Memories of World War Two
World War Two affected our country in many ways. In Waurika, Oklahoma where I grew up, three quarters of the boys in my senior class volunteered to serve Uncle Sam. Few returned.
The Waurika Bus Stop Café where I worked after school had a contract to make sandwiches and prepare jugs of iced tea for troops transported through town on the Rock Island Rocket. I was sixteen and beginning to feel an attraction to and from the opposite sex so I begged my boss, Merle Carter and her husband Tyler, to let me go with them the next time a troop train came through. Merle said no. Tyler said no. No!
“No, Patsy, you’re too young and green to handle soldier boys.” That’s why I was surprised one day when Merle said I could help them take lunches to the station that evening. Well, let me tell you, I primped like I was going to be photographed with Clarke Gable for Photoplay Magazine. Several times my girlfriends and I had surreptitiously observed troop trains slide into the station so I knew what Merle meant. Even before the train stopped soldier boys were dangling out the windows giving out razor-sharp wolf whistles to any female in the vicinity, calling “Duchess, or Baby-Doll, throw me a kiss.” Their plaintive tones created a tempest in nubile bodies. Hearing the sex cries of the male caused my developing sex hormones to soar as high as the water tower, our tallest peak, amidst cascades of giggles as shrill as the wolf whistles.
Sometimes the boys marched up the road and back in tight formation so they could stretch their legs after being cooped up on the train for lord only knows how long...it was a Big Secret. We sure didn’t want the Axis Powers to find out those troops were in Waurika. A slip of the lip could sink a ship. On the days the boys marched, my friends and I sat at the side of the road wearing filmy flowered dresses, ankle strap shoes peeking out from under our skirts, lips vibrant with Pink lightning lipstick, flirting. The fellows sent sidelong glances our way encouraging us to throw them our names and addresses we had printed out on slips of paper so they could write to us. Many did.
And now here I was being permitted, no, requested, yes, requested, to be on the train platform to deliver boxes of egg salad sandwiches and jugs of iced tea to our boys in the service. Golly! Gee whiz!
When I saw the train hooting up the track toward us I quickly reapplied Pink Lightning, ready for admiring whistles. Merle grinned, a Camel cigarette jutting from between her scarlet lips. The sandwich boxes were ready, helpers in place.
Looking sly, Merle said, “The train’s not gonna be in the station long, they said, so we’ve gotta move fast.” She dropped her cigarette on the platform and ground it out under the toe of her red patent shoe.
“Well, I’m ready,” I said, matching Merle’s wide smile.
The silver train slowed and slid to a stop. An eerie silence ensued. The train windows were closed. Shades were drawn. There were no whistles. It felt the way it did before a cyclone struck as if every drop of air, light and life had been sucked from the atmosphere, making it hard to breathe. This must be a funeral train, I thought. But then a window shade lifted and a soldier stared out.
Merle began to laugh, hard. “Hahahaha.” And then I knew what they had done. The reason Merle and Tyler had let me come with them. The train was a Negro troop train. Those black soldiers knew not to whistle or even look at a white girl though they risked their lives for us in a segregated war.
I dropped the box of sandwiches, kicked off my high heels and ran from the depot. I ran from Merle from Tyler from the hushed train and from the poignant face of the black soldier staring impassively out from that soundless train. Tears washed the makeup off my face.
I wished my preacher father were alive. He would have told Merle and Tyler about honor, equality, and respect and then he would have prayed for the safety of those men going off to God only knew where. Germany? Japan? The Pacific? Maybe killed. It took me a long time to forgive Merle and Tyler for their insensitivity to me and to the Negro soldiers on that train.
Even though the 1940 Selective Service Act prohibited racial discrimination and 885,000 black soldiers would serve in the Army, it wasn’t until well after that troop train rolled into Waurika that racial segregation in the military ended.
That incident haunted me, but still and all, I was sixteen with a big Saturday night on the horizon and I had a date to go to the midnight preview with an Air Corps Lieutenant from Shepard Field.
Causes Pat Montandon Supports
PETA, Women for Women, Amnesty International, Children as the Peacemakers, Peace to The Planet