Pete

Like most of us, my dad had a best friend. His name was Pete. They grew up together in the neighborhood along Orleans Avenue near City Park. Pete’s folks owned a barroom at the end of Orleans and North St Patrick where Orleans meets Marconi Drive. The building is still there and now occupied by an insurance agency. After the Casteix family decamped from the pharmacy/residence on Bourbon Street (the place where MB tried to launch the squeezin’s from his Cherry Bounce from the attic across Bourbon Street—and failed), they moved to a house on Orleans. This was in the thirties. Since neither MB nor Pete is here to ask, I assume that is when they met.

Both played baseball, and Pete went semi-pro for a while. MB was a semi-pro boxer in the featherweight division. Then came World War II, and MB went to the European Theater of Operations, and Pete went to the Pacific. They reconnected after the war and remained fast friends for the rest of their lives.

Pete was a very interesting fellow. He worked for the Post Office and did contracting jobs on the side. He had a 1957 Chevy BelAir (Sea Foam Green, of course) and a 1957 Chevy former telephone service truck for his contracting jobs. More on that later.

MB and Pete almost never bought anything new. They were “tight” and bought (or scrounged) used and/or fabricated what they needed. MB did buy a new boat, but he had mismatched scrounged motors on the back, and not even the same brand. One was an Evenrude and the other a Johnson. While the stuff they “manufactured” might have been functional, it wasn’t pretty, but “pretty” wasn’t their objective. This was definitely a case of function over form.

Pete helped MB build our “summer house” in Waveland. This was back in the mid-1950s.  In fact, Pete had a bedroom designated as his own in that house. Most of the materials came from a house Pete tore down. They stacked all the salvaged windows onto a trailer to haul them from New Orleans to Waveland, Mississippi. Since it was an “MB and Pete enterprise,” the trailer was homemade (function over form, remember?). It carried stuff well enough, but lacked that final je ne sais quoi—in this case, shocks. In other words, it bounced a lot. Also, notice that I said they “stacked” the windows. They were not stood on end or edge as they should have been but laid flat for traveling. Mistake. After the hour and a half drive over Highway 90 to Waveland with all that trailer bouncing, there was not an unbroken pane of glass left in the windows. They had to re-glaze them all.

MB and Pete did all the electrical wiring in the house themselves (neither was a licensed electrician as we shall see in a moment) and finished the job late in the evening about suppertime. We were staying in my uncle’s house nearby, so they ate supper and returned to the construction job after dark to test their wiring. Yeah, you guessed it. The switch in the kitchen turned on the front bedroom lights. The switch in the bedroom turned on the bathroom lights before it blew all the fuses, throwing them into the pitch black Waveland night. MB tried to walk through the walls between the studs to get to the fuse box and forgot they had put spreaders between the studs that day. One caught him right across the bridge of his nose.

Pete was a consummate scrounger and always looking for some “free prize” in life. Other’s cast-offs might be his diamond-in-the-rough. After a weekend in Waveland, we had to carry our garbage to the dump—no county garbage collection back then. Pete always managed to find some “prize” at the dump, and the standing joke was we always came back with more than we hauled to the dump.

Pete’s garage was a tinker/scrounger’s dream and full of just about anything you could think of that he had accumulated from various scrounging expeditions—like to the Waveland dump. That ’57 Chevy BelAir was in there after he moved up to a newer model. It had a cracked block, and I have no idea why he kept it. He lived on a busy street, and every time he left the garage doors open for any reason, someone would stop and ask about buying that ’57 Chevy. He also kept that ‘57 truck, but it was in the yard. When Pete’s wife passed away in the eighties, he offered both the truck and the car to me. Unfortunately, I had no money to restore them. I managed to get the truck and store it in a garage belonging to my wife’s family. My expectation was one day I would find the resources to restore it. Never did. Sold it. It was a unique truck with that telephone company box on the back instead of a pickup bed and probably more desirable than a regular ’57 pickup. The car went to Pete’s grandson, and I have no idea what happened to it after that.

Pete was someone you just enjoyed being around. He had a great sense of humor and was a perfect partner for MB in their many adventures. Pete passed away some ten years or so before MB. I know he missed him a lot.

NOTE: That image of Pete was in MB’s wartime photo album. It looks like he is wearing a military khaki uniform, so I think this was taken during the war when Pete was overseas, probably in India.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Family History

“Buffalo Woman” is LIVE!

It took a while, but we are finally there. Book 4 of the Catahoula Series, Buffalo Woman, is now live on Amazon. This is the fourth in the series and takes our heroes forward five years to 1872 and the tour of America by Grand Duke Alexei of Russia. Ethan and Angel get sucked into his vortex and head out West to go buffalo hunting and then New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

I have posted excerpts from the book here,  here, and here, and below is another. This one finds Angel demonstrating her skills with the sling to the Grand Duke’s party. Enjoy.

*****

Alexei then remembered Angel’s claim of her prowess with the sling and that he had previously requested a demonstration. “Miss Angelique, you told me you could hit a pigeon at thirty paces with your sling. Would you be so kind as to demonstrate the weapon of King David for us?” That was followed by a few shouts of encouragement I imagine meant to express doubt that she could do what she said.

I looked at her, and she was blushing. “You bragged and now you have to back it up.”

She stepped forward and bowed to the Grand Duke, then turned and did likewise to the gathered crowd. She stepped over to Clayton, and just as he was about to take a sip of whiskey from his tin cup, she snatched it from him. After sniffing its contents in an exaggerated manner, she pinched her nose and tossed the liquid into the fire, which flared with a bright flame burning off the alcohol.

As I watched her antics, I was beginning to think that she was quite the show person. I noticed that Buffalo Bill must have also thought so. He was watching her with arms crossed and a curious expression with half smile upon his lips.

Angel continued her show. She held the cup aloft for all to see, even tossed it into the air and caught it in a most theatrical manner. Holding the cup aloft, she marched over to the woodpile for the campfire and placed it upon the top log in such a manner that the open end of the cup would face her. In the exaggerated manner of an accomplished thespian, she gestured toward her cup target then stepped off thirty long paces as the crowd counted along with her. Everyone was thoroughly enjoying her show.

Very dramatically, she took her coat off and tossed it to me. With yet more drama, she withdrew her sling from her trouser’s pocket and stretched it out and held over her head for all to see that it was only two thongs and a leather piece to hold the projectile. The audience applauded. She then withdrew a .44 caliber lead ball from her pocket and pinched between forefinger and thumb, she held it aloft for her audience to examine.

Alexei stood to the side obviously much amused by her antics, and Cody was very clearly interested in what she was doing.

Angel carefully and deliberately placed the ball into the leather pouch of the sling and went to twirling it. I had watched her use her sling on many occasions, but I had never seen her twirl it the way she did that evening. While still facing the audience, she spun it on her right side, then on her left side, then alternating sides, then overhead. That spinning sling held her audience in its hypnotic grasp. As I said, she wasn’t even facing the target, it being on her left side some thirty paces away. Suddenly, she let out a Rebel yell, spun, and stepped toward the tin cup, letting fly the ball at her target, which promptly disappeared from the woodpile with a satisfying clang. Her audience cheered and applauded. Angel threw up her arms in victory. Cody was applauding enthusiastically while shaking his head in disbelief. Alexei stepped up to Angel and took her hand and held it aloft. She then curtsied like the finest lady-in-waiting in any European court. I reckon then that she had learned something in that expensive finishing school after all.

Buffalo Bill ordered the cup retrieved and brought to him for examination. He found a deep dent almost dead center in the bottom of the cup.

After receiving her accolades, she came over and stood beside me with a broad grin on her lips.

“How did you do that?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Never did it that way before.”

“And you attempted such before an audience?”

She looked up at me with the expression of a child caught in some mischief. “Too much champagne. I think maybe I’m a little drunk.”

*****

And Book 5 is already in the works…

Comments Off on “Buffalo Woman” is LIVE!

Filed under Buffalo Woman, Catahoula Books

Black Talon

I used to be an avid deer hunter but gave it up about 20 years ago. I just sort of burned out, and my interests shifted elsewhere. If you hunt or just like shooting, you have probably accumulated a few firearms. Among them is likely one that is very special to you, one that when you handle it, your mind is flooded with memories, hopefully, good ones. I have such a rifle.

It is a rather strange creature that started out its life just over 100 years ago, in 1917 to be exact. It is a Model 1917 rifle, often referred to as the U. S. Enfield or American Enfield (More on that later). It began life as a military rifle, probably serving with the Army. Its history back beyond 1970, when I came in possession of it, is known to me only through what has been recorded by historians writing about the M1917 in general. When the U.S. entered WWI, the standard infantry rifle was the Model 1903 Springfield, a marvelous product of American gun making. However, upon entering the war, America was woefully short of M1903s, and it would be impossible to increase production fast enough to meet the war needs. But there was a solution. It resided in the form of a rifle Remington Arms had been producing for the British to supplement their shortage of what the Brits called the Mk 1 Short Magazine Lee Enfield, or SMLE (pronounced “Smelly”). They had been working on a replacement rifle in caliber .276 Enfield instead of their then standard .303 caliber when the war started. This rifle was called the Pattern 13 or P13. They quickly canned the idea of changing calibers as impractical with a war cranking up.  With British gun makers pumping out SMLEs as fast as they could and maxed out, they approached American gun manufacturers to make the new rifle but in standard British caliber .303. That stop-gap rifle became the Pattern 14 Enfield or P14.

About the time America entered the war in 1917, the British had finally reached the point that their supply of rifles was meeting demand, and they canceled the remaining orders with American suppliers. This was fortuitous for America. Unable to meet the demand for M1903 rifles for U. S. needs, it was determined that since Remington, Winchester, and Eddystone had all the tooling in place and ready to make rifles, it would be much quicker to simply convert the British P14 from the British .303 caliber to the standard American caliber .30/06, and a new rifle was born, the M1917. Mine is a Winchester. More M1917s served with American Expeditionary Forces in Europe than M1903s.

When the war ended, America reverted back to the M1903 as their primary rifle and relegated the m1917 to war reserve status. It was brought out of reserve status during WWII and issued to some rear area troops, used for training, and loaned to allies. With WWII ended and the American semi-auto M1 Garand rifle developed just before WWII in active service, the U. S. began ridding itself of the surplus M1917 and M1903 rifles. Many of these found their way into the civilian market. The M1917 was particularly liked by gunsmiths to build custom rifles in magnum calibers. The reason it was preferred is that the action was very robust and able to stand the higher pressures of these magnums. My particular Winchester M1917 went through this process and was converted to a sporting rifle with a scope sometime before I acquired it. It was left in .30/06 caliber and retained its original barrel.

I traded for my rifle in 1970 and took it to Alaska with me when I was transferred to King Salmon AFS in 1971. I hunted with it there in the fall of 1972 and took a nice caribou bull. After I was discharged from the Air Force, I hunted whitetail deer with it in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, taking numerous deer. The rifle always shot well even though the barrel’s bore was pitted from the use of corrosive ammo during its military career. Along about 1990, I decided the old girl needed a facelift and had her re-barreled with a brand new barrel. Then I had the whole works Parkerized. Parkerizing is a protective metal finish used by the military on small arms. It is usually a dull greenish-gray or charcoal black finished. Mine was a working rifle and not a safe queen, thus I thought Parkerizing was more appropriate than a high-gloss blue, which would have been prettier. In addition to re-barreling and refinishing, I bought a new stock for her, a nice laminated wood stock, which I shaped to my desires and needs. I chose resin impregnated laminated wood instead of some fancy grade of walnut because it is virtually impervious to weather and warping. I did this for the same reason I chose the Parkerized finish. I finished off the rebuild with a really nice new Burris scope. In effect, I had a brand new rifle, and the only remaining parts of the old was the heart, the action.

It is fairly common for gunners to name their favorite firearms. I had never done that for my 1917 and decided it was time. In testing ammunition loads in my “new” rifle, I discovered she really liked Winchester Black Talons and easily put three shots in a group well under an inch at 100 yards. So, “Black Talon” she became, and I even had a small nameplate made and mounted on the side of the stock.

Black Talon is semi-retired now, but every time I take her out of the safe for a cleaning, my mind is flooded with the memories of the many adventures we shared together.

1 Comment

Filed under Family History, Firearms, Growing Up

The MB Cherry Bounce Cocktail

I said I would be experimenting with the Cherry Bounce in a cocktail. And it came out great. It is quite simple to make if you have some of my Cherry Bounce. What? You don’t have any? Sorry ’bout that.

The cocktail is named after my father and his “famous” Cherry Bounce. He liked to drink Old Fashioneds, so the MB Cherry Bounce Cocktail is based on an Old Fashioned, which, BTW, is the “hot” retro cocktail right now. Mine is a bit different.

Ingredients:

1.5-2 ozs Sazerac Rye Whiskey (Yeah, you can use another, but we designed the Sazerac package.)

2 teaspoons Cherry Bounce (Rye Recipe Version)

2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

2 dashes Orange Bitters

a few cherries from the saved mash from the Cherry Bounce

Stir with ice in an Old Fashioned glass and add a twist of lemon peel. (The lemon peel is a Sazerac Cocktail thing. It adds a bit of tartness to the drink.)

The cherry flavor comes through and goes well with the rye whiskey. I may do some fine tuning, but I think I have a winner.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Family History, Growing Up

Cherry Bounce – Update #3

Some months ago I began an experiment making Cherry Bounce. This was driven by the memory of my father telling stories of making Cherry Bounce when he was a kid. He continued to make it later when I was a child. I don’t recall ever tasting MB’s recipe and, unfortunately, I do not have it to duplicate. So, I was driven to the internet to find something I could use as a guide to making my own. What I found were many different recipes for making Cherry Bounce, some variations of which I used in two previous tests batches. Both came out good and were quite drinkable, but I was just not sure I had achieved “cherry nirvana” yet.

My two previous attempts were quite similar. Both used dried tart cherries (which my wife scoffed at, but that was all I had to work with). One was cooked with Sazerac Rye Whiskey added after, and the other was not cooked and had vodka for the alcohol. After several months stored away “aging” in mason jars, I tasted the two samples. Both were good, but the rye version was much more complex, and the clear winner, in my opinion.

Fresh Bing cherries are now available in the stores, so I decided to try another test with fresh cherries. Most of the “old” recipes called for fresh, tart, wild cherries, and sweet Bings would be a departure—but they were available. We began a third test batch today.

Janis, my spouse and cooking expert, and I reviewed several recipes and made some adjustments we thought might be an improvement. As mentioned, we started out with fresh, sweet, Bing cherries. As in the two previous test batches, I used turbinado sugar rather than refined white sugar. Turbinado has a bit of the raw molasses taste to its flavor and may not add much to the final product, but I like it and well, that’s what I wanted to use. Get over it.

Part of the decision process was how to handle the fresh cherries. I bought a nice cherry pitter from Amazon and pitted all the cherries we used. Since we wanted to save the leftover cherry mash for other uses after we made the Cherry Bounce, I elected to keep the pitted cherries whole rather than chop or just split them. I leaned heavily toward a recipe that called for cooking, reasoning the flavors might be more intense. And since the rye whiskey gave a more complex flavor in my previous tests, I decided to stick with it as the alcohol base.

Cherries pitted in my brand new, fancy-dancy, semi-automatic, cherry pitter, I cooked them down over a low heat with the turbinado sugar and some lemon juice. (The cooked mash tastes absolutely divine!) The Sazerac Rye Whiskey was added to the cooled mash. That has been put away to age.

Now the hard part—waiting!

I will publish the exact recipe once I have determined I have it refined to my satisfaction. Meanwhile, I plan to run another series of tests, using the cherry mash from the original rye test batch and some from this new batch. These tests will be for a new cocktail I have tentatively named “MB’s Cherry Bounce Cocktail.” He loved Old Fashioned Cocktails, and my recipe will be based on an Old Fashioned. More on that once I begin that test, which will probably be today as I celebrate July 4th.

Cheers for now.

 

 

Comments Off on Cherry Bounce – Update #3

Filed under Family History, Growing Up

Living on New Orleans Time

It’s a book written by one of my old college roommates and still a friend I speak to almost daily via email, Richard Caire. Though born and raised in New Orleans, Richard decamped for Memphis as a Katrina refugee and returned only long enough to collect what was left of his “drowned” possessions.

Richard is a very talented musician, writer, photographer, Photoshop guru, graphic artist (we studied art together in college), and all-around dispenser of verbal bravo sierra. He has a very weird sense of humor, kinda like me, which is one reason we have remained friends across the decades. This comes out in his photography and writings. He sees and feels things most of the rest of us never even notice as we pass them by in our mundane existence. He captures those images in his photography and his writings for the rest of us to finally appreciate what we missed.

Richard has for years been sending emails to another of our roommates, his brother, and me that contained images he had taken of various subjects around New Orleans when he lived here. He uses his Photoshop skills to make a “photo” into something more than what it started out to be. Some would call it “art”. I do. He often writes a very clever commentary to go with each of these creations that is filled with NOLA culture—and NOLA memories if you are from here.

Sam, the third roommate, and I recently encouraged Richard to compile all this into a book. Well, he took us seriously. For the last couple of months, I have been drafted into reading beta version after beta version as he developed his book. And since I had already “plowed the self-publishing row”, he had a ton of questions for me on how to do this. He didn’t understand that I was no expert, but I babbled out convincing-sounding advice. Well, low-and-behold, he finished it (and is working on a second one already).

Living on New Orleans Time is a wonderful collection of NOLA images and culture but not the kind you get from tourist brochures or carriage rides through the French Quarter. Richard’s images are “off the beaten track”, and his musings are not standard travel brochure fare. They are the words and things lived and felt by a New Orleans native. The book was self-published and is 198 pages of NOLA images and feelings. It is a tad pricey, but that was driven by the production cost of a book printed in full color with lots of images. But well worth the price.

I certainly enjoyed the beta process of reading and studying Richard’s work, and I think you will enjoy the finished product. Below is an excerpt with an accompanying image from the book published with Richard’s permission. Enjoy.

 

 

 If The Oyster Won’t Come To Baby 

– 12 September 1989 –

At 2000 hours on a Saturday, 26 September 2015, The Pearl Oyster Bar & Restaurant, at 119 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA closed. No drama, no fanfare. Just POOF! Gone …

As I stood in front of The Pearl Oyster Bar and Restaurant this day, The Pearl’s unforgettable sign still brightened this section of the Bayou on St. Charles Avenue near Canal Street. As I was about to press the shutter release, what appeared but a man and his little boy walking toward The Pearl. I still wonder if that little boy chowed down on his first dozen ‘erstas’ with crackers, ketchup, horseradish, and lemon juice.

My best memories of The Pearl are the times I ate there after playing music with Bat, Henri, Eddie, David, and Charlie. In later years, I’d stop there for a ‘breakfast po’boy’ and coffee on the way home after playing at the club on Bourbon Street.

The Pearl’s traditional menu included staples like gumbo, crab cakes, and roast beef sandwiches – but it wasn’t until you ordered one of their hot pastrami sandwiches on rye with a dill pickle wedge –and a Barq’s root beer – that you appreciated what they did with food. Good night, Ms. Marie, wherever you are. 

*****

Comments Off on Living on New Orleans Time

Filed under Excerpts, Friends

Ollie And The Rain Barrel

I’m not sure just when this next story took place as I had completely forgotten about it until Buck reminded me of it in a phone conversation a year or so before he died. When I asked when it happened, his words were, “We were old enough to get into trouble.” That wasn’t terribly helpful because that covered a lot of years! We finally isolated it down to when we were in our late teens.

Four people were involved: Mike “Buck” Roy, Alvin “Al” Bartlett, me, and Oliver Darrel “Dee” White. We were kind of a “rat pack” that ran together for decades. Buck and Dee are both deceased now.

Dee lived on Williams at 16th Street. Actually, he lived in a small garage apartment behind his parent’s house and had lived there for as long as I knew him. Dee was two years younger then I was, and I meet him when he joined our scout troop. His folks were not poor and the house was large enough for Dee to live inside, but he didn’t. They fixed up the garage, and Dee had this really cool garage apartment complete with a bathroom where we liked to hang out.

The conversation I am about to relate began by Dee expressing the desire to have a nickname, and he wanted a cool nickname. He was already called “Dee” shortened from Darrel, so the request seemed rather strange to the rest of us, but then Dee could sometimes be a bit strange.

Curious, we asked what name he would like to have, and his reply was “Ace”. And he said it with a straight face, but that didn’t stop the rest of us from laughing. “Lib” White, his mother, would not have tolerated “Ace” for even a second, but Dee, I mean Ace, persisted, and we resisted. “Ace?” Really?

At which point, we began calling him by a nickname we knew he absolutely hated. His first name was Oliver, and we sometimes called him “Ollie” when we wanted to irritate him—like at that moment. That was always guaranteed to send Dee into a dose of the vapors.

After we had our laugh, we finally agreed. I think Al started it, and Buck and I picked up on where he was going with it. “OK, we’ll call you Ace, Dee,” said Al.

That lit Dee up. “Not Dee! Just Ace,” he insisted.

“OK, Dee, I mean Ace,” Buck said. “We get it.”

“Dammit. ACE!” Dee insisted even more assertively.

“OK, OK, ACE it is, but, Dee, this is gonna take some getting used to,” I chimed in. Buck and Al nodded their heads in agreement.

Ace became exasperated then and even more vocal about his nickname. The rest of us were thinking he needed another trip to the rain barrel.

The Rain Barrel

Dee (or Ace if you prefer), an only child, was a bit spoiled and could get disrespectful sometimes. We mostly verbally slapped him down when he did that to us or simply ignored him. But there was one time he dissing someone, and we could not ignore it, and we all ganged up on him to administer some “brotherly love” discipline.

I don’t remember just what he said, but in front of us, he was very disrespectful to his mother. It was bad enough that those of us who witnessed it were offended, and not because we were all pillars of society always showing respect to our elders; it was just that bad.

The Whites had an old whiskey barrel in the backyard, and it was full of water. I don’t recall why they had this barrel of water. It was just sitting in the middle of the yard and doing nothing beyond that and collecting water.

Someone made the comment to Dee that his words to his mother were uncalled for, and Dee pushed back with something like, “What are you going to do about it?”

The gauntlet had been thrown down. The “double-dog-dare” had been figuratively tossed into the ring. Buck, Al, and I looked at each other knowingly. We all three looked at the barrel and then Dee. Lib White was watching all this and must have suspected something was about to happen.

In perfect unison as if rehearsed, Al, Buck, and I said, “The barrel!”

Dee looked at us with a confused expression on his face, then at the barrel, and back at us as we closed in on him. He laughed a mocking laugh! And that did it! The three of us were on him before he could take even one step. We had him off the ground and unable to do anything but squirm as we headed for the barrel.

