MY COURT-MARTIAL BOARD AWAITS YOU
Men of the 40th Bomb Group served under the command of many tough officers. None of us can recall a Commander tougher than an elderly Quartermaster Corps Colonel who was Troop Commander on the transport ship George Washington. The group, consisting of more than 1,000 troops, boarded the ship in June 1943 at Balboa, Panama, for transfer to the States. Most of the men had served at least two years in Puerto Rico, Guatemala City, Ecuador, or on Galapagos Island. We were paid the previous day, so everyone had a large amount of money in their wallets. Naturally, many expected to be gambling the first night at sea. Men of the 45th Bomb Squadron had been stationed on remote, uninhabited Baltra Island, where gambling on payday was routine.
As the gangplank was being removed, the Troop Commander's raspy voice boomed over the public address system. He identified himself, then read the rules of the ship concerning blackouts, lifeboat drills, mess hall schedules, and other matters. He closed by describing his policy against gambling in any form, then said in a loud, grating voice, "ANYONE, REPEAT, ANYONE, REGARDLESS OF RANK, CAUGHT GAMBLING WILL BE ARRESTED AND TAKEN TO THE 'A' DECK LOUNGE FOR AN IMMEDIATE COURT-MARTIAL." Then he paused so that dramatic announcement could sink in. He continued, "A FEW OF YOU DO NOT BELIEVE ME. IF YOU DOUBT ME, I SUGGEST YOU GO TO THE LOUNGE AND TAKE A LOOK. YOU WILL FIND FIVE OF MY OFFICERS THERE. MY COURT-MARTIAL BOARD AWAITS YOU."
As we stowed our luggage, located our assigned life boat, and read the posted emergency drill instructions, some of us discussed the gambling restriction. One curious officer decided to visit the "A" deck lounge. It was as if the tough Troop Commander expected someone to do just that. Our curious friend returned in a few minutes and gave us the straight poop. He said that there were two large MPs guarding the door. Inside the lounge, a stern-faced Major, flanked by four Captains, sat at a table facing the door. None of them were smiling. Indeed, the Colonel's court-martial board was awaiting errant gamblers.
One can readily understand that not one case of gambling was detected aboard the George Washington. Our 40th Bomb Group Commander, Colonel Henry Mooney, sought and obtained the Troop Commander's permission to form a Bomb Group pool. The pool's winner would be the person who guessed the time closest to the actual time our ship passed under the center of the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco. Many people entered the contest, but the pool was a poor substitute for the tension of a poker game, or the excitement of a lively crap game.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *