We were sitting by the pool at the Outrigger Reef on the Beach in Waikiki and started talking to the couple behind us. Vacation relaxes people. Especially by the pool, in Hawaii. Following the usual where are you from? how long are you staying? have you been here before? questions and answers, we heard the following fascinating story.
He ran away from his home in Indiana when he was 15 years old and, with a buddy, rode the rails across the country. The railroads hired private security to chase the hobo's off the freight cars but, through guile and ingenuity and cultivating friendships with the other "bums" he and his pal wound up in California with no plans and no goals. Their only objective was to get away from home. This was during the great depression when food, jobs, money, and security were scarce.
They found a small shack, near the train tracks, in California and prepared to fend for themselves on the West Coast when a man quietly approached them. They feared that he was one of the railroad "bulls" but he won them over with an offer of hamburgers and milk shakes. They devoured their free meal and then the stranger told them that they could eat like that every day - "3 squares and a bed" - and all they had to do was join the military. America had not yet joined WWII and enlisting seemed like a good idea. But, their young ages required permission from a parent. So, the army wrote to his mother who answered willingly and rapidly "of course." Her happiness stemmed from her lack of ability to provide for him and relief that someone else would be taking care of him.
So, off he went to join the army. After basic training, he was sent to Hawaii and stationed at Pearl Harbor. He played football and boxed for his company. "I was a good football player but needed to gain weight to be a bigger threat and I boxed as a lightweight. My CO said that if I gained even a pound, I would be court martialed. I was a winner as a lightweight and brought medals to the commander."
He survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and did not want to talk about that too much but he said that what happened to him was documented by James Jones in "From Here to Eternity." Jones served right next to him when they dug and built the bunkers and pill boxes next to the light house at Makapuu. Commemorative plaques mark the labors of Jones and his comrades. "Jones based the character played by Montgomery Cliff in the movie on me. "
That movie won an Oscar for Frank Sinatra, popularized Aloha Shirts that the Ernest Borgnine character wore, and memorialized Sandy Beach as the location for "the kiss."