For those who have not been in the military, or have been in the military in later times, you will find our remuneration laughable. As an E-1 we made $73 per month. Being a good son, I sent $25 dollars home to mom to save for me (she used it for household things). We got paid once a month. That was usually the day that we would play poker, just regular poker, 5 card draw.
We pulled a foot locker to the center of our barracks and pulled our other foot lockers around so that we could play. There were regulars and those who lost their money and left. There seemed to be one person who constantly won. It seemed kind of odd, even at the time that this one guy would always come out ahead. As for me, I pretty much came out ahead. It was not a great deal of dough, just enough to buy a carton of cigarettes and some candy.
Some guys played to lose. They kept on betting on nothing, hoping to fake everyone else out. They had no dough at all at the end of the game. If you were winning, it was frowned upon that you left the game. I tried it once and never again. Our constant winner was an older gent of about 25. He came from Chicago and was a rather quiet fella. He has wispy blond hair, which fell over his face when he won a pot. He never smiled, nor said a word during the playing.
After winning one pot, I reached over to grab the dough and my dog tags hung over the money. A recruit named Rockey (his last name) came from a small town in Texas. He reached over and grabbed the dog tags and read them. He was astonished when he read the word Jewish. He looked over at me as if he had been poleaxed. There was this look of perplexity when he said, “You can’t be no Jew. You don’t have horns.”
Yup Rockey, we really don’t have horns. To this day, I wonder how Rockey got into our barracks. He was the only one who was not from New York, New Jersey or Pennsylvania. It was really difficult to explain to him the misperception of a Michelangelo statue of Moses that looked like horns. I am sure that Rockey was still not convinced. Funny thing, after that, he kept away from me.
My Chicago friend kept on winning as the time went by. There were so few players, that we stopped playing until the next pay day. Somehow, I managed to speak with this quiet guy. He told me in strictest confidence, otherwise his life wasn’t worth a plug nickel, that he was a professional card player in Chicago. That was his occupation and full time job. I guess I looked like I would not tell anyone about it. This is the first time that I have really told the story in full detail.
Things were still not going well for us and our leaders. It was even difficult to pronounce our names. Italian names were their specific bugaboo. The non-coms resorted to calling them Alphabet. To break up the monotony of basic training, we were loaded onto buses and taken to Warm Spring, Georgia, to the Summer White House of FDR. Not sure that you can imagine that his home and facilities were segregated. There were white and colored drinking fountains and white and colored facilities.
As we happened upon these places, we all looked at each other, smiled and went about our business of going to the latrines and getting a drink of water. One difference was that the white guys went to the colored drinking fountains and bathrooms and the black and Puerto Rican guys went to the white drinking fountains and bathrooms. Our leaders were apoplectic. They screamed at us and threatened us with all sorts of things. We all kind of stood there with our heads bowed. Soon, the state police arrived and we were hustled onto the buses and driven back to the base.