Remembrances: Clyde Solmon: A Three Day Pass

In the early part of November 1944, when I was stationed at Camp Butner North Carolina, I received a letter from my mother stating that she had received a notice from the Navy that my young brother, 19 years of age, was in a Brooklyn Naval Hospital recovering from injuries received while landing troops at Anzio Beach in Italy. The letter didn't stay how bad the injuries were or if they were life threatening, She asked me to drop him a card or letter to help cheer him up and enclosed the address of the hospital. I thought it over and decided to show the letter to the 1st Sgt or Captain to see if I could get a three-day pass to visit my brother before I was shipped over seas. The 1st Sgt. read the letter but didn't think a pass was possible. He did give me permission to see the Captain. To my surprise, the Captain approved a three-day pass which started Friday after retreat and lasted to roll call Tuesday morning. When passing the 1st Sgt on my way out of the office, I was tempted to stick my tongue out at him but thought it would be too juvenile.

Now my brain started working overtime. My wife was living a few miles from Providence Rhode Island, which was only a four-hour train ride to New York. I decided to call her to see if she would be willing to meet me in New York City. I called home and told my wife I had a three-day pass and asked if she could she meet me in New York on Saturday morning. She was as enthusiastic as I knew she would be. I didn't mention the news about my brother. I gave her directions to get to Penn Station and said that I would meet her at the Travelers Aid Booth between 10 a.m. and noon on Saturday.

My train was due to arrive around 10:30 a.m. It seemed Friday night would never come. After Retreat I headed for the Camp station to catch the bus for Durham along with a few thousand others. The busses were packed and left as soon as they were loaded. I arrived in Durham in time to catch the bus for Raleigh and took the only vacant seat four or five rows from the front. The bus driver started to pull out of the station and looked in the mirror and stopped the bus. He pointed a finger at me and told me to get up to the front of the bus and told a Negro man to move to the rear. I told him I was ok where I was. He jumped up from his seat and told me to get my ass up front where I belonged and sent the Negro to the back. I felt very embarrassed but did as I was told. The Negro in passing me patted me on the arm and said, "It's OK soldier." The driver looked at me and said, "When you Yankees come down here you live by our rules or you don't ride the bus." I was very quiet the rest of the way to Raleigh since I wanted to make the train to New York.

I arrived at the train station and bought a round trip ticket to New York. I was told the train was running a half hour late due to the crowded conditions. He had some doubt that all the people present would be able to get on the train. I related I only had a three-day pass and he told me I'd have to judge where the train would stop to be at an opening between the cars. That was the best he could do.

There was a mass of people on the platform both civilian and service men. There was a middle-aged portly man with two large suitcases who was making a nuisance of himself bumping into people trying to get to a good spot. The train arrived 45 minutes late and everyone crowded near the track hoping to be in a good location when the train came to a stop. The man with the two suitcases had the luck of being near a doorway and I found myself in the middle of nowhere. As the train stopped the man with the two large suitcases made for an opening bumping and shoving. He was hit broadside by a hoard of service men, the cases going one way and he the other. As I stood there smiling in no-mans land, I heard a voice say, "You want to get on this train mate?" I looked up to see a couple of sailors at a partially open window. They opened the window wide, reached down and grabbed my hands and in two shakes I was through the window and on the train. One sailor said he was sorry but there was nowhere to sit but the floor. I was just damn glad to be aboard. I slept on the floor all night wedged between two seats with two sailors. From that day I was thankful for the Navy. Without their help I don't think I would have made the train.

I arrived at Penn Station and went to the mens room to make myself presentable, then to the Travelers Aid booth to wait and see if my wife arrived. About thirty minutes passed when I saw her enter the door and start down that long flight of stairs. She seemed to notice me at the same time and we ran toward each other for a much needed hug and smooch. She looked around and to this day I remember her very words, "Look at all the people." A small town girl was on her first visit to the big city. She's been there many times since. We went to the Travelers Aid Booth and I asked for a hotel room for two nights and any "freebees" a service man could get in New York. We were sent to the Hotel New Yorker to a beautiful room with a nice view of the city and a handful of pamphlets of discounts and "freebees" for service men. We had a room service meal with a bottle of wine to celebrate then took in a few sights near the hotel and returned around midnight. We took advantage of other things, but for that use your own imagination.

The next day we decided to take in Radio City Music Hall. We were standing outside deciding what price tickets we could afford, when I heard a voice behind me say "Sargent." I turned around and found myself face-to-face with a 1st Lieutenant. I gave him a salute and he waved it away. He asked, "Are you and your wife going to this show?" I told him we were discussing which tickets to purchase. "Here are two tickets to the show I think my date stood me up." he said and turned and walked away before I had a chance to thank him. My wife had a comment, "How could a girl break a date with a good looking fellow like that?" Such is girl talk or thoughts. The tickets were the best in the house and we have never enjoyed a show more. Thank you, Lieutenant!

Early Sunday evening upon leaving the hotel, a bellhop told us we could probably make the early dinner at the Rainbow Room and my uniform would be considered first class. We discussed this a while and my wife said she didn't think the dress she brought was fine enough for the Rainbow Room, plus we were getting a little low on money. No VISA cards those days. I think we ate that night in a cafeteria-style restaurant. We were together and having fun. Twelve years later we did the Rainbow Room in style and my wife has never forgotten it.

Monday morning rolled around and it was time for her to go home and me to go back to camp. I went to Grand Central Station with her and saw her on the train to Providence and then went back to Penn station to catch my train south. The weather had turned very cold and she arrived home to find the heat off and the water pipes frozen. The landlord helped her to get things going again with the water and heat. Did I forget to mention she was five months pregnant at the time? Mother and baby survived the trip, but her doctor was shocked when she told him about it. I made it back to Camp Butner in plenty of time, tired but happy.

Now I remember, this story started with my brother in a Brooklyn Naval Hospital. I didn't visit him. I sent him a card instead and he didn't notice it was mailed in New York City. I called the hospital from Penn Station while waiting for the train and was told he was out on a 24-hour pass. So much for serious injuries. Knowing my brother he was probably being cheered up by some young chick or a nurse. I found out later an artillery shell landed close to him when he was returning to his ship (attack transport). The shell blew him off the landing craft into the water. He obtained a concussion and a cracked rib. He was sent to the hospital for two weeks for observation. Not even a Purple Heart.