Archive for September, 2019

Guinn Williams

September 19, 2019

Guinn Williams

If you look at the picture above, and you’re a fan of old Western Movies, you probably recognize the face of Guinn Williams. He was a star in B-Westerns and a comic sidekick in more well known Westerns. He also has a baseball connection.

Williams was born in Texas in 1899, son of a rancher who dabbled in politics (in Texas that’s a step down from ranching). He joined the US Army in World War I, becoming an officer. He apparently turned down an invitation to attend West Point for a job in a rodeo. There he caught the eye of Will Rogers, who was just turning his talents to the movies. Williams played a lot of “heavies” (that’s the villain) in silent movies. He was 6’2″ and burly so it was a natural.

After “the talkies” began, he became a star in a lot of “drug store cowboy” movies (but not a “singing cowboy” type–unlike John Wayne who was at one time a singing cowboy). With a certain amount of stardom from his cowboy roles, he moved into A-Pictures (those are the more important flicks), frequently as a comic sidekick. He teamed with Alan Hale, Sr (not the skipper in “Gilligan’s Island”-that’s Hale, Jr.) as the comic cowboys in “Santa Fe Trail”, one of the biggest hits of 1940. If you can find it, the movie is kind of fun, but utter garbage historically. His career continued into the early 1960s with roles in “The Alamo” and “The Comancheros”, both with John Wayne. He died in 1962.

“Fine,” I hear you say, “but you said he had something to do with baseball, didn’t you?” Yes, I did. During the period between the end of World War I and Williams’ discovery by Will Rogers, he’s supposed to have tried his hand at baseball. And that’s as far as it goes. There are some sources that indicate he played professional baseball, but obviously not at the Major League level. Other sources say he was in semi-pro ball. No on lists a team, or where the team played. BaseballReference.com doesn’t mention him in the minors and Retrosheet has no mention of him (and the Internet Movie Database is silent about baseball). That makes semi-pro more likely, but not certain. Frankly, I don’t know where he played, at what level, or at what position.

So part of the reason for doing this little number is to make a plea for anyone who might know anything about his baseball career to comment below. I’d love to find out the details. Until then, we will have to be satisfied knowing that a familiar movie face also has a baseball record somewhere.

 

The Warrant Officer and the Clerk

September 12, 2019

Army Personnel Records jacket

This is not a pretty story. It is a story of pettiness, arrogance, and revenge. It happened while I was in Viet Nam in 1967-1968, but I have changed the names because both of the men involved may still be alive.

Warrant Officer Brown was a jerk; everybody agreed on that. No one liked him (well, maybe his mother, but you could get a bet down on that). I never worked directly under him, but ran afoul of him once or twice so I knew the stories about him were probably true. He was loud, obnoxious, full of himself. He was harsh to his subordinates, known to scream at the enlisted men under his command for infractions that were so small that no one else even noticed. Worst of all he was a Yankees fan. It was 1968 and the Yankees were awful. They finished above .500, but were never really in contention (it was Mickey Mantle’s last year). But to Warrant Officer Brown they were still God’s greatest gift to creation. He would tear into anyone who said anything bad about them and downgrade the accomplishments of any other team that you happened to favor. Obviously no one talked baseball around him.

For some reason known only to him (or maybe for no reason at all) he particularly loathed Dawson, our company clerk, who, like me, was a lowly E4 (that’s a corporal for you non-military types). He would take time in the mess hall to walk over to Dawson’s table and rip into him for something like shined shoes (which no one in Viet Nam worried about) or his hair or anything he could bring to mind. It seemed to all of us that Warrant Officer Brown simply wanted to pick on Dawson any chance he got. Dawson was a Cubs fan (I think he was from downstate Illinois, but am not sure.)

The problem for Brown was that the company clerk had access to all your paperwork. All he had to do was walk over to the appropriate place and ask to see your files. Dawson was also “short.” In Nam talk that meant he had only a few days left “in country” (that means in Viet Nam) before returning to “the World” (which in this case meant the US, but generally meant anywhere other than Nam). Also Dawson left Viet Nam before Brown (and before me). And when he left he was being discharged, so he had something of a “screw it” attitude toward the military.

We were sitting in the enlisted “club.” It was the back half of a wooden building that housed the unit supply in the front half. Consisting of a couple of tables, a few chairs, and a fridge where we kept the beer, it wasn’t much of a club, but it was what we had. Dawson was getting ready to leave Viet Nam (I think he had two days left). There were three of us sitting with him giving him something like a good bye party when the following conversation took place (exact words approximated after more than 50 years and cleaned up from GI English–which has a lot of four letter words in it.)

“I’m gonna screw Warrant Officer Brown.”

That got our attention. “How?” someone asked.

“I just sent his records to hell and gone.”

“Huh?”

“I just sent his medical file to Thailand, his dental file to Korea, his finance files to Fort Carson, and his personnel file to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.”

A quick disclaimer here. I do remember where he sent the papers (Thailand, Korea, Fort Carson in Colorado, and Ramstein in Germany), but I don’t recall exactly which went where, so I made up the specifics.

It seems our favorite clerk had taken the company official briefcase over to the hospital and asked to check some medical and dental files; something he had the right to do under regulations. What he didn’t have the right to do was slip Warrant Officer Brown’s files into the briefcase without telling anyone. Then it was off to the division finance office where he did the same thing with Brown’s finance records (those are the records that tell everyone when you got paid, how much, and what sort of deduction were taken out of your check). Finally, he wandered into the post personnel office and purloined the personnel files of his least favorite Warrant Officer. Those files tell everyone when you came in the army, what sort of training you have, what medals, when you arrived in Viet Nam, when you left. All the important things people have to know so you can get what you should and get where you are supposed to go in the army are in those files. Then Dawson headed back to the company area, sat down at his desk, and began inserting the various files into official envelopes. He addressed them and sent them on their way through official channels to the locations above.

“What the heck for?” one of us asked.

“Because Brown leaves in about 10 days and he can’t go anywhere without his files.”

The light bulbs went on above all three of our heads. Dawson had just made it difficult for Warrant Officer Brown to get out of Viet Nam. Without being able to collect all his files, he couldn’t leave country and would have to sit around waiting for the Army to track them all down. It was a particularly evil kind of revenge because we all knew the Army ran on paperwork, but it wasn’t very good about finding stuff when it needed to find stuff.

Two days later a couple of us accompanied Dawson to the helipad when the chopper waited to take him (and others) to Saigon so they could leave country and return to “the World.” He’d given us his stateside address and as he was leaving he turned to us and said (and these words I remember) “Drop me a letter and let me know when that God damned Yankee-loving son of a bitch gets out of here.” And he was gone.

About a week later the word started seeping through the grapevine that Warrant Officer Brown was having trouble “out processing.” That’s the nonsense you have to go through to get out of a unit. It seemed no one could find his records; none of them. I saw him a time or two running around the company area in utter disarray. As I recall, they found whatever it was that went to Thailand, but nothing else. About a week later I left and returned to the States. When I got home I sent Dawson a note saying Brown was still around the company looking for his files. After a two week leave I headed for my new assignment, a small post in Virginia. I knew that Brown was also supposed to be there. He wasn’t. I sent Dawson another letter saying Brown still hadn’t arrived at his next assignment. I got back a one word note, “Great.”

I never saw either of them again. Dawson was out of the Army and headed off to college (I don’t recall where). As far as I know, Warrant Officer Brown is still wandering around Nam looking for his files. Or maybe he got out with the “boat people.”