I had read about the North versus the South but had never been south of Springfield, Missouri when in June 1954 I arrived at Pensacola, Florida from California for flight training.  Being schooled in the west and mid-west, I was not acquainted with life in the southern United States.  I had never experienced dozens of colorful sounding and unique tasting southern food staples.  Grits started each day and I soon acquired a craving for the salty dish. One quick clue to my ignorance of social rules came on my first trip off base when the bus from NAS Pensacola into downtown stopped and the driver firmly advised me that I was not allowed to sit in my time ingrained favorite position on the back seat of the bus.  I am certain that those persons who desired to sit in the front half of the bus, and couldn't, felt far worse than me.

Following graduation from Naval School Pre-Flight we were sent to NAAS Whiting Field located just outside Milton, Florida.  Whiting Field was a lousy liberty base for cadets bent upon distributing their pent up emotions among the plentiful lovely southern belles.  Few cadets had cars due to the restrictions imposed by the Naval Air Training Command during pre-flight and pre-solo training.  While visiting my mother during the 1954 Christmas Holidays, I bought a Navy blue 1949 Chevrolet two door sedan for the princely amount of $375.00.  Following our first solo flight in the SNJ, students without security duties were granted liberty from Friday afternoon after training until Sunday night at Taps.  'OooooohRAH!'


New Orleans beckoned to the Naval Cadets as the best liberty spot in the South.  Five of us from Class 30-54 drove in my car over to New Orleans for the Mardi Gras.  Five hours after departing NAAS Whiting Field we rolled into the 'Big Easy' amidst celebrations galore. Two of the five young men were from Michigan,  Botens and Contratto, and were college fraternity buddies who always went on liberty together.

Pat O'Brien's Bar, One of the oldest bars in New Orleans, was a famous place for tourists to visit.  Initially located on St. Peter Street, the bar was thought to have been built for a well-known planter, Etienne Marie de Flechier just after a 1794 fire .  Pat O'Briens moved to Bourbon Street in 1942 and occupies the pictured building and rear courtyard.  Pat O'Briens is known for creating the "Hurricane" rum drink.



On the Mardi Gras occasion we all went to "Pat O'Briens" and commenced consuming exotic drinks like Hurricanes and Mint Juleps.  After several hours of ingesting the exotic libations, we became inebriated.  Pat O'Briens was packed belly button to buttocks.  There was hardly room to move, let alone to dance.  I recall that a guy apparently improperly touched a young lady and try as she could to slap him, she could not get her arm up to swing.  Towards the end of the evening Botens swam through the mob to the stage while the musicians were on break.  He climbed up on the platform, grabbed the mike and shouted into it, "Listen Up !!"
Seems he had to shout that command three times to get the noisy hubbub down to a reasonable din.  Botens then shouted, "Let's Hear the Rebel Yell !!"   Some of the southern participants began to cheer at various voice levels when Botens put his lips against the mike and screeched at the top of his lungs, "REEE--TREAT !!"
Well, the crowd surged towards the stage in mass, crying, shouting and screaming obscenities as they groped forward for Botens.  Botens had dropped the mike and raced for the door with several of us in hot pursuit.  Me to escape but most were out for the blood of the damned Yankee who had just slandered the manhood of all Southern Gentlemen.  One wall could not withstand the surge of hateful vengeance pressing against the length of the alley side and gave way to the pressure. A portion of the wall fell outboard with a "Crash!" and the crowd flowed into the backstreet still screaming for the treasonous body of the damned Yankee.
The five of us did not break stride as we raced for my 49 Chevy.  It was double trouble with all five of us trying to get into the car at the same time through the two doors.  I got the car started and we were moving with Contratto still trying to get in the car as he ran beside it.  The mob began rapidly falling behind.  We escaped  death or destruction that night.

Cadets Contratto and Botens were both killed in a car accident returning from another liberty run to New Orleans a couple of months after our Mardi Gras trip.  Cadet Contratto's grandmother gave him her huge 1937 four door Pontiac and that car became their liberty machine during their time in Basic Flight Training.  The car had one fault. The hood on the car would occasionally come unlatched and raise up in front blocking the driver's view until the car was stopped and the hood could be reseated and latched.  One rainy night when returning to Whiting and while crossing the long bridge spanning the Blackwater River area, the hood unlatched and blew up covering the windshield.  The sudden black out of the highway did not give Contratto enough time to safely stop the Car.  Both Cadets were killed in the accident.

I have always suspected that Botens and Contratto were the culprits who at least twice took paint up to the cemetery park on the hill at the top of Palafox Street in Pensacola, Florida where a Civil War Monument still commemorates the Southern past.  A youthful Confederate soldier stands atop the 30 foot high marble spire that has the following inscription chiseled into its base, " A Memorial to Our Confederate Dead."  The pranksters boldly painted over those gentle words the phrase "A Tribute to Yankee Marksmanship."  The elderly of the local population had demanded the immediate arrest of the vandals who desecrated their monument.  No one was ever caught.

Those were the days, my friend.  We thought they would never end........................
Semper Fi
Back to Back We Face the Past
Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Ret.