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Living With the Army

by Willie Lagarde

Although soldiers had our scaled down crew outnumbered ten to one during the “Magic Carpet” trips we got along well with our mostly Army passengers. It was obvious they all respected us, maybe for no other reason than we were taking them home.

Many of us were detailed to keep order in the chow and shower lines and even though a “latrine” had been set up on the fantail many preferred to use our facilities. These were often crowded in normal times and now more so with almost three times the number of people using them. Our passengers only got two meals a day and were willing to pay for a noon meal. I can’t explain why but they all had a lot of money. Since we were short of cash some of us had no qualms about selling them our noon meal. We would take a tray of food up to the hangar deck and could almost name our price. No, we didn’t feel bad about it because we were working while they were riding and it meant we would be the ones with only two meals a day.

Shower time was chaotic in the beginning until we established some order in the waiting lines. These men were disciplined and readily cooperated recognizing an orderly way was the only way. Even though we were outranked by all levels of noncoms we had no trouble getting them to conform to naval warship custom and etiquette.

The one thing that went on 24/7 was dice games on the hangar deck. Ordinarily, there was no way we in the crew could afford to get in these games. However, after an evening of playing nickle and dime blackjack myself and another crewman (won’t mention his name) won about $20 between us. At his suggestion we decided to get in a dice game. You could gamble all night without ever touching the dice. Making side bets we soon had over a $100. He was experienced, having grown up on the streets of a big eastern city, so he took the dice and after an unbelievable run of good luck our roll grew to over $600. We split the money and hit the sack. Some time later he woke me saying he just couldn’t quit because he was “hot”. I declined and went back to sleep. In no time he was back wanting to “borrow” my $300 and to make a long story short we wound up without even our blackjack winnings. In those days $300 was big money.

A day or two out of San Francisco there was only one dice game left and when you heard “shoot five or shoot ten” they were talking about thousands. When we were in Japan I had picked up two Jap rifles, two automatic paratrooper guns (supposedly not allowed but I managed to get them aboard) and various other souvenirs. I was talked (begged) into selling everything by our passengers. Today, what I regret selling more than anything else was a Bing Crosby record with a Japanese label. It may be worth more than all the other stuff combined.

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