Maury Schwartz and I were brand new Army Air Corps second lieutenants and navigators. Our drab green, very sharp, officer uniforms were one day old and our wings and gold bars were very shiny. We were on our way from navigation training school at Selman Field, Louisiana to an Air Corps base in Tonopah, Nevada, where we were to meet our bomber crews for combat training. Since we had been denied the customary 21-day leave after graduation, we had decided that it was only fair for us to travel in the slowest possible way. Going by rail, by way of Kansas City, seemed to meet that test.
We arrived at about 5 PM, checked into our hotel and immediately went out to eat. After a short walk, we found a Chinese restaurant. This would be our big graduation celebration dinner. We took a large, oblong table and we sat at the opposite ends. Then we ordered nine entrees- all of them house specials- and some wine. When the dishes were served, they filled the entire table. We recruited a waiter to be our personal assistant. He filled our glasses and served us small portions from each of the entrees. We toasted each other, and then each of our navigation school buddies. It was all very formal and very elegant.
The high point was our leaving most of the food in each of the serving dishes- an extremely grand and unusual gesture. This was pretty heady stuff for two poor boys from Newark, New Jersey.
The next morning, we went to the railroad station where we informed that an overnight flood had blocked all trains leaving Kansas City. We would have to stay for another day. As we turned to leave the depot, we saw, coming toward us, the famous comedians Jimmy Durante and Gary Moore. I said, “Hello, Mr. Durante.” He stopped and just stared at me. “Moore,” he said, “Look at dat nose!” (At that time, I had very large, high arched nose. Its size was emphasized by my having a small head. In 1946, I had the arch smoothed out.)
“C’mere kid!” Durante ordered. I walked over to him.
“Stand right here!” Durante positioned his face right next to mine.
“Moore, who’s bigger?” (Durante was famous for the size of his nose. I felt that for him, this might be a moment of truth.)
“You’re bigger, Jimmy,” Gary Moore laughed. “You’re still the champ!”
“Well kid,” Durante said, “You kinda scared me dere for a minute!”
We shook hands and went our separate ways.
Maury and I then checked back in at our hotel and learned that there was a USO club in the neighborhood, with dancing in the evening. USO clubs existed everywhere for the purpose of brightening the lives of lonely GIs away from home. We certainly met that qualification.
The girls who helped out at the USO club were all volunteers. I danced with one most of the evening and then offered to escort her home in a taxi. She accepted my offer and off we rode, far from the center of the city. After leaving her at her home, I decided that I could use the exercise and that I would walk back to our hotel. Although I had never been in Kansas City previously and had no idea of where I now was, I was certain that my trained navigational skills would see me through.
I remembered that when we first arrived, near our hotel, there was a large tower, with a bright red light on top. Getting out of the cab, I saw the light, far off in the distance and began walking toward it. It would be a long walk, but that was nothing for a good physical specimen.
As I walked and walked, it seemed to me that there were fewer houses on each street block; the lots were becoming bigger. I thought that this was interesting city planning- more space closer to the city hub. However, the closer I got to that tower and light, the scarcer the houses. Finally it became apparent to me: I was walking in the wrong direction.
I stopped and looked around. And there, far, far off in the distance, was another red light. Two towers with red lights! It did not seem fair. I turned and began the Long March.
When I made it back to the hotel, Maury was asleep. The next morning he asked me what had happened. Not wanting to reveal my navigational error, I merely said that I had had a good time, with a wink.
The next day, the floods had subsided. We boarded the train for the long ride to Reno, Nevada, where we would get a bus to Tonopah.
© Steven E. Schanes 2001
April 6, 2000