About then Lib White figured out what we had in mind and called out from the back steps of their house, “Don’t drown him!”

Dee went into the barrel head-first and we held him down while he thrashed around throwing water over everyone. After an appropriate amount of time (short of drowning), we brought him up, and he was spitting out profanity between gasps for air.

“You going to apologize to your mother?”

The answer was a defiant “no” laced with profanity.

Back into the barrel he went, and this time he stayed down longer. We brought him up sputtering and cursing. “You win! You win! I’m sorry!”

We let him go, and Lib sighed with relief we had not drowned her only child.

I don’t remember how much longer the Whites kept that barrel around, a few years at least, and every time Dee got smart-assed, we would suggest it was time for another trip to the barrel. That usually calmed him down.

And we never did call him Ace.

 

The pic is of Dee and his wife, Patsey, in 2004.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Friends, Growing Up, Kenner, Stupid Stuff

A Wartime Diary – Part 7

Part 1 here.

Part 2 here.

Part 3 here.

Part 4 here.

Part 5 here.

Part 6 here.

This will be the seventh and final chapter. I hope you have enjoyed it.

In our little story, it is early December 1944, and the war is drawing to a close. There was much estimating of an early end, as suggested by MB’s guess of the war ending in late November and noted in the last post, but that didn’t happen. Hitler had one more effort up his sleeve, and the war in Europe dragged on for another five months. Japan went a bit longer. Later that month, Hitler began his drive into Belgium in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. It caught the Allies off guard and, except for the lack of fuel for the German tanks, it might have been even more successful than it was. Of course, the Allies ultimately pushed the Germans back across the Rhine River and followed them into Germany.

In this final post of the series, events come together that are both sad and happy, events that changed my father’s life forever. Let’s begin.

MB wrote two letters home in October 1944 that I am in possession of. One was to his sister and the other was to his father. You might want to go read the one to his father here.

Then back to his diary and we find this entry: “6 Dec – Learned today of Dad’s death on Nov 20. I’ve lost my Rock of Gibraltar. Good luck Dad, and may God keep you.”

Martial B Casteix, Sr.

I can’t read that without tearing up. His mother died before the war of a disease that they developed a cure for only a couple of years later. He was close to his dad and worried about him back home having to work for K&B Drug Stores as a druggist after losing his own chain of stores during the Depression.

“Received orders to report home on T.D. If only I had been able to see Dad again.” The war was over for MB. Men in his unit gave up “points” they had earned toward going home so MB could have enough points to go home to attend to his dad’s affairs. He arrived in the New Orleans area on 26 January. His sister, Margie, had already handled most of their dad’s affairs and buried him. MB remained with her and her young daughter, Melanie, in Kenner where she lived. He eventually settled there.

Meanwhile, the war dragged on, and MB was supposed to report back to Italy. There were rumors his unit would be sent to the Pacific Theatre. That never happened, and MB never returned to his unit, which leads to another story, the last in this series.

While the war in Europe was still raging, MB got orders to report dockside for passage back to Italy. When he showed up, they had no papers on him and sent him home. He received more orders to report for shipping out to Italy. He reported, and once again they said they didn’t have him on the manifest and sent him home. I don’t recall how many times this happened. It was at least twice and probably three times, possibly more. Meanwhile, the war ends, first Europe and then Japan, and everyone is coming home and getting discharged.

But the Army seemed to forget about MB, leaving him in limbo, and he never goes back. Technically, he is AWOL – Absent Without Leave. Meanwhile, MB set up practice in Kenner. He was never paid for any of his time in the service after December 1944. My mother wanted him to go after the government for back pay and interest! She was convinced it must be in the hundreds of thousands by then. MB would just laugh and reply, “But they might put me in Leavenworth?” That usually ended it, but the story was told and retold so many times when I was a kid that it became a joke that the Army would eventually come after MB.

And then they did.

My sister Martia was working as a receptionist in MB’s office. She was an adult by then. This was some thirty years or more after the war. And one afternoon in walks a U.S. Army officer in uniform. “Is Major Casteix in?” Don’t know when, but somewhere along the way MB got promoted to major. No mention of it in his diary. Knowing the AWOL story well, Martia’s reaction was “Oh shit!” She went back to the examining room where MB was and told him, “The Army has come for you!”

“What are you talking about?” And she explained there was an Army officer in the waiting room asking for Major Casteix.

MB went out to meet the officer and identified himself. “I have something for you,” the officer replied, and he reached into his briefcase and pulled out an envelope. MB opened it, and it was his honorable discharge certificate.

That did it! My mother pushed even harder for MB to go after the Army for that back pay and the (by then she was convinced) multi-millions of dollars of interest that had accumulated in over thirty years. He never did.

Bass fishing in Alabama.

After the war, MB never traveled much or very far when he did travel. We frequently went to our summer house on Waveland, MS (and MB fished) and once to Panama City, FL on a short vacation (he fished there, too). Fishing was his second love (next to being a doctor). He spent countless days fishing in the Louisiana marshes and offshore. He loved to fish so much he even wrote a poem to fishing. You might get him to travel if there would be fish and a pole to use at the end of the journey. I took him bass fishing in Alabama a few times, and once we got him all the way to Abilene, TX, but that was for his grandson’s wedding (he didn’t fish there). He always said there was really only one place he wanted to visit—Italy, but he never made it back. He died in 2003.

I will close this series with the eulogy I gave at his funeral.

There are many ways to take the measure of a man. One is by the way he touches others. Some do this on a massive scale, through some discovery or invention that impacts the lives of millions. But some touch lives in a very personal way – one person at a time.

MB was just that sort of person. He touched others professionally as a physician.

