With the final 99th Infantry Division Association convention looming on the horizon, we did some research to see what the first 99th convention was like back in 1950. The first convention was June 22-24, 1950, at the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh PA. The following excerpts were taken from the May 1950 and October 1950 issues of The Checkerboard. Tom Griffin was editor.
To start at the beginning we’d like to tell you that on March 5, 1950, Tom Griffin went to Pittsburgh and gathered a small bunch of Checkerboarders of all sizes, shapes and etc., and appointed a Pittsburgh Reunion Committee. What they lacked in numbers was more than made up for in the old Battle Baby Spirit. Since then the Pittsburgh Committee has put on full steam. Say – you might know some of them – John King Heyl, Anti-Tank 393d, is the head man of the bull ring which consists of R. Merwin Holman, Reg. Hq. 393d, Chairman of the Reception Committee; George Hecht, Co. M 394th, Chairman of Entertainment Committee; James F. Fontaine, Co. C, 324th Engrs., Chairman of Recreation Committee; James Guyten, Anti-Tank Co., 395th, Chairman of the loose ends (can’t quite figure that one). Anyhow, Heyl says he’ll tie ‘em together.
As we go to press, we have our sights set on one event. This, as you know, is the reunion. We think there is a lot you ought to know about reunions, seeing as how we’ve never had one before. With this in mind, we’ve prepared this long-winded article. Just so you can have the last laugh on the editor, you might keep this article around the house and compare it with the article we write AFTER the damned thing is over. We’re preparing a MLR around our office to keep you guys out. However, what we write here is based on our plans and our observations of other Division reunions.
A division reunion such as the one we’re staging has a lot of different sides to it. There are certain things that have to be done and certain things that everyone wants to do. These two categories do not necessarily jibe. We try to give everyone a chance to do both. The whole reunion is built around two functions, the bull-session and the annual banquet. If you come to the reunion, you come primarily to see the guys you used to know. Let’s stop right there. The program of the reunion is built around that supposition.
There are four strictly social functions arranged. They are, in order of importance, the bull-session, the banquet, luncheon and the smoker. The first of these will probably be the smoker. Let’s take a look at the way you’ll spend your time. You will probably arrive in Pittsburgh on Friday. At 10 o’clock in the morning, (1000 hours for the unreconstructed 30-year men), the registration desk will open in the William Penn Hotel. You will go there first, sign up, and pay your fees. (More later.) If you get there at 10 o’clock you have nothing else of an official nature until eight o’clock in the evening. If you get there at 7 p.m., you have only an hour free. We’re going to have company and battery check sheets at the desk so that a fellow can leave his name and where he can be reached during the day. If any of the other guys in his company come in later, the bull sessions can start at once. Actually, Friday is a free day for you and you can spend it sightseeing, at the ball game, or at the nearest bar.
At about eight o’clock on Friday evening we will start our smoker. Now the smoker serves a very definite function in the reunion plan. Its primary function is to get everyone together so you can see who is there. We’ve arranged a little entertainment and we have a Chaplain in mind to deliver a few jokes. You’ll walk into the place, sit down, listen to the talk, maybe dance a round with your wife, have a beer or two, and the first thing you know old Bill Jones will walk in and join you.
Maybe by nine o’clock there’ll be four or five of you sitting around one table. Someone will say, “Let’s get the hell out of here,” and you’ll get a few cans of beer, a bottle, or some Cokes and go up to Joe Blow’s room. There the women will settle in one corner and the rest of you will sprawl out on the bed or sit on the window sill and start talking. About 2 a.m. the session will be going strong. About 6 a.m. after that one last story, everybody will get up and go up the street to the Greasy Spoon for a hamburger and a cup of coffee. Following that you’ll all tumble in for a few hours of shut eye.
That’s about the way the first day will go. The smoker, which we got the hell out of two paragraphs ago, will be a nice affair. As we see it now, the beer will be in kegs and on tap. The entertainment will consist primarily of a strolling trio who will double as a small dance band. The chaplain we mentioned above will be sort of an MC and we might even be able to wangle a movie of some of our action, but we make no promises. The whole thing will be taken care of in your registration fee, except for hard liquor. If you want that, you have to buy it a la carte. (Term to represent 50 cents a drink, cash on the line.) Pretzels, popcorn and the Chaplain’s speech is free.
Now we come to Saturday morning. (Some of you already got there in the next to the last paragraph.) There are certain things that have to be done. At this reunion, for example, we have to adopt a constitution. One has been prepared and will be presented for your study. This being a democratic organization, you can all have your say about the final form the thing is to take. We also have to figure out where the 1951 reunion will be held, and what Pfc. from the Division will be the first president of the organization. The usual procedure is to appoint a nominating committee from the floor of the business meeting to nominate 1951 officers and also a convention committee to shoulder next year’s reunion. These deliberations are all important to every one of you and certain things should govern the deliberations. While the actual decision of who the officers are to be and where the convention is to be will not be decided at the first business meeting, the Saturday morning session is still the most important because the policies of the organization are largely determined there for the ensuing year. And no one gets appointed to a committee if he isn’t present.
