Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Coming Of Age in 1940s

When soldier Joe B. Swan joined up with the U.S. Army he was assured he would work on military newspapers and continue the kind of work he had done at Howard Payne College (now University), Brownwood, Texas. So, rather than get drafted with no choices he joined up. Stateside and later in Japan he never saw a typewriter. He was just another dogface and cleaned latrines and peeled potatoes just like the infantry. This was before there was a Haliburton to contract for all that stuff.

He was not long in Tokyo when the North Koreans took it upon themselves (with Stalin"s encouragement) to invade and make South Korea as sad a place as the north was becoming. He shipped over and saw combat before the Army red tape finally caught up with him and he was made editor of a camp paper.

His commanding office did not take to Joe's satire and cartoons in the paper. Reamed him out and was going to have him shipped off to a worse place. Can you imagine anything worse than anywhere in war torn Korea? But the general heard of the trouble Joe was having and he let the commanding officer know he liked Joe's cartoons and to leave Joe alone. His writing and cartoons did more for moral than all the orders and rules the Army insisted on.

The photo was taken in Brownwood with me on the left. This was before he was sent overseas. We corresponded for over 55 years. After the war he married the love of his life, Laura Jones, art student at HPC. They had two good kids, a boy and a girl, both living around San Jose, California. Joe built the photography department of San Jose State University from nothing to one of the leading such schools anywhere. He had three students later gain Pulitzers in photography and another who won an Oscar for a film documentary.

In the early 1980s Joe wrote me in China that he had seen the future. He was on leave and in Hawaii where he saw the first of the new way of publishing photos and newspapers. He knew then that film cameras would one day soon be antiques. Color in newspapers was becoming the thing to do.

Back when we were teen-age Lyric Theater ushers Joe and I and Bob Graves would walk home after work. Often sitting under a street light planning how we would make a future for us. We once rented an office in the old Southern Building on Center Ave. so we could practice being big-time writers.

After Bob moved to California he continued to write as he was a foreman on a ranch. He finally sold a story to a magazine. What a thrill. Until he received a copy which turned out to be a rather adult magazine he could not brag about or let his kids see.

Bob's been gone a long time. Joe just a couple of years. And I have my memories of two of the best guys God ever put on this earth. Sometime when the time is right and I can still use this computer keyboard I want to write more of the visions of the youth of the 1940s. Half those year our land was at war and the other half trying to adjust to peace without rations.

To tell a true story you need to be talented in writing fiction. That is original with me. Thought it up myself. And when I finished the biography of Maude and Wilson Fielder and their 40 years in China, I'll work on my fiction.

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