Do you know how he came to practice medicine in Kenner? He wanted to go into pediatrics, but a war got in the way. After the war, MB continued his studies and lived in Kenner with his sister, Margie and her husband Robert Manard (most knew him as Son). But word got around in doctor-poor Kenner that there was a new one in town, and people began showing up on Son’s doorstep any time of the day or night looking for the doctor. Son finally had enough and took MB aside and told him, “I can deal with the sick kids throwing up on my rug, and the wounded bleeding on my sofa, but I just can’t handle it when people go into convulsions on my living room floor! GET AN OFFICE!”

He did and he practiced medicine as an old-fashioned family doctor in Kenner for more than fifty years.

But MB touched people in a way that was more than just the professional caring of a physician. He was the kind of person you liked being around, the kind of person who made the world a better place. He was the kind of person that you had no choice but to love.

There are some here today who did not personally know MB, but most of you here did know him. How many of you who did can say that he impacted your life, that your life would have been different had he not been a part of it? Either as a physician or personally? Raise your hands! Now, look around you.

MB (“Doc”) was not tall of stature, only about 5’6”, but if you accept the premise that a man can be measured by the lives he touches, then we have gathered here today to bid farewell to a giant.

And we were greatly blessed by the fact that this giant walked among us for 85 years. He will be sorely missed!

This is from a newspaper article about his retirement fifty years after the war.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Family History, History Lessons, War Stories

A Wartime Diary – Part 6

Part 1 here.

Part 2 here.

Part 3 here.

Part 4 here.

Part 5 here.

ROME!!

So begins this chapter of my father’s WWII diary. We left the last part with the Allies just entering Rome after a long and bloody fight coming up the Italian boot mostly dealing with rugged mountainous terrain. As MB said, “A terrible place to fight a war.”

He gets a bit poetic here. “ROME! What a city! A modern metropolis thriving in the shadows of a bygone era. The nearest thing to cities back home that we’ve seen. Modern buildings, clean wide streets. Electric cars. Life goes on as usual with no interruption. By now (June 11) the Romans have become used to us & go about their business with no apparent curiosity about the Yanks. Beautiful girls, well dressed with bright printed dresses, very friendly.” I bet they were.

MB goes on the rattle off one of his long lists he calls “a few points of interest,” but I will spare you the details.

Here begins what I call the “Gypsy Phase” of his war experience. Understand that each of these moves required breaking down a hospital with all its tents, beds, and equipment, packing it, moving it, and setting it up again somewhere else. No easy task.

“6 June – We move to Priverno – French Air Evac.”

“14 June – We move with 422ndFrench Hosp to Aeroporto, 25 miles above Rome. Still doing Air Evac.”

“21 June – Move again! Still with French Air Evac. Viterbo.”

“12 July – We move to Sienna with 421st French Hosp. Still doing Air Evac. Activity here is increasing…behind the lines. It means only two things: Southern France or another landing up the boot. I pick France in 2-3 weeks.”

MB has been in the Army for almost three years at this point and in a combat zone for almost two years with the last year close to the front and seeing the worst of it. But now he is out of the action and it is getting to him as he states, “Afraid I am getting weary of the war. I’ve lost all ambition & initiative. Things are too dull back here – same nothingness each day. I’m even getting tired of looking at the Italians.” (The women?) “Sienna (a beautiful and historic city) is only six miles away, but I can’t work up enough interest to visit it. Maybe if I had a few air raids I would snap out of it!”

MB on right with a French officer, probably the commander of the French unit they are attached to.

Evidently, he does muster up the energy to visit Sienna. “14 July – Sienna, another Italian walled city. Old, steeped in legend. Famous for its numerous churches, the finest Cathedral & the shrine of St. Catherine of Sienna. Narrow winding streets with many balconies. Also the home of famous briar pipes.”

The French celebrate Bastille Day. “The French held a huge celebration here today to celebrate Bastille Day. Parades & talks by Army Commanders. Colorful Goume and Senegalese bands and guards. City all decorated. Gen Clark flew into our airport in a Simpson & an escort of 6 Piper Cubs!” Six Piper Cubs? They aren’t even armed. Some escort.

French tank? Uniform of the dude on the right looks French.

“18 July – This stunning Russian advance amazes me. Yet, I’m puzzled. No army no matter how strong can advance as rapidly against opposition no matter how little. The Krauts must be pulling back to some powerful defensive line. If this is not the case, I believe in miracles.” He is referring to what is happening on the eastern front with the Russians on a tear and pushing the Germans out of Russia and Poland.

“28 July – We move to Cecina.” Cecina is well up the Italian boot above Rome. “The French have pulled out of the line & we’ve been relieved. Have no assignment & no prospects. There are too many medical troops here for what’s on the line. Somebody is going to make another invasion. Us maybe? Preparations are in progress for something tremendous. When, where? The new moon is up now.” Most landings took place during a full moon.

“7 Aug – Our second-anniversary party was a huge success. Wonderful meal, fine dance. Hope this is the last.” Evidently, it is the second anniversary of them being in theater.

“15 Aug – This is what I’ve been expecting. The landing in Southern France by 7thArmy. Now to grind the Hun out of France.” He predicted this earlier in his diary and missed the date by a week. Operation Dragoon was the Allied invasion of Southern France on August 15, 1944. The invasion took place between Toulon and Cannes by a combination of American and Free French troops.

“22 Aug  – The siege of Paris has begun.” The Allies broke out of the Normandy beachhead and rolled toward Paris. “Such tremendous advances & such destruction of the German armies means the end is near. It may come at any minute & certainly, it will come suddenly.”

He shifts his focus back to Italy. “It won’t be long before the final push starts to clear Italy of the Germans. The Brazilians are here and the 92nd Div (Negro) is here.”

Umm! It gets spicy now! “L’amore in Rome!” You don’t need that translated, do you? It sounds like he had some chaperone-less fun? “Officer Rest Center at Hotel Excelsior on Via Veneto (Via Ganorrhea)!” Yeah, that’s what he said and how he spelled it. I know he knows how to spell “gonorrhea.” On the chance the “Via Ganorrhea” was a street in Rome, I Googled it in Google Maps. What came up were pins for about a thousand doctors offices. I’m thinking he misspelled it, after all.  “Via” is Italian for “way” or “street.” I believe. I tried Googling it as a street and no luck. Is it a joke?  The officer’s rest center is on Via Veneto, but you chance getting gonorrhea while there? Then we have this note in his diary following that comment, “5thArmy is running the worlds largest brothel!!” Maybe that explains it?

“23 Aug – The French Marquis liberated Paris! The advance continues. I guess: Shortly the 5thArmy will enter France by way of Italy.”

“2 Sept – We moved to San Casciano, 15 miles below Florence. The push to drive the Krauts out of Italy has begun. The Battle of France is over – the Battle of Germany is about to begin!” France is liberated, at this point in our story, and the Allies are about to cross into Germany.

Back to Italy again. “Florence – the art center of the world. I’m disappointed! It may be the war or I don’t appreciate art! Just another Italian city. Germans blew all bridges except Ponte Vecchio – footbridge. All art still hidden. First saw the city on 3rdSept. Artillery still around city – Germans only 6 miles away. That may explain my feelings! Surprised at amount of goods still for sale – clothes & expensive items but no food. Moral: Don’t live in a big city during a war.”

“8 Sept – Visited Pisa. It’s a ghost town. Not a civilian there. In fact, the town is hardly there … Only section not ruined is that around the tower … It too has the scars of battle. Cathedral of Santa Maria Majore beautiful. Built in 1063.”

MB took this pic of the tower.

“TD as house physician at Hotel Excelsior. A pleasant week. Good food and service.” (TD = Temporary Duty. We used to call it “TDY” in the AF.) “Searchlight Sam, Tina & Lucia!!!” I have no idea who Searchlight Sam was. He closed that with three exclamation points just like I typed it so it must have been very important to him. He follows it up with, “What a time!” Is Sam is a friend adept at “searching” out girls? if so, draw your own conclusions about Tina and Lucia.

“30 Sept – We move to Pratolino, 12 km above Florence. Still nothing to do.”

“13 Oct – Move to Cafaggiolo 18 miles above Florence. Ambulances working all over Italy. Some are with 16th Evac, C.G.B & Co is evacuating the 2 platoons of 601.” I don’t know what C.G.B. is but something big he never explains happened for them to bug-out. I recall him telling a story once about returning to the hospital after being away for some reason, and it was gone—as in evacuated gone, leaving him behind. This must be that incident.

“17 Oct – Awarded the Army Plaque & Clasp by General Clark for outstanding service during June. We were with the French and evacuated every French casualty via air. The citation reads as follows:

“The 403rd Coll Co is awarded the 5thArmy Plaque & Clasp for exceptionally meritorious performance of duty during the month of June 1944. This unit was charged with the responsibilities of facilitating the airborne system of evacuating casualties. During the advances both south & north of Rome this organization maintained close contact with the constantly changing battle zone & was able to evacuate thousands of casualties without loss of a single patient’s life. Reliance is put upon the 403rd Coll Co to maintain its record in days that lie ahead. Mark W. Clark, Lt. Gen. U.S. Army – Commanding.”

This must have been a nice feather in the cap of the 403rd Collection Company commander, Capt. M.B. Casteix, Jr.

“2 Nov – Well, looks like my guess of the end on 26 Nov will fall short. Another winter in Italy is almost too much I can think of. It will be miserable … That old rumor of the 5thArmy going to India has cropped up again.” Evidently, he had predicted the surrender of Germany by late November?

“1 Dec – Operas in Florence, La Boheme, Manon, Barber. Good singing, excellent scenery.”

Continued…

4 Comments

Filed under Family History, History Lessons, War Stories

A Wartime Diary – Part 5

Part 1 here.

Part 2 here.

Part 3 here.

Part 4 here.

As we pick up the action in my dad’s wartime diary and picture album, we left our intrepid hero at Caserta, Italy with the 5thArmy on the road to Rome. They will soon encounter stiff resistance to that trip, a mountain top monastery called Monte Cassino.

On 26 January they moved up to Mignano with the 10thField (Hospital). Mignano is just southeast of Cassino. He mentions a “new landing at Netturno,” but there was no Netturno that I can find. There was a landing at Anzio in February 1944, and this may be what he is referring to if we assume he is not still in the 26 January entry. He mentions that the 95thEvacuation Hospital was bombed by the Germans. So much for honoring the red cross.

Another break from the war– “June Clyde, Louise Allbritton, Harry Barris give show & have lunch with us. Movie stars pooie (SIC)!” I guess he wasn’t impressed? I Googled them, and both women were real lookers, especially Louise. Evidently, looks aren’t everything…

The next entry says they got some R&R at Sorrento, which is down near Naples. He seems to focus on the hot water baths he got there and “modern bars” and a visit to Capri. They rode the Funiculare (Funicular), which is a cable car system used in mountains.

Another visit by a movie star, John Garfield. This one impressed him more. “Good show!”

Back to the war – “Squalor in most Italian villages: no sanitation & waste thrown in street. No one seems to have ambition to improve himself.”

I am noticing MB having a series of mood swings. Sometimes he speaks highly of Italy and its people and other times not. He has been overseas for almost two years at this point, and I am suspecting the war is wearing on him. I imagine he has seen his share of blood and gore by now with more to come. The USO shows seemed to help, but a man has his limits. This becomes more obvious later in his diary.

“Transferred to the 403rd Collection Company. Take command on 15 Mch 44. 403rdworking with the 38thEvac.”

