The Sixth Company Comes to Claflin
- Was any beer left when they departed?
After graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy and being commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps on 5 June 1963, I returned home to Claflin, Kansas for graduation leave. I would report to The Basic School at Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia after the July Fourth holiday. As you know from reading my previous stories about Claflin, my home town is a small village on the high plains of central Kansas populated by less than 1000 souls. You also know that I grew up on a farm a mile east of town. This tale tells of the time that several of my Navy classmates came to town. It was a memorable visit that is still talked about around Claflin by those old enough to remember.
Based upon prior arrangement, these classmates were going to stop by Claflin on their way to their first duty assignments on the west coast. I cleared their visit with the home folks and arranged to put them up in my family’s house, my grandmother’s place and my aunt and uncle’s home. All three places were on our farmstead.
This gang convoyed from the Washington, DC area and arrived in Claflin sometime around the middle of June. They stayed for three or four days before heading west, and left quite an impression on the citizens of Claflin. Most were from my Naval Academy company, the Sixth, but there was also one from the Twenty First Company. They were Bill Hughes and his bride Dottie, Jim Carter, Lionel Banda and his brother Phil, a civilian traveling west for a new job,…all of the Sixth. Bob Keen was from the Twenty First, and was joining one of the others at his new duty station.
Hughes Carter Banda Keen
When they arrived I received a phone call on the farm from Lionel. He said, “We’re here. I’m calling from a phone booth on Main Street.” I told him I’d be right there. He asked, “Don’t you want to know which phone booth I’m calling from?” I replied, “There’s only one phone booth in town. Don’t move. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
I herded them to the farm and got everyone a bed to sleep in somewhere, and we headed back to town for a cold beer in my favorite tavern, Ed Steiner’s Claflin Recreation, which was really nothing more than the most popular local pool hall. We spent a lot of the next three days using Ed’s as a base camp and consuming copious amounts of draft beer as we drifted to other adventures in and around Claflin.
One morning we decided to go to Ed’s for “breakfast”, which I understood as beer. Phil tried to order bacon and eggs. Ed looked at him incredulously and told him all he had to eat in the place was pickled hard boiled eggs and polish sausage. The sausage was floating around in a jar of brine and tasted like cardboard. Welcome to Claflin, Phil.
Dottie had never been around a farm and became interested in the young piglets at our place. She thought they were adorable and wanted to hold one. I explained that getting one of the piglets out of the farrowing pen would be dangerous as the 800 pound sow would look dimly upon someone kidnapping one of her brood. But I succumbed to her wishes and had one of the guys distract the sow while I jumped into the pen and grabbed a piglet. The second I picked it up it started squealing loud enough to be heard in Claflin a mile away. I tossed the piglet to one of the guys positioned to catch it, and ran for my life as the sow came after me. I think I set a Kansas Scholastic high jump record getting out the pen. I didn’t touch a thing as I sailed over.
Yours Truly Just Before Tossing the Piglet. Dollie with Piglet
Bill Hughes took these pictures of me retrieving the piglet and Dottie holding it. You can see the piglet is squealing like a banshee in both pictures. I look like an option quarterback getting ready to pitch the pigskin (har har harr!) with charging defensive linemen being replaced by an 800 pound sow Immediately after Dottie’s picture was taken the piglet pissed all over her. To this day she continues to remind me of this. I tell her it was her idea to hold the cute little bundle of bacon, and that I risked my life to accommodate her.
Another farm adventure was rabbit hunting in the fields and on the local golf course at night. Dottie stayed with my mom for this evolution. After downing a few drafts at Ed’s we ventured out in the farm pickup, with the riflemen, armed with a .22 and an M1 Carbine my uncle brought back from World War II sitting on the front fenders wrapped around the headlights, me driving, and the remaining onlookers in the bed of the truck. A good number of jack rabbits bit the dust on this night. Beer and live ammunition don’t mix real well, but we all lived through it somehow.
Joining us at Ed’s were my USNA room mates Dick Williams from Pratt, Kansas and Ron “Walt” Walters from Hays. As were all of us, they were enjoying their graduation leaves. They stayed at the farm that night and were part of the revelry, which included a trip to Ellinwood, a larger town about ten miles south of Claflin, a visit to a local dance hall there and a barely avoided bar room brawl. On this day there were seven recent graduates of the Naval Academy drinking beer in a Kansas small town tavern…an event probably unmatched anywhere else in small town America.
Other adventures included drag racing on Claflin’s Main Street, a trip to Hays for a boat ride in Walt’s brothers inboard on Cedar Bluff Lake. Unfortunately we couldn’t get the engines started, so we just drank the ever present beer. I also was able to introduce the gang to Claflin’s “village idiot”, and unkind term, but accurate in this case. I had told stories about Clarence “Heiny” Grosshardt during my years at USNA and everyone in Sixth Company was familiar with his antics. Dick and Walt had met him on previous leaves from USNA. You first met him in the earlier Claflin GOC tower story. We knocked on his door and he answered dressed in his ubiquitous bib overalls and overwhelmed us all with body odor unmatched anywhere in central Kansas. He had two television sets on; one sitting on top of the other. We didn’t dare enter his place, but conversed with him at arms length. Talking to Heiny was always an adventure because you were never sure whether he was talking to you or to himself.
Finally the festivities were over and the gang headed west. Walt and Dick went back home and I prepared to head back to Quantico to start my career as a U.S. Marine. In spite of our antics the citizens of Claflin embraced us ne’er do wells from the Sixth Company and treated us to great hospitality. And that is how some of us started our careers as Naval Officers and Marines.
Dirck Praeger sends