“Where are my shoes?”
By Ben Nicks

There must be a million stories out there about TWAers who got tangled up in World War II, and I have one.

Let me introduce y’all to The Gulch in Bisbee, Arizona. My first tactical outfit in April of 1942 was serving in El Paso with the 120th Recon outfit flying border patrol along the Rio Grande, with the mission of assisting ground forces in preventing the Germans from crossing into the United States. I might add that we were very successful. Not one German ever crossed the river (in today’s headlines, other nationalities are another matter).

That summer I was among a detached contingent working for a couple of months with the 93rd Division in Ft Huachuca, Arizona. That little patch of sand and cactus may have been the most desolate and deserted area in the world. Desperate for recreation, we would take a few days leave if we could get it, and go to Bisbee, Arizona, some 50 or so miles away. Bisbee was a bold and raucous copper mining town right on the Mexican border. An old-fashioned western town with lots of “activity”.

Too much, in fact. The Army had to step in and take a little action to prevent soldiers from getting into real trouble. Bisbee is built right in the middle of a steep valley with the main street running right down the center, and on either side is a successive row of streets, each a bit higher. And joining the main street on the east side of town is another similar valley, The Gulch.

The Gulch was the wildest part of town. Bars, fist fights, gunfights, gambling and rows and rows of houses offering --- shall we say, various and specific forms of entertainment? To protect the honor of the Army, and often their lives, squads of MP’s patrolled the entrance to The Gulch, banning soldiers from entering. The Gulch was “off limits”.

One day, the Bisbee Chief of Police called our commander, Major Ford Williams (may he rest in peace), and said, “We got one of your soldiers in jail here. Caught disturbing the peace and a few other things in The Gulch last night. Name of Captain Slick.” For the record, this is a true story, although the moniker “Slick” is fictitious  for the purposes of this story.

“But,” continued the Chief,” We’ll send him over to you for discipline if you want.”

“Sure, sure,” said Major Williams, “we’ll handle him. You bet we’ll handle him.”

So everyone was happy. The Chief was relieved of the uncomfortable job of prosecuting American soldiers … the Major was glad to keep his outfit clear of scandal … and the culprit escaped a possible jail sentence. That, incidentally, was the standard and best way of handling similar minor cases of overly exuberant soldiers during the war.

Captain Slick showed up. Major Williams said, “For openers, you’re confined to quarters for the rest of our assignment here. Now tell me, what happened?”

So Captain Slick told his story:

“Well, you know I had three days leave so I went over to Bisbee as usual. And for the first time, I managed to sneak by them MP’s guarding The Gulch and I got in. I wanted in, of course. Everyone wants to get in. I went right into the first bar. It was packed with huge, dirty, mean-looking and loud copper miners. I no sooner stepped in when one of them big, burly miners ran up and said, ‘Here’s the U S Army. Welcome, I’m going to buy the Army a drink.’

“I says, ”Great, buddy. I’ll drink to that.

“And I downed the drink and right away another bigger and even meaner copper miner ran up and said, ‘And I’ll buy a drink for the U S Army.’

“So I downed the drink and as it went down a third even bigger, dirtier and nastier miner rushed up and said, ‘And I’ll buy a drink for the U S Army .’

“Well,” I hesitated, “I’ve had three already and maybe …”

‘What?” he roared, ‘You won’t drink to the U S Army with me???’

“So I downed that drink in a hurry and as I finished another copper miner ran up….

“The next morning I woke up with a horrible hang-over, miserable. I flung out both arms, and learned I had just slapped into women on both sides of the bed with me.

“Hey,” I hollered, raising up. What you doing in my bed?”

There was one problem. They weren’t in my bed. I was in theirs.

And that’s when the police came.

Ben Nicks, 1946 – 1981. Following WW-II flying and instructing in heavy bombers, Ben joined TWA as a ticket agent in MKC, and in 1948  became editor of the TWA SKYLINER. He is justifiably proud to note that in six years never missed a publication date, “The airline should have had as good an on-time record.” He also served as apublic relations representative before  becoming facilities manager for the Jack Frye Flight Operations Training Center in Kansas City. In 1968 he worked as office director in the Flight Attendants department in the airline’s headquarters in New York City and returned to Overland Park in the Kansas City area in 1969 as facilities manager of the TWA Ernest Breech Flight Attendants Training Facility.