Memories Of Christmas During
WWII And The Year Of 1950
I believe that most people have heard the saying "you can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy." This saying proved to be very true during the Christmas season of 1942 for this country boy from Liberty, Casey County, Kentucky, when I made my first time visit to Danville, Boyle County, Kentucky. I was 13 years old at the time, and I had never been out of the town of Liberty, except to visit relatives in other parts of Casey County.
I had heard people talk about Danville, and I had hoped many times that someday I would be able to visit this city. Now my dreams had come true, and I was shopping in Danville during the Christmas season of 1942. I do not know how I got to Danville, but I do remember crossing the railroad tracks (on old State Route 35) at Shelby City and seeing a large "Coffee Pot" on the right hand side of the road as we traveled north through Boyle County. This "Coffee Pot" was a thing of beauty to me, and I can remember seeing a man go through the door into it. I believe the "Coffee Pot" was later torn down, but this was my first memory of Boyle County, Kentucky.
I only had 35¢ to spend on Christmas presents for my family, but I was able to walk the streets of Danville see the large number of business establishments at no cost to me. I remember Marshal's Restaurant on the street coming from Hustonville and Moreland. I was able to visit this restaurant on future trips to Danville, and I remember they served delicious hamburgers with lettuce, onions, and tomatoes for only 5¢. Liberty did not have a bus station, but I can remember a large Greyhound Bus Station in Danville. Many passengers were inside the bus station on this day waiting to board buses for destinations outside of Danville. I believe Trailway Bus Lines were later permitted to pick up passengers outside the bus station.One business place in Danville that will always hold a precious spot in my heart was the Brunswick poolroom. There was a young man by the name of Whitey who worked in the poolroom, and he sold the best hotdogs that I have ever eaten. It wasn't the wiener that was the real treat, but it was the chili that made the hotdog so delicious to eat. For years to come, members of my family (including my mother) always enjoyed eating these hotdogs on their trips to Danville. I have always wondered if Whitey is still alive, and how I could get the recipe for making this chili.
One thing which had caught my interest in a hurry on this trip was the two theaters in Danville. The two theaters were the State Theater and the Kentucky Theater. I remember the bright lights from the marquis, and I could only imagine how nice these theaters were in the interior. The fact that I worked at the small Allen Theater in Liberty only added to my interest in them. I was later able to patronize both of these theaters, and I can say that I was not disappointed in my visit to either of them. I believe the Kentucky Theater had the larger seating capacity of the two.
The largest store I visited in Danville on this Christmas trip was a large department store called the Hub. I do not know whether this store has closed since WWII, or if it is still open for business, but I can remember it was a very nice store. I indicated earlier that I only had 35¢ to buy Christmas presents for my mother and seven brothers and sisters. This proved to be quite a problem, but it was solved on my visit to a local "Five and Ten" store (I believe the name of the store was McCroy's or Woolworth). I purchased a 10¢ necklace as a gift for my mother, and I bought 25¢ worth of chocolate drops for my brothers and sisters.
Famous country music singer, Loretta Lynn, sings the words "A lot of things have changed since way back then" in her 1970 number one hit of Coal Miner's Daughter. I can say the same about Liberty and Danville after the Christmas season of 1942. Liberty now has a bypass that misses the main part of town. The same is true of Danville, and the highway between the two has been changed from State Highway 35 to US 127. This same highway had many dangerous curves in 1942, but now the curves have been eliminated, and the drive between Liberty and Dan-ville is a quicker and safer trip. The highway no longer goes through Shelby City with its famous "Coffee Pot." (I believe if the Coffee Pot were still standing today, it would be considered a historic landmark.)
I want to deviate in my writings to say that we were not the only poor family during the Depression and WWII. Everyone in this country was affected by the Great Depression, and many of them were just as poor as our family. Many of them, like our family members, were able to attain success in later life. I am a great fan of traditional country music and some of its greatest stars came from humble beginnings or were very poor. It would be impossible to name them all, but I do want to list some of their names. These names may bring back a few memories to a lot of people. Some of the female country stars would be Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, and Loretta Lynn. My favorite three male country music stars were Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, and Johnny Cash. All three of these stars were affected by the Great Depression, and they all saw bad years and Christmas seasons during the Great Depression. Johnny Cash says that his family had a lot of lean times at Christmas, but he goes into detail about one Christmas Eve when he was growing up as a boy in Dyess, Arkansas. He stated that they knew that their family members were not going to get very much for Christmas that year, but he also says there were others who were just as poor as his family. He recalls it was way past dark on Christmas Eve, and they noticed there wasn't a light in one of their neighbor's homes. He and his brother, Jack, took a jar of coal oil, along with some peanuts, and knocked on their neighbor's door and set their precious cargo down on the front porch. He said a little old lady opened the door and said in a low voice, "I sure do thank you." Johnny said about halfway back to his house, he and his brother looked back and saw a light coming through the window of their neighbor's house. He concluded by saying that even though he didn't get much for Christmas that year, he believes it may have been the brightest time of his life. He experienced the feeling that it is better to give than receive. The little old lady had used the coal oil to fill the lamp and this brought a lighter, brighter Christmas for her.
The next Christmas I want to mention came for me and my brother, Ray, at Camp Stoneman, California, in 1950. My mother had been very fortunate that her three sons were too young to serve in the military in WWII. This was not to last forever, as suddenly without warning North Korea attacked its neighbor, South Korea, on June 25, 1950. My brother, Ray, and I had gone to Cincinnati to seek employment that summer, and the thought of going into the military was one of the furthest things from our minds. We never thought about a Korean War, but President Harry Truman said aggression could not be tolerated. He ordered the American Army into Korea under the auspices of the United Nations. When I went back to Liberty in early September, I found a letter in our mailbox from the Selective Service Board. I figured it was a letter telling me to report for the draft, so I didn't open it. I told my mother that I was going to enlist in the United States Air Force as I did not want to be drafted into the Army.
Ray said he wanted to enlist with me in the Air Force, as he figured it would only be a matter of time until he received his draft notice. Two other boys, Carl Smith and Nelson Grider, from Liberty enlisted in the Air Force with us, and we were sent to Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, in September 1950, for an accelerated basic training program. In late October, Ray and I were shipped to Tyndall Field, Florida, for Air Police training. I remember waking up on Thanksgiving morning and hearing all this commotion going on outside our barracks. I got out of my bunk and went to the window, and when I looked out, there was about an inch of snow on the ground. The Floridians were screaming and yelling like crazy, as most of them had never seen snow before. This was a Thanksgiving weekend to remember as Kentucky played Tennessee in football at Knoxville, and many people could not get back to Lexington because of the heavy snow. There were no interstate highways in 1950. US 25 was the main highway leading north from Knoxville to the Kentucky line. US 25 was a two-lane highway with hills and many dangerous curves all the way north to Lexington. When Ray and I came north on a bus a few days later, most of the snow was off the highway. Snow was still in the fields along the road, but higher temperatures and road crews had made the highway alright for travel.
The inch of snow that we got in Florida was gone by noon as the temperature warmed up, and Ray and I headed north a few days later. We had our orders to report to Korea, but they were giving us a furlough at home before we were to go to Camp Stoneman, California, shortly before Christmas 1950.
We ran into the snow on our way north, and there was snow on the ground when we arrived in Liberty. It snowed several times while we were home on furlough, and Bluegrass Field in Lexington had large piles of snow pushed to the side on the day we flew out on our way to Chicago and then Los Angeles. We were supposed to fly out of Chicago about 8:45 a.m., but the flight was delayed several times that day because of blowing and drifting snow. Finally, about 4:45 p.m. that day we took off for California, and I remember it was snowing so hard we couldn't see the airport as we took off down the runway.
We arrived in Los Angeles to brilliant sunshine, and the bus ride north to Camp Stoneman near San Francisco was uneventful. We were just two country boys on our way to Korea, and we did not know what the future would hold for us. We did know that once we got to Korea, the Army would separate us as they did not permit two members of the same family to serve in combat together. (This was because of the five Sullivan brothers perishing when their ship was sunk in WWII.) The military was very nice to us after we arrived at Camp Stoneman, but a few days later a sergeant came into our barracks and said he had an important message for us. He said that we all knew we were going to Korea, and they had decided to give us a three-day Christmas pass into San Francisco. He said there would be a few of us who could not go, as we would have to serve KP on Christmas Day. He told us to check the bulletin board, and if our names were on there it meant we could not go into San Francisco, as we would be doing KP (kitchen police) at the camp on Christmas Day.
The first two names on the bulletin board for KP on Christmas Day 1950 were the Overstreet brothers. I sort of expected this, because my attitude during this period was whatever will be will be. Ray and I were wakened by the sergeant at 4:00 a.m. Christmas Day for KP duties at Camp Stoneman. I can remember they were playing Christmas carols over the loudspeaker on the base, and these carols made me wonder what the family would be doing back in Liberty, Kentucky, on Christmas Day. The mess sergeant was in a bad mood when Ray and I arrived at the mess hall for KP duty. He was one of the unlucky mess sergeants that was not given a three-day pass for Christmas. After assigning us to the work we were to perform, he offered us a drink out of a fifth of whiskey that he had hidden behind the kitchen counter. We refused the drink, and the rest of the day went fairly uneventful. The Christmas present for Ray and me did not come until the day after Christmas. The sergeant called our squadron together at 8:00 a.m. that morning (Ray and I were supposed to board ship for Korea that afternoon). He said that he had some good news for us. He said that he had a directive from the President of the United States that said "All military personnel assigned to Korea should have been in the service for at least 90 days." This directive went on to say that military personnel on their way to Korea would be sent back to the states and reassigned stateside. The directive had been signed before Christmas by President Truman, but as there weren't any troops boarding ship on Christmas day, the directive was held until the following day. Evidently, some mother had complained to President Truman that her son was in combat without the proper training. President Truman took the corrective action, and Ray and I were the beneficiaries of this directive. The sergeant started reading bases in the United States, and the name of the airmen who would be assigned to them. He eventually said the following airmen will be assigned to Godman Air Force Base, Fort Knox, Kentucky. PFC Fay Overstreet, PFC Ray Overstreet, and he then proceeded to read eight other names. I could not believe this was happening, and to be quite honest about it, I had never heard of Godman Field, but I would be fine.
Fay D. Overstreet
404 Fenwick Plaza
Fairfield, OH 45014
To view stories such as this one and many others with accompanying photos, subscribe to The Kentucky Explorer.