A MAN OF HIS WORD
In June 1942, a U.S. Army Special Order directed the 40th Bomb Group, Army Air Corps, to transfer from Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico, via troop transport, to an undisclosed destination. We were not authorized to take dependents, furniture, automobiles, or pets. The automobile ban was very troublesome to one popular young officer -- Lieutenant W.W. Jones. Jones owned a beautiful Packard coupe, a black beauty complete with a rumble seat. Some of his friends said that he cared more for his Packard than some officers cared for their wives. This was an exaggeration made to emphasize how much he cared for his car.
We often observed W.W. washing and polishing his handsome car in the Bachelor Officer's Quarters parking lot. His attachment to the coupe was very apparent. He usually was quiet and reserved, but he expressed his great objection to the transfer order's restriction that prevented him from shipping his car to his next assignment. When he finally accepted his fate, he decided to sell the car. None of his comrades wanted to buy it because they were under the same restriction, so he turned to the citizens in the local towns. The few people who could afford such an expensive car did not make an offer. One crafty merchant who knew W.W. was desperate to sell the car, offered him $200.
Finally, time ran out for W.W. In the evening of our last night at Borinquen Field, we gathered at the Officer's Club for a farewell party. W.W. downed many ten cent daiquiris provided by his fellow officers. Frustrated by the lone offer for his car, and feeling the rum, he suddenly made an announcement. In a loud, blurred voice, he said, "Tomorrow morning, I will drive the Packard across the golf course and run it over the cliff rather than let that ---- steal it for $200." Someone called out, "Atta boy, W.W. Have another drink." He accepted the offer, and the farewell party continued. When the party broke up, one fellow suggested, "You all know that W.W. is a man of his word. Let's all turn out in the morning and watch W.W. run his car over the cliff."
At sunrise the following morning, all officers assembled with their baggage in front of the BOQ to wait for transportation to the departure dock. Suddenly, W.W. drove up the road in his magnificent Packard coupe, and stopped in front of the assembly. His face was pale and drawn as he pulled his bags from the car. One of his Southern friends said, "Mawnin', W.W. The trucks will be here in a few minutes. Are you gonna do what you said last night you would do with your car?"
Lt. Jones opened the driver's door, slid under the steering wheel, and replied, "I told you last night that I'm going to drive this baby across the fairway and send it flying over the cliff. Just watch me do it." The crowd erupted into cheers and laughter. We trotted behind the car as W.W. bounced over the curb and drove across the golf course toward the cliff. The blue Atlantic was calm and serene as if it wanted to provide a suitable background for the historic event about to take place. The sun came up just in time to be present for the execution.
W.W. stopped a few yards from the edge of the cliff, left the car in gear, set the hand brake, stepped out, and closed the door. He paused long enough to heave a sigh of resignation, then reached inside, released the brake, and pulled the manual gas knob full out. The engine roared and Black Beauty lunged forward over the cliff to its doom. W.W. turned to face the crowd. His face seemed to reflect relief, and maybe a little pride for having made good his promise.
Amid the cheers and laughter, someone shouted gleefully, "I always knew that W.W. was A MAN OF HIS WORD."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I visited Borinquen Field in 1947. Naturally, I retraced W.W.'s path across the golf course to the cliff where Black Beauty met its fate. It was an emotional moment when I looked down and saw the shattered carcass of the coupe sprawled at the base of the cliff. It was almost completely covered with vines and undergrowth. Corrosion from the tropical salt air had reduced its beautiful shine to ugly scales. The Packard paid a terrible price so that its owner could keep a promise.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *