COME ON DOWN
In April 1942, two overworked flight crews of the 40th Bomb Group were granted short leaves from their base at Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico. For the previous nine weeks, they flew antisubmarine patrol missions from the Dutch Islands of Aruba and Curacao. Their mission was to protect Allied tankers from a wolf pack of German U-boats in the Caribbean Sea. One crew flew more than 200 hours in 30 days. The other crew flew at least one patrol every day for 65 days straight. Their short vacation was a well-earned break.
My Navigator and I (Pilot), accompanied by the Bombardier from another crew, found a suite of rooms in the luxurious Normandie Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Normandie, owned by a French steamship company, was managed by a suave Frenchman named Francois. Francois dressed in formal attire, and conveyed a general air that he was the host for visiting royalty. Our little group of vacationers soon gave him reason to have a low opinion of Army Air Corps Officers.
The hotel was built to resemble the shape of a ship. In the center of its elongated ground floor was a beautiful, open air swimming pool surrounded by a lovely dining room. Furnishings in the dining room included glass topped tables and rattan chairs covered with elegant silk cushions in French tricolor motif. Each table was decorated with fresh tropical flowers. Every suite opened onto a balcony that overlooked the pool and dining room.
The Bombardier sharing our suite was 2nd. Lieutenant Dallas Fontenot, a tall Cajun from the southwest coast of Louisiana. Although he was educated at Louisiana State University, he often used the Cajun dialect, especially when excited or after having had several drinks. At such times, it was very difficult to understand him. He did not want to waste his vacation on sleeping, so he left us early the first evening to make a tour of San Juan night clubs. His capacity for alcohol was above average, and he probably used that capacity after leaving us because he was not in our room when we got up the next morning, which happened to be Easter Sunday.
When my Navigator and I went to the dining room, we found the room filled with families having breakfast before going to church. After being seated next to the pool, we eagerly ordered from a fantastic menu of delicious food. Soon we were eating Spanish omelet, tropical fruit, fresh bread with real butter, and Spanish style coffee topped with steaming cream. Suddenly, everyone in the room heard a loud voice coming from our fifth floor balcony. "Whacha boys doin?" The Cajun dialect meant only one thing -- our roommate Dallas Fontenot had survived a wild night on the town. I replied in an equally loud voice, "We're having breakfast. Come on down and join us."
Dallas was dressed in his swim suit. We did not know that the pool was closed at the time, and that guests should not wear swim suits in the dining room. He called out, "O.K. I'll be right there." Without hesitating, he stepped onto the balcony rail, raised his hands above his head, and jumped feet first from the fifth floor into the pool. Fortunately, he landed in deep water and was not injured.
His impact splashed water on us, our food, and on the people dining nearby. When Dallas surfaced, he swam toward our table. The elegantly dressed Francois appeared as if by magic, and if looks could kill, none of us would be alive to tell this story. Gesturing wildly with both hands, Francois expressed his extreme displeasure by shouting a stream of French at the smiling Cajun. Dallas climbed out of the pool and calmly draped his long, wet frame in a beautiful chair. The cushion and its silk cover soaked up the water like a sponge.
That is why Francois, the dapper manager of the Normandie Hotel, developed a low opinion of Army Air Corps Officers.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *