A Home Away from Home

Matchbook cover from Greenwood Army Air Field, courtesy of Donny Whitehead, aboutgreenwoodms.com.

“The town immediately began making plans for entertainment for the many men stationed at the Air Base and at Camp McCain in Grenada. The USO opened in a building on Howard Street, and the American Legion Hut opened on weekends. After the aviation cadets came in in late 1942 the Cadet Club opened in the Confederate Memorial Building, and I am sure Robert E. Lee, looking down from his huge portrait there, could scarcely believe that we were being so nice to all those Yankee boys.

Confederate Memorial Building, home to the Cadet Club. Photo courtesy of Donny Whitehead, aboutgreenwoodms.com.

“The cadets were probably the most carefree bunch of all. They had two classes here at a time, and they came in for a two month period of flight training before going on to advanced training and getting their wings. This was a basic training camp. They were all young, most had had a year or two of college, and they were really a group that could more or less be classified as ‘the cream of the crop.’

“The Bank of Greenwood and Greenwood citizens donated furniture and other equipment for the building which needed refurbishing at the time. The cadets did not have much time off and only were allowed to come into town on the weekends. The Cadet Club would open on Friday and be open through Sunday night. The girls would go down there to meet the boys, dance with them, or play ping pong or the slot machines in the basement.

“Mama, through her friend, Mrs. Arthur Richter, who she knew when she was working for the WPA, got a job at the Cadet Center as one of the three hostesses. Mrs. Richter was leaving there to go to the Red Cross, where she and Mama later worked together for twenty-two years.

Jessie and Tricia, during Jessie's bartending days. She was mother to a lot of young men in those days.

Mrs. R.B.Wilburn, Mrs. Spot Pettey and Mama ran the club along with Richard and Mary, the black helpers. The cadets drank gallons of beer and cokes with Mama standing behind the bar downstairs dispensing them. Many of them unloaded their problems and their homesickness on her, and she thoroughly enjoyed the job. She would worry about some of the very young ones who she was sure were drinking their first beer while standing at the bar talking to her. She never did like to see anyone drinking beer.”

As a child, the thought of my matronly grandmother, Jessie, behind a bar, wiping down frosty beer bottles, was just too funny to deal with or keep to myself. I delighted in telling my friends that my granny had been a bartender in World War II, and I didn’t know anyone who could top that for cool ancestors. I’m sure she was a wonderful psychologist/therapist/listening ear for those homesick, frightened boys and I suspect more than a few never forgot her. There are many subtle ways to serve your country for which you’ll never be widely recognized, and Jessie had found the perfect niche for her talents.

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About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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