“The recent visit of Mickey Rooney to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where I am stationed, is an event I shall always remember, even though he left my morale just where he found it. Young Mr. Rooney dropped in more or less under the auspices of the U.S.O. His arrival was breathlessly awaited and, though my buddies and I were naturally not permitted to leave our duties to greet him at the railroad station in the adjacent town of Fayetteville, we heard later that enough affectionate townsfolk had tried to pull his clothes off to make the reception a success.
“After that orthodox beginning, his visit became rather strange, for a movie star. His manager, a ubiquitous gentleman who seemed to be under the impression he was escorting the Holy Grail, somehow persuaded the camp authorities that his lively cargo’s cruise around the post should not be chronicled by the local press. At this the press became highly indignant. One correspondent, denied the privilege of speaking directly with the great man, reported uncharitably that Rooney’s face, off the screen, was as green as his suit….”
— From “Andy Hardy Comes to Camp” by Pvt. E. J. Kahn Jr. in The New Yorker (June 13, 1942)
According to the recent “The Life and Times of Mickey Rooney” by Richard A. Lertzman and William J. Birnes, Rooney put on a much more winning performance in a sidetrip to meet the mother of Ava Gardner, to whom he was secretly married.
“There are still 10 Army bases in the United States named for Confederate generals, and military officials have no plans to change the names….
“One [such] ‘fort’ might (but probably won’t) be undergoing a name-change soon: Fort Bragg, a coastal city in Mendocino County, California, which was founded as a military garrison in 1857.
“Like Fort Bragg in North Carolina, it was named for [Warrenton native] Braxton Bragg. The big difference? When California’s Fort Bragg got its name, the South hadn’t seceded yet and Bragg hadn’t defected to the Confederate army. So while the town’s name still honors Bragg, you can’t say it was named to honor Confederate General Bragg. That detail might save it from new rules proposed by California Senate Bill 539, which would ban and expunge from state property the names of people ‘associated’ with the Confederacy.
“It’s a different story in North Carolina.
“The Army base [near Fayetteville] was established as Camp Bragg in 1918. More than half a century earlier, Bragg had overseen the killing of U.S. Army soldiers….”
— From “The U.S. military’s disgraceful devotion to the Confederacy” by Timothy McGrath at GlobalPost (via Salon, July 12)
This earlier condemnation of Confederate-named Army bases cited not only Bragg, but also Raleigh-born Leonidas Polk.
“Their worldly possessions jammed into the back of his Volkswagen, Colin [Powell] and his pregnant wife were on their way to Fort Bragg. [In 1962] there was no on-base married housing for temporary, Vietnam-bound trainees; they planned to rent a furnished house or apartment in Fayetteville….
“After a frustrating day of house hunting, the Powells concluded that there were no middle-class rental accommodations available for blacks in Fayetteville. All Army posts were well integrated by the mid-1950s, but military desegregation meant nothing when black soldiers ventured outside the gates, particularly in the South. At dinner that night at the home of a friend… Colin’s anger rose as he related their experience with local real estate agents.
” ‘You talk to people on the phone,’ and everything’s fine, he said. ‘Then you walk in and they see you’re black, and immediately they’ve got a section of town they’re going to take you to.’ Among the several offerings had been an empty shack in the middle of an overgrown field that had been turned into a trash dump.”
— From “Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell” by Karen DeYoung (2006)
The Powells ended up spending the next six weeks in a children’s room (with bunk beds) at their friend’s Army duplex.
“The funeral train plunged through the darkness [on April 14, 1945], changing engines and crews again at Salisbury, North Carolina, where 8,000 people (including 145 honor guards from Fort Bragg), stood in silence — and presented still another floral wreath. Sometime after midnight, the train rumbled through Greensboro. The countryside between the big cities was land that one journalist [Jim Bishop] later termed ‘Noplace in the Carolinas.’ With a schedule to keep, the funeral train simply could not stop in such locales….
“The exception was a place — never identified — where the railroad tracks slipped into a narrow cut of earth with farm fields abutting the crevasse on either side….. The locomotives chuffed to a halt beneath a tall wooden water tank….
“As the fireman wrestled the filling spout over the hatch of the first tender, an elderly black sharecropper — awakened by the hiss and clang below — wandered over to investigate. He peered down and saw the train paused in the ghost light, its windows all dark except for those of the last car, where he saw the flag and knew what it meant.
“Shocked and humbled, the man began to sing ‘Hand Me Down My Walkin’ Cane.’ His sonorous baritone boomed across the moonlit fields, drawing other farm hands out of their shanties. One by one they added their voices to the chorus. One of the engineers looked up, certain he could hear singing from somewhere above and away….”
— From “FDR’s Funeral Train” by Robert Klara (2010)
Klara’s book is authoritative and engaging, but I was disappointed he didn’t make use of reporter LeGette Blythe’s deadline account of the funeral train passing through Charlotte. I’ll post an excerpt tomorrow.