By Wayman L. McElhaney
Midway Island, 1951 – 1952
Wayman worked at the Midway Dry-cleaning Plant – PO2
Wayman loved living on Midway, in his little cabin by the sea
2/6/1927 – 9/4/2013 – RIP Wayman
This will be the last re-posting of this series of my old Midway stories. Its longer than usual, so those not interested may delete now.
I guess Midway has been an unusually grand place for most of us but it may not have been quite so nice were it not for some great friends and comrades to share it with. We’ve all had our share of those, and I’d like to introduce you to some truly wonderful people who helped make my life on the Island the Grand Experience it was.
In earlier postings I’ve explained my good fortune in being able to re-open the long-abandoned dry-cleaning plant, but I needed help to run it. At least two people were required to operate the place, so I selected a great Spanish fellow named Ignacio Bravo from the laundry as my main man. He was Seaman First Class, 22 years old with a great personality. He was very athletically built, handsome and although lacking a full high school education was nevertheless quite intelligent and very diligent to duty. He learned the routine quickly and became quite proficient with his work. We became a great team. He was a tireless worker always doing more than his share. He was a jolly chap and seemed to find humor in just about everything. Our type of work allowed us to talk, sing, listen to those 45 rmp records, or whatever as we did our jobs. Many times the record player should send him into some slick dance routines. What a dancer! If he was so good acappella, I always wondered what he could have done with a partner. We became very close friends. We went to chow, the beach, movies, and just about everywhere together so much so that some thought we were joined at the hip. But not really. We seldom went to the Enlisted Club together. In fact, I seldom went to the EM Club at all. Didn’t drink beer. But Bravo did, and had another pal that also enjoyed the suds so they spent a lot of time there. This buddy of his was the original “Max Klinger” who was always dreaming up schemes to “go over the hill”, or do something to get out of the Navy by any means possible — and take Bravo with him. Of course, I’m sure that stuff was only a joke, but Good Grief!! Some of his schemes were so elaborate and ingenious that it was frightening.
On many late evenings Bravo would come over to my cabin and we would sit and talk for hours. Now, I was neither priest nor shrink, and being only two years older wasn’t exactly a father figure either, but somehow he felt comfortable revealing his innermost feelings, sorrows, hopes and dreams. I got to know all about his early childhood and the loss of his father at an early age when he had to quit school to help support his mother and siblings. I learned about his brush with the law as a teenager and how he managed to escape the strong possibility of a life of crime. I learned about his lovely Tina back in Fresno, CA and their plans for the future when he finished his current Navy tour. And he had been a good sailor, too, winning a special citation for spotting an enemy mine floating barely 6 feet from the side of his aircraft carrier, thus saving the ship while on duty off the North Korean coast shortly after the war started. Bravo was such a joy to know, work with and be around that our work didn’t really seem like work at all. Nevertheless, as more people came aboard the Island, our work load increased to a point beyond our capacity to handle. We needed another man — bad.
Good fortune smiles again. One day a new fellow came aboard and was assigned to the laundry because he was a tailor, AND he had had some dry-cleaning experience as well. When I found out about him …Eureka!! I dashed to the Supply office immediately and pleaded to have him assigned to the cleaning plant, carefully explaining the great need for the extra man. Bravo and I had been working all kinds of extra hours but were still unable to keep up.
Now, by this time Bravo and I had made quite a reputation for selves with everyone on the Island, including the CO, because we turned out top quality work in record time, and were always very cheerful to our customers. No problem. I got my other man. The laundry people screamed something awful because they needed more help, too, but to no avail.
Horne was a tall, slender fellow from the southernmost part of Georgia and like myself had lived most of his life in a very isolated, rural area (rural sounds better than back-woods) where life was hard and hard work was a way of life. He had a remarkable work ethic and fit in perfectly. He was exactly what we needed. One might expect that by adding a third person, production would increase by a one-third amount. Not so. It may be hard to understand, but by adding just one more man, our production actually doubled….an increase of a full 100%. The three of us were then able to do twice the work that Bravo and I together had done before. A fact that was not lost on the brass.
Now, I had two fellows working with me, and I say “with me” because we shared the work equally and together. I never “told” either of them to do anything, with one exception. That was how our equipment would be operated. It was the very best and I intended it to be treated with utmost care. On that, I laid down the law. It would be used one certain way which I carefully explained, and that way only. Just had to explain the operation once and both had the procedure down pat. If something needed to be done I would merely make a suggestion and it got done. Horne was especially quick to respond. When I would suggest something need attention sometime later in the day, Horne would go do the chore right then even though I’d tell him it could wait awhile. Once I suggest something be done later and Horne put down his dish of ice cream and did the job immediately. That’s when I finally wised up and never again mentioned anything be done until it had to be done right then, … for “right then” is when it got done.