We expect that the first business session will convene at 10 a.m. and last for two hours, but you never can tel. It may not start until 11, depending on how easily you get out of bed. Everyone should plan to attend if they can possibly get their head out the door, however.
Saturday afternoon is left free. The convention committee is arranging a lot of things like sightseeing tours and shopping expeditions. But if you prefer you can just go back up to the room and start another bull session. During most of the afternoon the committees will be in session so if you want to go up to get in your two cents worth, you can do it.
The high point of the whole convention will be on Saturday evening. Promptly at 7:30, the whole division will sit down to a scrumptious banquet. We don’t know exactly what the menu will consist of, but we can guarantee one thing. There’ll be none of this rubber banquet chicken. As we write this we understand that John Heyl is in the midst of trying to talk the William Penn out of some club steaks they have mentioned. You probably won’t know what it is till it’s set before you. At the banquet we are trying to arrange it so that each company will be able to sit together, provided, of course, that there are enough fellows from each outfit to populate a table. Eating, of course, is a minor part of our banquet. We have two or three speakers lined up, including General Lauer and the Mayor of Pittsburgh, and we’re working on a couple of more characters. Some of them might have a few jokes you haven’t heard. They might even be able to get off a major campaign speech. We won’t promise anything except this. We’ll shoo them off the speakers’ platform as soon as the dishes are removed because we’ve arranged for a dance band to come on at about 9:30 and then we’re going to shove back the tables and turn the thing into a party. For those of you who left the little woman at home, the bull sessions can start right there in the banquet hall.
Inasmuch as anything can happen on Saturday night, we won’t predict what time you’ll get to bed, but 10 o’clock on Sunday morning we’ve arranged for a memorial service for the men who gave their lives in our division. It will be conducted by our old chaplains and will be non-sectarian. Immediately upon the conclusion of this service we will move right into the last official business of the reunion. Two things will have to be decided. The first of these will be the location of the 1951 get-together and the election of officers for the year. The election will be followed by the presentation of a few awards, and the adjournment.
So much for the schedule of the convention. Before we sign off about the reunion, however, we think there are certain things we should emphasize. The first of these has to do with the ladies. Gentlemen, we want you to bring your wives and sweethearts to this affair. We think every one of them are privileged members of the 99th Division. They ought to know the other fellows who played such an important part in your life. We want them to hear the stories you bat around and we want them to feel that they know the guys in the old outfit. For that reason we have gone out of our way to make this a gathering for the ladies as well as the men.
We guess we’ve just about shot our bolt. We’d like to close by reminding you of something else. The 99th Division reunion is not a rowdy dowdy affair in the sense that you may remember from back in the ’30s. If you guys from Florida expect to bring an alligator and park him in the lobby, forget it. The only place any alligator is going to sleep in the William Penn is in your own bathtub. If you want to put up with him, OK, but it’s your funeral.
Now that we’ve got everything off our chest, how many of you are going to make it? Just send a card to John King Heyl, PO Box 1111, Washington, D.C., or better yet, write him a good long letter, bare your soul, break your back, and send him a check or money order for at least half of the amount for the costs of your part. Remember:
a. All arranged functions cost $14 per adult person.
b. Without the luncheon it’ll be $10.75 per each.
(By the way for you birds who don’t know what an adult is – it’s a person who can, because of his great age, vote for a donkey, an elephant, or whatever the mascot is for a Dixiecrat.)
Although the first event of the reunion was not scheduled until 8 p.m. on Friday night, June 22, the committee had decided to open registration as early as
please see first, page 10
9 a.m. For most of the fellows who attended, the actual festivities began as soon as the registration desk opened. If you’d been standing around the desk for any length of time, you’d have seen the damndest collection of performances imaginable. Aside from the gnomes who were busy at work getting the names down, issuing tickets, and taking membership fees, there was a lot of back slapping, hugging, yelping, and just plain hand-shaking going on. All day long the chairs and settees were occupied by guys who lolled around with one eye cocked on the desk. Usually, if one watched long enough, he’d see these lobby sitters jump up and rush over to the crowd around the table. His abandonment of the waiting attitude only meant one thing. The reunion had begun as far as he was concerned. As we intimated in pre-convention poop, the main reason a fellow comes to one of these things is to see all the old friends he hadn’t seen for a long time. Consequently, the MAIN business of any reunion is the bull session. There was more bull thrown before 8 p.m. on Friday than can be found in any stockyard in the country on any given day you’d care to name. Shovels were busy in umpty-ump hotel rooms, in the bars, in the restaurants, and in the lobby.
Although we called the Friday night affair a “smoker,” we’re not quite sure whether that was the proper name for it or not. One fellow kept calling it a beer bust. Maybe so. We guess it was just a get-together. Sure, there was beer. There were Cokes, pretzels, and potato chips. The bar was open in the Fort Pitt room for those who wanted 7-Ups and fizz water. There were gals present. They were wives and gals of 99th men. And there was music, furnished by the Smoky City Jive Band. But, most important of all, there were the never-ending Bull Sessions. The affair was supposed to last until 1 a.m., but we have received reports that some guys were swept out of the ballroom as late as 4 a.m. As near as we can figure out from the tickets sold, about 400 fellows, and their guests, attended.
