Friday, June 29, 2007

A Nickel Worth A Million ...

Earl taught me a valuable lesson when I was in the third grade at Giles Elementary School in Beaumont. I really did not grasp the concept until later but my experiences with Earl started the learning process.
One day at school, Earl came up to me and said, “Loan me a nickel. I’ll pay you back tomorrow.” He wanted to buy an Eskimo Pie. Those were vanilla ice cream bars on a stick and dipped in chocolate. Back then in the early 1940s, they cost just a nickel and you could buy them in the school cafeteria. Anyway, I saw no harm in loaning Earl a nickel so I did.
The next day, I saw Earl at recess. I asked for my nickel. He replied, “Oh, I forgot. I’ll bring it to you tomorrow.” This went on for a few days till finally I quit asking about the loaned nickel. A week or so later, Earl came up to me and wanted to borrow another nickel. I said, “I won’t loan you another nickel until you pay back the first nickel you borrowed.” Earl informed me that he would not be my friend unless I loaned him a nickel. And so, Earl and I had little to do with each other thereafter.
But the lessons Earl taught me were valuable and contained many truths about life. I learned that not everyone plays on a level field. It’s a shame because you really want to have everyone as your friend.
I must look pretty naïve because I have had many “scam” attempts directed at me over the years. In recent years I have received lots of mail offering me something for nothing. Just out of curiosity I made a list of my scam mail received during the months of January and February 2007. Following is a brief recap of that two-month scam log:
I won eight lotteries with cash prizes exceeding 10 million dollars. I think my favorite was winning the British South Africa Soccer World Cup Lottery. The other seven were sponsored by the London International Lottery. The really neat thing about all my luck with these lotteries is that I didn’t even enter them. My name was selected randomly from more than 50,000,000 e-mail addresses worldwide. As I am writing this column, another e-mail arrived notifying me that I just won another one million dollars from the United Kingdom Lottery Fiduciary. This is nothing short of unbelievable.
Also during this same two-month period, I received twelve requests from foreign countries where individuals wished to transfer large sums of money to my personal bank account. In return for my troubles, I would be paid 60% of the moneys.
And Mr. Choo Fat e-mailed me from Tokyo, Japan offering me a job stateside where I could earn a net income of more than one million dollars per year working at home only 10 hours per week.
Miss Hope Obi of Nigeria asked me to handle five million dollars of her deceased husband’s money. Other similar requests came from Liberia, Ghana, Sudan and Colombia.
In every case, these individuals wanted my personal banking account information.
And they wanted me to pay them some money up front to show my sincerity. That’s the big red flag. Never send money to anyone you do not know.
Here are a few tips that will help safeguard your financial interests:
Never reveal personal information to an unverified recipient. This includes:
• Login names and passwords
• Credit card numbers
• PIN numbers
• Bank account numbers
• Mother’s maiden name
• Social Security number
• Date of Birth
I may have lost a nickel to Earl back in the third grade but the lessons I learned from that nickel are priceless.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Law-Abiding Racer ...

Did you ever drag race against a police car? I did one day. Allow me to explain.
When my family moved to Beaumont in 1940, both Pearl and Orleans Streets in downtown were two-way streets. I remember riding in the back seat of our 1938 Plymouth. There was one lane going north and one lane going south. And there was horizontal parking on either side of both streets. This made for some really compact driving.
Sometimes I would ride with my mother to pick up my dad from work. Dad was a C. P. A. and worked for Mr. O. H. Maschek. Their offices were downtown in the Goodhue Building which was located at the intersection of Pearl and Crockett Streets.
This meant that Mom had to drive north in rush-hour traffic up Pearl Street. There was a policeman on every intersection and the traffic lights were set to where you had to stop nearly every block. When the signal lights turned green, the policemen blew their whistles constantly and waved their hands frantically for every car to get moving. After picking up my dad, we would go over to Orleans Street and head back out to South Park.
Anyway, by the time I received my driver’s license in 1950, Pearl Street had been changed to one-way heading north. Orleans Street had been made one-way heading south. This provided a smoother flow of traffic in the downtown area. Before the shopping malls started springing up, everyone did their shopping in the downtown department stores.
This arrangement with the one-way streets also made a perfect drag for teenagers to while away the time. I had passed my driving test in my mother’s 1939 Buick. When I got my driver’s license, I assumed ownership of that old Buick. I am not sure how all of this came to be but our family started referring to the old car as, “Winston’s Buick.” I was proud. That old car sported a radio and had indicator lights in the rear. Always wondered why that model Buick had indicator lights in the rear but not in the front. I used hand signals anyway. There was no air-conditioner so the windows were always down.
That Buick had a standard transmission with three forward gears. I would start out in first gear and manage to, “burn a little rubber.” Then I would cram the shifter into second gear and finally to third gear. I never knew why but if I ran fast in second gear then crammed it to third gear, sparks and fire would emit from the exhaust pipe. This was lots of fun, especially at night when the fire showed up really good.
Oh yes, what about the police car? Well, one afternoon, I was driving north on Pearl Street in the left lane. I had “burned rubber” at the last two traffic lights and was sitting at the third signal waiting for the green light. A police car pulled up next to me in the right lane. Our windows were down. I was afraid he was going to lecture me about the evils of making the tires squeal. But instead he asked, “ Ya’ wanna drag?” I didn’t know what to say so I said OK. When the light changed we both “got rubber.” However the police car jumped ahead of me and waited at the next red light for me to catch up. We drag raced all the way up Pearl Street. Then the cop yelled over to me, “Hope you had fun and I hope you got it out of your system. Don’t ever let me catch you drag racing again.”
And you know what? I never drag raced again.
Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise

Sunday, June 17, 2007

"Forward ... Run"

Whoa … hold everything … time out … stop the presses …

Now Hear This … I want to collect stories of your military experiences … nothing gruesome but send me funny stories or scary stories. With your permission some of these accounts may be shared in some of my columns. Mr. Thomas Taschinger, the Beaumont Enterprise Opinions Page Editor, has authorized me to proceed with this approach. A couple of examples follow:

My brother-in-law, Sid King, of Beaumont used to be a tail gunner in a B-29 Super Fortress bomber. He told me that the main problem with being a tail gunner is that you could not see where you were going … you could only see where you had been. He told me, “If you want a taste of what it’s like riding in the tail gunner position, try walking backwards down a sidewalk. Don’t look around. Just walk backwards.” He did add that he had full confidence in the pilots up front who were flying the craft but that he always felt a slight sensation of wondering what was coming up behind him which actually was in front of him but with his back turned.

And did you know that I marched in an army band while playing the National Anthem? Now everyone is supposed to stand at attention during the playing of the anthem, right? Well here is what happened.

In 1960, I was stationed with the 79th U. S. Army Band with headquarters in the Panama Canal Zone. One day we were assigned to go to Shaler’s Triangle. This was a place in the Canal Zone that bordered Panama City. President Eisenhower had ordered that the Panamanian flag be raised along side the American flag. This raising of the flags would symbolize the titular sovereignty of Panama over the Canal Zone. There had been for some time considerable unrest generated by communist activists complaining about the Canal Zone cutting Panama in half. The Zone reached from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans and extended five miles on either side of the canal. The United States had leased the zone for 99 years. And the lease was perpetual, meaning that it could renew automatically at the end of that time.

This ceremony was part of a project called “Operation Friendship.” I’ll share more about that project at a future time. Anyway, There were thousands of spectators gathered around to witness the, “raising of the flags.”

The band was standing in front of the speakers’ podium. I played trombone and stood in the front row of the band. This gave me a good vantage point to see what was going on.

After several speeches, the Panamanian flag was raised. Our band played the Panamanian National Anthem. Following that, the American flag was raised on a pole next to the Panamanian flag. We began playing the U. S. National Anthem.
While we were playing, a broadcaster stood in front of the band holding up a microphone so that the radio audience could hear the music.

Suddenly, a man rushed from the crowd and stabbed the radio announcer with a knife. The announcer slumped to the ground while the police tackled the perpetrator. Our band director immediately gave us a forward march. While still playing the National Anthem, we marched to our bus which was parked down the street about one block. Everyone else in the crowd stood at attention as the band marched away.

I suspect this is the only time in history that a military band has ever marched while playing the National Anthem. But it was the ideal time to do so.

So send me some accounts of your military experiences. It should make for interesting reading.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise

Saturday, June 09, 2007

I Gave My Trombone Some Lip ...

An unusual event transpired in the early 1950s at a football game played in the South Park High School Greenie stadium in Beaumont. For any who may not know, I should explain that Greenies are what we were. If you attended Beaumont High School, you were a Royal Purple. Then there were the French High Buffalos, the Charlton-Pollard Bulldogs, the Hebert Panthers, and also the parochial St. Anthony Bulldogs.

Anyway, back to the unusual event. The Greenies were playing the Port Arthur Thomas Jefferson High School Yellow Jackets. The Yellow Jackets generally were regarded as one of the best teams in the state. Their school enrollment was huge. Playing football against them was almost like playing a junior college. Our much smaller team expected to be pretty sore and bruised after a Yellow Jacket game.

I played trombone in the Greenie band. That meant I could enjoy the entire football season without fear of injury. On this particular Friday night, our turn came to march out onto the field to perform our halftime show. Everything went fine until the unexpected happened. I stepped into a divot. Divots were made when crashing football players dug up pieces of turf. Football shoes with cleats were notorious for creating a playing field filled with divots.

So what’s the big deal about stepping into one of these divots? Well I was playing my trombone when the misstep occurred. When my foot stumbled through the divot, the mouthpiece of my trombone banged into my mouth. I started bleeding, teeth and lips. Wearing a white uniform with green trim definitely is not a time to have a profusely bleeding mouth.

Trombone players have to learn early on how to watch their steps while marching. The first lesson I learned about this was during my first parade on Pearl Street in downtown Beaumont. Men on horseback led the parade. The Greenie Band was next. Usually trombonists march on the front row of a band so that there will be plenty of room for their slides to operate. There is a thing about marching behind horses in a parade that is hard to explain. Did you know that horses poop during parades? Not once, not twice but several times. The trombone section not only has to hold their trombones up while playing but also march without stepping in horse leftovers. So we trombonists learned how to play and at the same time watch where were stepping.

Now, with all of the experience gained from marching in parades, I should have seen the divot on the football field that night. But I didn’t. Now I had blood coming from my mouth and it would not stop bleeding. I marched off the field and went over my Mr. Louis Stumpf, the band director. He sent me down to the field house to find a first-aid kit. Inside the field house were all of our muddy football players sitting around.

The trainer came over and started working on my busted lip. Here I was in the dressing room with the football team. I was the only one in there wearing a band uniform. Some of the players yelled out comments such as, “Hey, a little blood doesn’t scare you does it band boy?” or “Did you get blood on your purse?”

So there you have the unusual event. The Greenies lost a hard-fought football game with a tough Yellow Jacket team. The only injury on either side that night was a trombone player who received a chipped tooth and a busted lip when he stepped into a divot while marching at halftime.

Stranger things have happened but those are stories for another day …

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise

Saturday, June 02, 2007

This Is D-Day (almost) ...

Where were you and what were were you doing in the wee hours of Tuesday, June 6, 1944? I was 9 years old and lived on Pipkin Street in Beaumont and I was asleep. Little did I know what was taking place overseas.

But, Mr. Alfred Aden, who still resides in Beaumont, knew what was going on overseas. He was there. He and some 3 million additional military personnel were beginning a gigantic operation known today as the Normandy Invasion. This invasion also is known as the turning point of WW2.

Mr. Aden was 20 years old and served as Radioman aboard a sub-chaser that led in one of the first waves of troop landing crafts in that historic assault. It was just before dawn and the landing crafts were so low in the water that they could not see where they were going. That’s one reason why the sub-chasers led the way.

Aden described how that they were crossing the English channel on the 5th of June when he received a radio message that read, “postmark #1.” This decoded into the message, “Operation Overlord postponed …return to base of origin.” So they all turned around and returned to England. The weather was so bad that General Eisenhower called off the attack for fear the huge waves would swamp the landing craft. They started out again on the 6th of June. Aden told me that he thought the weather was worse on the 6th than it was on the 5th. But the operation was not postponed again.

One of the more intriguing stories with this invasion involved the advancing First United States Army Group (FUSAG), which did not exist, commanded by General George Patton, who was not on the scene, and the very successful missions that this nonexistent Army Group never carried out. Sound confusing? “Confusion” is exactly what Eisenhower and the other allied commanders wanted to present to the defending German army.

This elaborate, “Operation Quicksilver,” was the largest, most carefully-planned, most vital and most successful of all the Allied deception operations. False information was “leaked” on the radio. German spies were caught and converted into counter agents to help leak false information back to their superiors. The Axis forces were made to believe that a massive invasion was to launch forth from Dover and hit Calais. Fake, inflatable tanks were lined up on the beaches of Dover. False night-lighting was set up on those beaches. Even fake arm patches for nonexistent FUSAG uniforms were manufactured. The night before the early morning Normandy assault began, U. S. aircraft flew behind the German lines at Calais and parachuted dummies (mannequins) wired with firecrackers. The Axis was under siege by some mysterious airborne division … or so they thought.

The Germans were so convinced that the Pas de Calais would be the assault target, that they kept nineteen powerful divisions including important panzer (tank) reserves in place to defend that region. These enemy divisions including the tanks stood idle on the day of the invasion, awaiting an assault that never came. Also these divisions were pinned in the Calais area for almost two months following the Normandy invasion. (For additional information on this “Phantom Ghost Army,” run a Google Search for FUSAG).

Referring to the Battle of Normandy, Adolf Hitler stated, “ … if the enemy here succeeds … consequences of staggering proportions will follow within a short time.”
And in this rare instance, Hitler was right on.
Looking back to 1944, many of us in Beaumont literally were sleeping as the Normandy invasion kicked off. Today as we survey our national and international tensions, let us not be caught sleeping while our enemies lurk about finding ways to devour us. Do we need a wake-up call?
God bless America.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise