I’m Greg McIntyre and this is lunch with a veteran. What we do each week is sit down, eat lunch and talk about our veteran’s stories. My guest’s today are JD and Virginia Thomas and this is somewhat a love story. Did you know each other when you went in the military?
JD: No, I’m from Georgia, she’s from Connecticut.
GM: How did a country boy from Georgia, or you might have been a city boy?
VT: No, tell him.
JD: No, I’m from the back woods.
GM: So, why did you both go in the military?
VT: I had five uncles in world war two and I was down in Hartford and the recruiters were around so I went in, got some information about the Airforce and I was just thrilled. I had two years of college at that time and I signed up and went down to Lackland Airforce Base in San Antonio, Texas. It was a completely different part of the country, so it was interesting.
GM: I’ll bet San Antonio was a little different from Connecticut?
VT: Yes, they had people dressed up in Mexican costumes going down the river playing songs. It was a wonderful place because you hardly ever had to leave as there were movie theaters and a hospital there.
I did a thirteen week basic because it was patterned after the army. By the end of the basic I was getting pretty sick of trying to be perfect all the time, you know, everything had to be neat. Then I was sent to a base called Lowry Airforce Base in Denver Colorado. I worked all the time in an education office doing GE and CLEP Testing and helping people become officers and all that. He (JD) came to the education office to have some things done. I didn’t know him then until I met him on the police gate when I was going out. On the way back they would ask to see our ID cards so they knew your name, and they were ready to have a little conversation with you. Way to get acquainted.
GM: What year did you go in the military?
GM: Was it common for women to go in the military then?
VT: Yes. We were like in a college right there. Women Commanders, First Sergeants, we were really protected from what happens these days. Everyone seemed to be treated pretty well there, the girls and the men. It was a different era. It’s kind of sad what goes on now, like, they interviewed me and said, what do you think about going in to combat? I said, I’m not so much worried about the enemy, I’m worried about my own troops.
GM: So, you met JD when he came in for education?
VT: I did but he was just one of the people coming in. I really got to know him when he was an air policeman at the gate. The base had a cafeteria which was where most of the enlisted men went to get coffee.
GM: I want to know the details of how you both met. So, JD, it looks like I will have to come to you to get the whole story behind this. Why did you go in the military?
JD: It was a way out of the south. I grew up in Georgia where the Appalachian trial starts in Haven. There was nothing down there but a cotton field, there was no work down there. I was born and raised down there until I was about ten or eleven when we moved away to South Carolina. I went in the Army National Guard there in 1953 with my cousin.
VT: His cousin was fifteen years older.
JD: I was in the 51st Infantry Division 51st Signal Corp. I took boot camp at Fort McClellan, Alabama and then we moved again to Belmont North Carolina and a friend of mine came home from the airforce and I asked him, can you get me in the airforce, and he said, yeah. So, we went to Charlotte and he swore that I was seventeen and swore that he was my guardian and I boarded that plane and went to San Antonio Texas.
VT: He never went back.
JD: I went to San Antonio and from there to Lowry Airforce Base as an Air Policeman. I did the flag detail, raising the flag, lowering the flag, running security and I worked my way up. They put me in charge of the arsenal, of all the base defense weapons, so when someone brought weapons on base they would have to check them in to me and check them out. The ammunition would have to be through me also. I worked mostly for a colonel on the base and he would handle all the military funerals for the state of Colorado. In fifty nine the commander called me in and said, you’re going to meet some VIPs out at the funeral you’re going to, so just do your job and get out of there. I came to find out the VIPs were some of the astronauts Kennedy introduced.
GM: I just watched The Right Stuff again last week.
JD: There was Gus Grissom, Alan Shepherd, John Glenn, Gordon Cooper, I buried his father, he was a Colonel in the Airforce in Rifle Colorado. They sent me up there with eighteen men by train because there was so much snow. If you have eighteen men and there’s three bars in the whole town, I knew where to find them. We did a good job up there, it looked like Boot Hill. I buried thirty six troops in the state of Colorado. I enjoyed my time in the service. It was a good education for me and a good learning experience. I only came home once or twice in the whole eight years. I got the Airforce Commendation Medal for being on the funeral detail and setting it up, handling it and making sure it went off all right.
GM: That’s a lot of salad over there?
JD: These aren’t all of them but I just don’t want to show them all off. Do you know who only wore one ribbon, and I stood honor guard for him? Eisenhower. The Good Conduct Medal is all he wore.
GM: And he probably had a lot more than that?
JD: Oh yeah.
VT: Mamie, President Eisenhower’s wife, her family came from Denver.
JD: He used to come out fishing in Colorado. I got out of the Airforce in 1960 and we moved to Connecticut. I went to Barber School on the GI Bill. I had to work for somebody for eight years before I could get my own shop. I owned my own shop in 1967.
GM: At that time, you had to work for another barber for eight years before you could own your own shop?
JD: Well you could own it but you couldn’t run it.
VT: It was the old European apprenticeship system. Apprentice, journeyman and then a master barber.
GM: Law used to be an apprenticeship profession as well.
JD: That’s the way the barber pole got started. What the barber pole represented was the blue is for the veins, red for the blood and white is for the bandage they used when they did bloodletting. They’d pull teeth and everything. When I would go to the doctor I would tell them, we gave up your trade.
Anyway, I got back to Connecticut and opened my own business in 1967 and ran it for a couple of years then sold it and came down to North Carolina, but didn’t like it so we turned around and moved back two years later.
VT: We came down in seventy two and we thought the segregation issue was over but it wasn’t.
JD: I had got on the board of education in Lincolnton. The schools were just like open barracks, no doors on the showers, it just wasn’t suitable for school, so we moved back. I brought my old house back and my old shop back, it cost me a lot of money to make that mistake but I got it out of my system. And here I am again doing the same thing.
What I miss more than anything down here is my clientele. You can’t be cutting hair for fifty years and not know somebody. You realize when you cut a head of hair, you’ve got to have another one right behind them because one hair cut doesn’t pay a living. You realize how many people you’ve got to know to have a barber business. I started cutting hair in Granby Connecticut. In the sixties for men it was a dollar and a half, kids were a dollar and quarter. In 2013 in my shop, haircuts were sixteen dollars. I cut most of the military guy’s hair and state cops.
VT: He would come home with some funny stories.
JD: You’ve got to have a good story. Cutting hair and talking, it’s the same thing. You know, a guy comes in to get a haircut, he wants in and out, he’s on his lunch hour. He’s working at Hamilton Standard or Pratt and Whitney and he’s got to eat and get back to work in an hour. The best thing you can do in business is, you don’t talk religion, you don’t talk politics and you don’t talk money. Those three things are no one’s business, how much money you make, which party to belong to or which church you go to.
GM: But you do talk and I think that is a lost art, small talk, being able to talk to somebody else.
VT: We are against the technical world because we were never in it.
JD: It’s here to stay and let’s just hope it works. Eventually they will have robots doing mine and your job. What are we going to do?
GM: I see a lack of connection to people even other business people now. You go in to a department store and you’ve got to help yourself. When I was growing up here I would go in to a department store with my mother and there would be multiple people in there who knew her and would help her. That’s not the way businesses are set up anymore.
JD: Technology runs us in some ways, there’s no longer a family life because of technology. The dishwasher, the TV, the telephone, all these technologies have taken family talk out of the house. The mother and daughter used to wash the dishes and talk.
GM: I still like to do that, wash the dishes and have my kids dry them and talk with them.
JD: Technology is here to stay. Cities used to be the place to shop. It was safe to walk around in the cities. In the sixties when we got out of the service we shopped in Hartford. What did away with the city was the mall.
GM: Same thing in uptown Shelby, when the mall came about, everybody moved up there.
JD: And you know what, they’re now doing away with the mall. Everybody shops on their computers and has it delivered by drone.
VT: When I finished, I got a degree and worked in the schools, but because of the times changing it was very difficult. Like here, the mothers are working and the kids are left alone and there are so many incidences of child abuse or neglect, it’s terrible.
GM: There are a ton of problems. I was talking with someone at church about that very issue and the lack of employment in Cleveland County and how to put people back to work and get off drugs.
VT: It would be wonderful if they opened up the CCC again.
GM: What’s the CCC?
VT: Civilian Conservation Corp.
JD: They built a lot of the state parks and the roads and dams.
VT: It was in the thirties when it started. They had places to stay and were paid and would send money home because it was hard times.
JD: They had these camps and would give whoever was in the CCC five or ten dollars and send the rest home to their spouse. We’re just at the beginning of the technology thing. We’re not always going to use money. A lot of people never see money, it’s always on a card. I never had a credit card, an atm card or a debit card. If somebody stole my identity he wouldn’t know how to use it. He’d bring it back. It’s good to be that way. A lot of people buy on impulse with a card and get themselves in trouble.
GM: I agree that not having the cash in hand and having to count it out for this bill, and this for that bill and this is what I have left over to spend, but when you have this money on a card it’s not as real to you.
JD: It’s too easy to overspend, you don’t see the money. I went to the store the other day and got some food, and it came to nineteen dollars and sixty seven cents, so I handed over a twenty dollar bill and sixty seven cents and the cashier didn’t know what to give me back. If the machine didn’t tell them what to give you back they don’t know. They can’t count money. You’ve got to know how to count backwards. The world is moving too fast in some ways.
GM: I wonder how we’ve got to a point where many people don’t care about themselves anymore? It might be related to education and jobs.
JD: It might be that people are just too busy with all this electronic stuff. You go into any dentist’s office and everyone is sat around playing on their phones.
VT: His sister is in the hospital here, she’s very ill, and so everyone was going up to see her and sitting in the waiting area on their phones.
JD: No one was talking to each other or seeing what was going on. Their minds were ten thousand miles away.
GM: It is distracting. People are not living in the moment when they’re doing that.
JD: More people get killed on the roads because they’re texting on their phones than drunk driving.
GM: Let me just bring you back to the beginning, do you remember meeting Virginia?
JD: Yeah, I remember meeting her in the service. She was coming in to the gate, gate fourteen, and I was checking entries. It was a Nash Rambler fifty four.
GM: What’s a Nash?
JD: It’s a car, it’s a green station wagon.
VT: I was working part-time.
JD: She worked at Chicken Delight. So, she came in and I checked her out, and said, what are you doing out this late at night? I took my time checking her out because there was no one around.
I worked three jobs in the service. I worked at a service station and the commissary taking groceries out for people just for tips, and then I would go to work at seven in the morning until three o’clock for the military running the arsenal and checking people in and out. At three I would go down town off base and work at the service station until ten at night. I would close the service station and walk across to the bar and grill and wash dishes until two in the morning. I did that for three years. I was about the only guy on base with money before payday because I never spent any. People knew where to come to get money, they’d come to me because they knew I had money. They’d say, I need ten dollars, I’m going down town to see the girls. I always carried checks for the bank on base. I’d say, okay, here’s what you’re going to pay me back for the ten, sign it. Two days after payday you come and look for me, I’m not coming to look for you. I’ll cash this check and the old man will have you in the office if you don’t come and get it.
VT: If you wrote a bad check back in the service they really dragged you right in.
GM: So you would take a check back and get a little interest?
JD: The banks would do it, why shouldn’t I?
GM: You were the base bank?
JD: Yeah, the banks were closed when people wanted to go out. I’ll tell you a good little story about Wells Fargo as we’re talking about banks. They were hauling a big load of money out in the bad country out west in a stage coach and the wheels were real deep in sand. They were going along pretty good with the shotgun rider and driver and soon the shotgun rider said to the driver, you know there’s an Indian behind us, and the driver said, how close is he? The shotgun rider said, I don’t know, and the driver said, well how tall is he? Oh, he’s about knee high, oh he’s back about thirty miles back, he’ll never catch us. So, they’re going along good until the shotgun rider says, that Indian is gaining on us, the driver said, how tall is he now, he said, he’s about waist high, the driver says, he’s got one horse we’ve got six, we’ll outrun him, so, now they’re making a load of dust. Pretty soon the shotgun rider says again, you know that Indian is about ready to climb aboard, the driver says, hell shoot him, and the shotgun rider says, I can’t shoot him I’ve known him since he was knee high.
VT: He should tell you about one of his air policeman friends who noticed one of the girls in the military and you had the car. We were going to meet at the cafeteria, I was with my girlfriend.
JD: He was an air policeman and he set this thing up through his girlfriend. I didn’t know who I was going to meet, I knew she was a female. So, we went up there.
VT: Yeah, I knew the other air policeman, I had talked to him, so when everyone got in the car, the other air policeman got in the car with my girlfriend and I was stuck with him.
JD: We’ve got four kids now, enny, meany, miny and randy, ain’t gonna be no moe.
GM: People don’t tell jokes like they used to either. They’re scared to offend somebody.
JD: Do you know the best person to tell jokes, a salesperson.
GM: It’s a great icebreaker.
JD: A sales guy once told me, he says, the worst thing you can do when you go in to sell somebody is to sell somebody who smokes a pipe. I said what do you mean? He said, all you do is watch him clean that pipe, he’s not listening to a thing you’re saying. You might as well leave, you’re not going to sell him nothing.
VT: I grew up on a dairy farm in Connecticut, I was really lucky to have that kind of a life. There was a lot of dairy farms there, and it was a period of time where, heavens to Betsy, any woman who smoke and drank was looked upon as someone of ill repute. That’s how it was with my family so I never got into smoking or drinking. His sister was working in the mills down here and they never used masks or anything. This was what was so unfair, breaks were given only if you were a smoker, so if you wanted a break you smoked to get out.
JD: In the whole of America, if you do things in moderation it won’t hurt your body. You can over drink, you can over smoke, you can over work. You’ve got to know when to say when.
GM: You two seem to be two of a kind who met in the military and are still together today.
JD: I think everyone should go in to the military after high school, men and women. Makes no difference if they have brains or no brains, they’ve got jobs for you. They’ll teach you to take orders from someone other than your parents, teach you right and wrong, it’s a good upbringing in the service.
GM: I agree. I grew up by being in the military. It gave me a better foundation to build a life on.
JD: I had a sign in my shop which said, Attention teenagers, now is the time to take action. Leave home and pay your own way while you know it all.
GM: Getting out of your parent’s house, seeing the world, getting some discipline and making some money, it’s not bad for you.
JD: Everybody talks about the good ole days, well, the good ole days are right now.
GM: Live now and take advantage of your opportunities. I want to thank you both very much for being on lunch with a veteran today.
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