We mentioned in the last Checkerboard that the first business meeting was scheduled for 10 o’clock on Saturday morning and that everyone would be late. We erred. It was scheduled for 9 o’clock and everyone was late. (We’d like to get the guy who made us get out of bed at the ungodly hour of 8:30.) As predicted, the first order of business had to do with the appointment of a Constitution and By-Laws Committee. Chappie Carl M. Truesdale was elected as chairman of this and immediately went to work. Although no constitution had been adopted, it was decided to appoint a nominating committee in case the charter provided for some officers. Each major unit of the Division furnished one man to this committee and it was finally composed of 24 men. They were all named Joe as far as we’re concerned right now. We can’t remember who they all were.
The next meeting was the Luncheon. They served baked ham, sweet potatoes, string beans, pie and coffee. There was also some baloney served, but the Hotel William Penn had nothing to do with that. Merwin Holman presided and Jim Devlin, Director of Public Works of the city of Pittsburgh made a little address of welcome. We’re not quite sure whether Jim was attracted by the ham, or whether he was a friend of Heyl, or whether he “volunteered,” ala Army. Anyway he made everybody so welcome that the boys couldn’t refuse to come back next year. If you missed the first reunion, you’ll probably see him dishing out the same old guff next year. We liked Jim so well, we’re toying with the idea of inviting him to the banquet where he can have some of the William Penn’s chicken.
After everyone was good and full of meat and sweet potatoes, the committees went to work. By 4 p.m., they were ready to report and tom Griffin called the second business meeting of the convention to order. After some arguing and advice from guard house lawyers, the business session finally got Chappie Truesdale’s constitution adopted. Then everyone went to dinner.
We made another prophesy in our last paper. We said something about the annual banquet being the biggest single event of the reunion. Well, it was. We would like to explain one thing, however. The 99th is like any other division association in one respect. Most of them start out by inviting the President to speak, then work down through Eisenhower and Bradley to the various senators, governors and mayors that seem to be available. They nearly always wind up with somebody no one ever heard of. The 99th did. We don’t mean to slight Benny Lancher, our principal speaker, but we think he’ll be the first to admit that very few of the rank and file, outside of Pittsburgh, ever heard of him before. Well, Benny Lancher is a judge in the Allegheny County (PA) Juvenile Courts. We’d like to say this one thing about Benny. We never heard a better speech in our lives. If he’s listening, we want him to know that we honestly feel that way. When we lost out on Eisenhower we got something. General, move over. If you hear Benny speak, you’ll give up. We don’t know exactly what is going to be done about Benny next year, but if the committee can arrange it, we’d like to have him around.
In addition to Judge Lancher (forgive us for calling you Benny), we had a few remarks passed by others on the speakers’ stand. Some of them were aimed at all of us by Ed Brennan, the toastmaster, who has picked up a lot of good stuff since joining the Pittsburgh Post Gazette as a feature writer. Tom Griffin and Johnnie Heyl also gave short talks. Finally, at 9 p.m. we shoved back the tables and started dancing. The bar in the Fort Duquesne Room (Pittsburgh and the William Penn is full of forts) was in full operation and the music was augmented by a little singing on the part of Maxine Sullivan who made Loch Lomond famous. We might add that everyone was in a very mellow mood by this time. We hope they stay that way until next year.
During the banquet it was arranged to vote on the officers put forward by the nominating committee. Ballots were passed out as the fellows filed into the hall and during the dance, the results of the vote were announced. The president chosen by the assemblage was R. Merwin Holman. For vice president we elected Walter R. Bulger. The new secretary is John Gavin, Headquarters Battery, Division Artillery, and the treasurer, the man we’re most interested in, is Hank Richards of I Company, 393rd.
It was during the dance also, that the committee charged with selecting next year’s convention site reported. As you have heard by now if you read the first page of this paper, the place is Pittsburgh, again, but the date has been moved back to the weekend of June 29-July 1. The city of Pittsburgh was picked for the second year in a row because we felt that it would be of great benefit to the Association. This year we were inexperienced. With a fairly experienced crew back to run next year’s shindig, we think we will be able to eliminate most of the mistakes we made this last year and we think we’ll be able to get a bigger turn-out. Pittsburgh is really the center of population in the 99th and we need one more good turnout to assure the permanence of this association. As Merwin Holman assures you, it is not the intention of the fellows who started th Association and carried it this far to make a Pittsburgh local out of the thing. Beginning in 1952 we hope that the convention will be moved about the country and that everyone will attend. Anyway, mark the date on your calendar right now, Friday, June 29 to Sunday, July 1. Plan to attend.
We wouldn’t attempt to guess at what time the last holdout left the ballroom of the William Penn on Saturday night, but it was late, we can tell you. The banquet and dinner dance was the last official affair of the convention, but the fellows were still around the hotel on Sunday evening engaged in bull sessions and company or battery breakfasts, dinners, or what have you. We think everyone had a good time. We know we did. We expect to be back next year and we hope you do, too.