As stated earlier, Horne was a genuine southerner. Sho ‘nuf, I mean sho ‘nuf. I can still hear him say, “Y’all heah now?” Meaning, of course, “Did you understand what I just said?” But a funny thing about Horne, though. He may have been from the Deep South of the 1950’s but his favorite beer drinking buddy was a Bee-Bopping black boy from up north somewhere. What a pair that was.
What a blessing it was to have him and Bravo to work with.
Now, in all of my earlier postings I have referred to the cleaning plant as “My” plant. I’ve mentioned that “I” did this or “I” did that to get the dry-cleaning operation up and running, and actually that was true, but from this point on I will no longer refer to the plant as “MY” cleaning plant. I will refer to it as “OUR” cleaning plant. Bravo’s, Horne’s and mine because that’s the way it was.
And something else, too. How many times have any of you gone into a Sears, J. C. Penney, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, or any other large store, ask the clerk for something and be told, “I’m sorry, but “I” don’t have that item in stock”, or “I’m” out of that item at the moment”, or, “I” don’t even stock that item”. It always amuses me when some lowly clerk in a huge store uses the personal pronoun, “I” as if they owned the place while the tiny, one-man, or mom-and-pop business always use the pronoun,. “we”. Well, that’s the way we were, too. When anyone brought in an order for cleaning we always told them that “we” would take good care of it and make them glad they came to “our” place instead of some other knowing full well there wasn’t another one for a thousand miles in any direction. We may have been the only game in town, but we always made our customers feel welcome and that we really needed their business to survive. We made lots of friends that way. Another fact not lost on the brass. We ran the plant, came and went as we damned well pleased, and nobody ever said anything about it.
There were others that I remember and liked so well. One was a young Japanese fellow named, Fugigama. We called him Fuge. He was about 19 or 20 years old and worked in Supply. He was very well educated and great fun at the beach or picnic ares. His family was living in California when Pearl Harbor was bombed, so all of them were interned in one of those “camps” and most of their property confiscated. After WWII was over his family started all over again from nothing. Then when the Korean War broke, he was old enough to he joined the US Navy to show his loyalty and serve “his” country even though his family had never received a dime for their goods or a word of apology. Go figure that one, folks. I never did.
Another outstanding young fellow was Dewey Huss. I’d guess he was about 20 years old, too. I don’t remember where he worked, but no matter. He was an instant celebrity from the first day he arrived on the Island because of his remarkable musical talent. He played the ukulele. That’s right. The ukulele, and I don’t mean like Tiny Tim tip-toeing through the tulips either. Dewey was a true virtuoso who could play anything and everything and do so remarkably well. All he needed was to hear a musical piece one time and he had it. Surely you’ve heard about such gifted people, and he was truly one. No party or get-together was ever complete without Dewey Huss and his uke. We all wanted to hear him play our favorites and he always did so, but in time our constant request began to rub on him little. Like the time some Admiral stopped by for a visit on very short notice. So, in the manner of the military the world over on such occasions, it was, “Clean here! Scrub there! Paint that!” Now the Admiral’s plane arrived well ahead of schedule and Dewey hadn’t quite finished sprucing up his area so his exasperated Chief really got in his face. “DO YOU KNOW THE BIG MAN IS HERE”, he yelled. “Naw”, was Dewey’s laconic reply, “But if you’ll hum a few bars I’ll fake it” I wasn’t there at the time so I can’t vouch for the authenticity of that story, but it the one that got around and we all loved it.
I’ll mention just one more outstanding fellow. His name was Martinelli. Italian of course. He was one handsome guy. A real Hollywood “leading man” type about six feet tall with beautiful black, wavy hair, huge black eyes and had a smile that would sell any body’s tooth paste. He too, was well educated, had a great sense of humor, a sharp, ready wit and was an excellent swimmer. He was a yeoman who worked for the CO in the AD building, and therefore always wore an undress white uniform. If Heidi could have seen this fellow presenting morning colors in that spiffy uniform, she would have freaked out completely. Well ….maybe not, because his most prominent physical feature was none of the above. Instead, it was his humongous handle-bar mustache. It was one of a kind. It was really huge, well waxed and extended well out to either side making a complete curl with the tips pointing upward and backward toward his ears. He was a great person to be around, and a real hoot to watch in the chow hall. Then one day just before inspection Martinelli shaved the mustache off. The inspection went very well and when it was over the CO had lots of good things to say to all the men. But just before dismissing us, the CO stepped to the mike, paused a moment, and in mock disgust bellowed out, “ALRIGHT, MARTINELLI. WHY DID YOU DO IT?” From somewhere in the back line Martinelli yelled back his answer. “It was itching, Sir? I guess it was.
Those were the people that helped make Midway the fantastic place it was.
Damn …. I loved that Island.
Wayman L. McElhaney
Midway Island, 1951-1952