THE CITY OF COLON
The big spots in town in 1943 were The Florida, (pronounced Floreeeeda), The Monte Carlo, The Copa Cabana and Bill Gray's Gardens. In between were many bars and grills, all doing a land office business. Blue Moon Queens were in the larger spots. They would try and get the soldiers to buy them a drink. Theirs would be colored water. Most of the girls were from Guatemala and Columbia. The only takers were soldiers passing through or sailors from a ship. On a quiet night we would talk with them, not buying a sucker drink, most of them were very interesting and some quite intelligent. At the end of the African campaign there were a large number of Aussies that had been German prisoners for some time. About 2,000 were loaded on the Mauritania and sent into the Pacific. The ship docked at Pier #6 and the troop commander made the big mistake in letting the men go into Colon. I was in town that night and it was wild. The Aussies, recent prisoners, would sweep down the sidewalk and streets six abreast and take everyone they could into the bars. What a wild bunch. The troop commander called for help and several outfits sent trucks into Colon and tried to round up the Aussies. Colon is full of alleys and narrow streets. It was an impossible task. I think it took 3 days to find them all and I heard that some were still missing when the ship pulled out. I remember the Major that was transferred to our unit as CO. After a few days he wanted a parrot. I took him in the jeep to a couple spots in Colon and he bought one for $8. It could speak a couple of words of English and whistle perfectly. He took it to the Officer's Club but after a few weeks he gave it to us in the squad room. I was told that one of the enlisted men at the Club taught the Parrot to say,"Captain ------- is a SOB. Anyhow we got the Parrot. One of the fellows at the Med. Station #2 took it down there where it stayed for several months. It would sit outside on the porch rail and whistle at every person passing by. One of the fellows got drunk one night and sold it to a sailor for $50.I had another great experience with that same Major. There was a Chaplain, Lt.Col,. on the Post. He had a black dog but the Chaplain died and the dog became attached to me. Wherever I went, so did the dog. I would go into Colon. so did the dog. When I took the jeep the dog would jump into the front seat and sit up like a General. One day during the rainy season, the Major wanted to inspect Medical Station #2. He wanted me to take him and he got into the front seat. Black Dog (that is what we called him) made one leap and landed in the Major's lap, dirty, wet feet and all.. The Major didn't say a word. He got red in the face, pushed the dog out and said, "let's go". I didn't say anything either.
Fifty-six years have gone by and my memory is weak on some things, yet some things seemed to have happened only yesterday. Here are a number of experiences that I had and which are very vivid in memory.
As I mentioned before, I am a sightseer and took advantage of every opportunity to travel while in Panama. I was able to take a five-day trip by navy ship along the coast of Panama almost to Columbia. Radar Stations had been located along the coast which, were manned by small groups. The only supply contact they had was this Navy ship, once a month. Beautiful white beaches and solid jungle behind. We stopped for a day at the San Blas Islands. The women and children would disappear from sight and it was very hard to get near them. After they decided that you meant them no harm they would come back out and gather around. They spoke no English, However many of the men did the KP work on the Posts on the Atlantic side. There were about seven of them at DeLesseps. They were very short, muscular, and always smiled all the time. They did learn of few words of English but seldom said anything. It cost every man on the Post fifty cents per month to have the San Blas men do the KP. Well worth it. I was able to visit the San Blas Islands in 1997, what a change. It was like a flea market. They tried to sell you everything from birds to paintings. And they were not bashful. I showed an elderly man a couple of the pictures that I had taken in 1944. He pointed to the west and indicated that they were taken on the mainland. I was able to visit Fort San Lorenzo several miles up the coast. It was the oldest fort under the United States flag, built about 1575 and later captured by Morgan's Raiders, the pirate. It has been destroyed and rebuilt but was last used in 1850. I also had occasion to visit the largest leper colony in the Western Hemisphere at Palo Seco, on the Pacific side. The day I was there an 18 year old girl was being crowned Queen of the Colony. I understand the Colony is now closed since the inhabitants have died and modern medicine can keep the disease under control so they can live a normal life.