, Naomi and I sometimes conspired to foil her. Of course all this was contrary to health and sanitary regulations but none of us ever saw an inspector.
Up front two waitresses manned the restaurant. One, Margaret, a senior at San Jose State College joined the staff a day or so before I arrived and worked about the same hours. She made more money than I made especially with tips. Evelyn, a classic "truck stop waitress:" busty, breezy and flirtatious—the wife of a long distance truck driver often away from home for many days at a time, completed the server crew. She cultivated a wide array of male friends with whom she consorted during her husband's absence. Her familiar style generated a fulsome flow of tips.
Evelyn perfected a neat trick to gain the attention of her male customers. Full breasted, she often wore a bra too skimpy to cope with the task of managing her breasts. They always appeared on the verge of escaping confinement. A deep cleavage greeted her customers—the two top buttons of her blouse seldom attained closure.
She would saunter up to a male customer coffeepot in hand, lean forward and ask: "Would you like some more coffee?"
It must have been a shock to a man seated at the counter reading a newspaper, eating pie and drinking coffee to look up and encounter a gaping blouse and a couple bare breasts. Always sweet and innocent in manner she projected total unawareness of her exposure. Naomi would watch this performance from the kitchen, laugh and shake her head. Mrs. Bessemer never said anything. I'm sure she thought Evelyn brought in business.
Margaret Jarvis, a senior dietitian major at San Jose State worked as the other regular waitress. She was engaged to a man in the Navy, an Industrial Arts major, Art Impink, whom she later married and eventually they had six children. We both got off work at about the same time at night and I usually walked with her the four or five blocks to her apartment, which she shared with five college girls. She gladly accepted my company along this dark and a bit scary route. The path to her apartment necessitated a detour of less than a block for me.
Margaret introduced me to her roommates, all of who were either engaged or had steady boyfriends. This group of girls and their companions soon constituted my major social life. My studies and my work consumed nearly all my waking hours and my almost total lack of discretionary funds severely limited my social life to hot cocoa and cinnamon toast with this group after work at night. I even wrote a little poem to celebrate these occasions.
Excerpted from A NECESSARY WARRIOR by ROBERT M. MILLER Copyright © 2009 by Robert M. Miller. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: San Jose State College: The War Begins....................7
Chapter 2: The National Supply Company....................27
Chapter 3: Fort MacArthur....................35
Chapter 4: Camp Cooke....................41
Chapter 5: Tennessee Maneuvers....................59
Chapter 6: Pine Camp....................97
Chapter 7: Indiantown Gap....................121
Chapter 8: The Athlone Castle....................129
Chapter 9: Great Britain....................139
Chapter 10: Normandy....................175
Chapter 11: Breakout....................191
Chapter 12: Chasing the Wehrmacht....................217
Chapter 13: Probing the Westwall....................235
Chapter 14: Paris, November 1944....................251
Chapter 15: Bloody Hurtgen....................265
Chapter 16: From the Roer to the Rhine....................285
Chapter 17: From the Rhine to the Elbe....................297
Chapter 18: Bleicherode....................313
Chapter 19: Camp San Francisco....................321