“First day of spring! We’ve spent the winter in Italy – how much longer? Haven’t gotten very far but far enuf! 24 Mch: who said spring is here? It’s cold: saw first real snow of winter today!”

And then this happens: “Vesuvius erupts! One village buried. San Gregoio barely misses. Mountains of lava – still hot & smoking after 2 weeks. Dust on Capri.”

“15 Apr we move up to Mignano to support the 194th F. A. Gr. who are working with 8thArmy. Business should be slow.” This entry is confusing. There was a 194th Field Artillery Battalion in the area at this time. The 8thArmy is British not American. And what does the “Gr.” mean? The 194th was a National Guard unit, but then most units in the Army in WWII were NG. Another mystery… (UPDATE: I think 194th F. A. Gr might be the 194th French Auxiliary Goumiers? The “Goums” get mentioned below.)

“Apr 25 – Kraut artillery hits British ammo dump nearby. Like gigantic 4 July celebration. Flares, tracers, etc go up!”

He has learned that being a company commander has its drawbacks. “Running a company is a terrible headache: equipment problems, HQ always worrying you, inspections, etc.”

“April 28 – Shelled! Krauts put eight shells 75 yards from us during supper. Mess kits went flying!”

“May 8 – The big push to Rome is due any day now. Shortly after will come the invasion (I hope).” The invasion he is referring to is the Normandy Invasion on 6 June 1944. In a post a few lines down he predicts the date pretty close. Rome was taken about the time the D-Day landings in France took place, which overshadowed the news of the capture of Rome.

We have another break from the war – “Our British friends at Mignano. Bill Waller and Charlie Walker… The most amusing & generous characters I’ve met!”

Bill and Charlie in berets?

“An amazing war, this! Here we sit seeing movies right under the noses of the Krauts. We’re 5 ½ miles from the front. Easy gun range!”

“11 May 2300 hrs –This is it!! The big push to Rome and beyond is on. H-hour is at hand! Never has any force of comparable size had the striking power of this one. Firepower is terrific. We hold complete mastery of the air & everyone confident that we will not be stopped.”

And here he predicts the Normandy date, “The big channel show should start in 2-3 weeks from now. It’s the beginning of the end!!!” Using the 11 May date of the entry and adding 3 weeks gets us to 1 June. The invasion took place on 6 June. It was scheduled to be earlier, but weather forced a delay.

“18 May – The push continues. Tough rugged fighting, but we’re pushing ‘em back. Cassino finally fell!!!” It fell only after the Allies bombed it into rubble. The problem was the Germans made better use of the rubble than the buildings there before the bombing.

“23 May – We move to Rongolisi to evac 425th French Evac & 405th French Field Hosps. They’re keeping us busy. They’re set up in orchard, olive trees, grape vines, & cherry trees. Cherries good!” I am just a little surprised he didn’t take time to make some cherry bounce here.

MB’s company is supporting French units and will be involved in air evacuation of the wounded. They will excel at their jobs and get a commendation from HQ 5th Army as we shall see.

Chow where and when you can.

23 May Continued – “Beachhead begins push.” The Anzio beachhead most likely what he is referring to. Back in February, the Americans attempted a flanking movement and landed a large force at Anzio, which is between Cassino and Rome. The landing force remained bottled up around the town of Anzio until the big push for Rome in May. “It’s all over but the fighting! Watch for another landing above Rome as soon as we join the Anzio boys.”

“26 May – We move again! Can’t keep up with the front. We’re at Pico (the front lines two days ago).”

“31 May – Who says the Luftwaffe is dead? Bet the papers home don’t tell about German air activity here. All I hear over our radio is ‘no enemy planes were seen during the daylight yesterday.’ Yeah, what about nite? We’ve had raids almost every nite since the push started. They cover everything from the front to Naples, dropping bombs indiscriminately & strafing anything. They rarely cause much damage but the nuisance value is great. Seldom more than 20-30 planes.”

“The French are proving the point that they are good soldiers. Given good weapons, they will stack up against any soldier in the world. Their advance has been the most rapid & over some of the toughest terrain. They are holding about ½ of the front. The Goums are wonderful.”

He is referring to the Les Goumiers Marocains. The Moroccan Goumiers were indigenous soldiers who served in auxiliary units attached to the French army. While nominally in the service of the Sultan of Morocco,  they served under French officers. They were feared night fighters and preferred to use knives when possible.

Fifth Army commander Mark Clark had this to say about the Goumes, “In spite of the stiffening enemy resistance, the 2ndMoroccan penetrated the Gustave [sic] Line in less than two day’s fighting. The next 48 hours on the French front were decisive. The knife-wielding Goumiers swarmed over the hills, particularly at night, and General Juin’s entire force showed an aggressiveness hour after hour that the Germans could not withstand. Cerasola, San Giorgio, Mt. D’Oro, Ausonia, and were seized in one of the most brilliant and daring advances of the war in Italy… For this performance, which was to be a key to the success of the entire drive on Rome, I shall always be a grateful admirer of General Juin and his magnificent FEC.”

“4 June – We made it!!! We entered Rome this A.M.! The end of 9 months of bitter, backbreaking, disheartening fighting. We won’t stop here! Now we can think of the INVASION!” The Normandy landings were two days later.

North Africa, Sicily, and Italy were never intended to be a way to enter Germany. It was a compromise with Churchill’s demand to attack the “soft underbelly” of the Axis and drive Italy out of the war. It was also to take some pressure off the Russians on the eastern front who were demanding a second front to help them. It worked. Elsewhere I mentioned an incident when my father-in-law was shot down over Sicily. On his way back to North Africa on an LST, they picked up a German pilot who had been shot down the night before and was floating around in the Med. Bobby, my FIL, made friends with him during the voyage and was told by the German he had been on the eastern front and only recently transferred to Italy.

We will stop here for now. There is more here…

2 Comments

Filed under Family History, History Lessons, War Stories