When the deep purple falls over sleepy garden walls
And the stars begin to twinkle in the night
In the midst of a memory you wander on back to me
Breathing my name with a sigh - "Deep Purple" (Words by Mitchell Parish, music by Peter
De Rose) NINO TEMPO AND APRIL STEVENS
Again “In the midst of a memory you wander on back to me”. The memory of a half century
ago, October 1963 sitting in the barracks a few weeks after completing basic training at Fort
Leonard Wood, Missouri I sat listening to the haunting melody of this song. I had recently
purchased a little record player, my very first, and now I could place one forty-five after
another listening to the songs that I could only access on my transistor radio. Songs like
Sugar Shack by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet, Hey Paula with
Paul and Paula and my favorite “You don’t have to be a baby to cry”.
One of the few girl groups that were part of the British invasion were a team consisting of
Andrea Simpson and Lois Wilkinson two office workers from North London calling
themselves The Caravelles. While 1963 perhaps topped the charts of number one hits, You
don’t have to be a baby to cry, ranked as one of my all time favorites. My only regret now 50
years later is I no longer have the forty-five; however I walk in the midst of a memory when I
listen to the recording on a compact disk.
Ronnie W. and I first met when he boarded the train taking us to Fort Leonard Wood in
Kansas City, Missouri. Like Me Ronnie had enlisted in the Army soon after our graduation
from high school. Another individual I met in Kansas City was Danny W also another recent
high school graduate who had enlisted in the Army as a means to seek a career or a path to
making a living for ourselves. Ronnie, Danny and myself would began our journey as GI’s
together in Kansas City and this journey would take us to Cu Chi, Vietnam by way of
Missouri, Virginia and Hawaii.
Danny would be a friend for the three years I would know him. We would talk, mostly about
the military a little about our families but for the most part we hung around as a part of our
little group and are friends. Ronnie on the other hand would become my buddy almost from
the get go, this white guy from Missouri and this Spanish guy from Colorado a strange
combination from the very beginning.
Now fifty years later and perhaps I knew these fifty years ago but I believe Ronnie saw me as
an easy mark. Prior to enlisting in the Army I has worked as a field hand on a farm near
Henderson, Colorado and was making pretty good money most of which my mom saved for
me. Upon meeting Ronnie and Dannie I offered to buy them something to eat as we traveled
on the train and even back then it was pretty expensive. Ronnie I believe knew he had an easy
hit and stuck to me like glue.
It was Ronnie that would later introduce me to pool halls and pool tables, we had a layover for
a few hours somewhere in Missouri, I kind of think the name of the place was Boonville.
Ronnie directed me to a pool hall across the ways from the Train station and it was there I
held my first pool Que. Ronnie taught me all the techniques of playing pool which incidentally
I grew up believing was a sin to play. Ronnie did not mind being my mentor in the game
because I was paying for the games we were engaged in, yes he was using me.
Upon arriving at Fort Leonard Wood, Ronnie, Danny and I ended up in Company C, 5th
Battalion, and 3rd Regiment of the 5th Army Corp for basic training. Ronnie and Danny
would be assigned to the same barracks and I was assigned to another however we would see
each other all of the time especially Ronnie.
As I noted before as a result of the job I had as a field worker I was still receiving money sent
to me via a money order from my mom, about $10.00 every two weeks or so. This of course
meant I had money for a GI’s mainstay, cigarettes. I was a smoker at the time because that’s
what you did even if you did not like smoking. Most of my money would go for Coca Cola,
cigarettes and candy; I had an active sweet tooth. Ronnie was broke and he was always
bumming cigarettes from me and I was glad to pass them off to him, my brand at the time
was Marlboro. In reality more than the enjoyment of a cigarette was having the Zippo lighter,
flipping it open and lighting the smoke, so cool.
In late September of 1963 or perhaps early October we completed our basic training and
would graduate. Graduation from basic was a big thing and families were invited to attend
the ceremony, I however could not expect my family to travel from Colorado for this event.
Ronnie had family in St. Louis Missouri; actually Webster Grove and his Aunt and Uncle and
cousins were able to be at the graduation ceremony.
All graduates with families present were able to obtain a two day pass to spend the time with
their families, the rest of us reported back to our barracks and prepared to receive our orders
to our next assignment which in my case was Advance Individual Training as a Quartermaster
Clerk in Fort Leonard Wood.
Ronnie did have me meet his relatives who included one of his cousins a teenage girl name
Karen or Carol or something. Ronnie’s uncle and aunt were nice but perhaps a bit cold
toward the dark skin friend of their nephew. The girl did express a question about my race
and wondered if I was part colored.
I reported several days later to the 4th Training Regiment Engineers still at Fort Leonard
Wood for what was the General Supply Course preparing me to enter the Quartermaster
Corp. A day or so later both Ronnie and Danny joined me and this time we all ended up
assigned to the same company and barracks.
Basic training now behind me it was now okay for me to have a few personal positions in my
possession. The first thing I did was to write home and ask for my civilian clothes as I now
could wear them when I was off duty. I then went to the Base Exchange (B Ex) and
purchased a small record player, very inexpensive but able to play some forty-fives and nine or
Each evening after class I would head to the barracks and play my small collection of records
on the player, playing both the A and B side of each record. Every once and a while I would
be joined by others in the barracks to listen to the music and eventually get tired of hearing my
favorite by the Caravelles. Ronnie would hang around the longest mostly because he could
Ronnie also somehow ended up borrowing my electric shaver which even after several
attempts to getting it back he never returned it. I some way it was no big deal to me since I
didn’t really need to shave except if we were having an inspection and I really didn’t need it.
Sometime in October of 63 Ronnie approached me and asked if I would go with him to St.
Louis so he could visit his aunt and uncle as well as his cousins. The reality was that they live
outside of St. Louis in a suburb called Webster Grove. Since we now had both our Saturday
and Sunday off it seemed like a good idea so I said I would. On a Saturday morning we
packed our AWOL bags with a few items and walked outside of the compound gates with a
two day pass in our pockets. We walked a half mile on route 66 and then stuck up our thumbs
looking to hitch hick to St. Louis.
In a short while a car pulled over to pick up, some guy who we would find out was Sergeant
driving a 57 Chevy picked us up. After it was determine where we were headed he was more
than glad to give us a ride and promised to bring us back if we could help him with some gas
money. Ronnie handed him a dollar and I gave him a couple more and he drove us to within
a few miles of Ronnie’s relatives in Webster Grove and indicated he would pick us up at the
same place Sunday afternoon.
St. Louis (Webster Grove) was about 100 miles from Fort Leonard Wood so we arrive about 11
AM at our destination. Ronnie called his cousin to come and pick us up and after a short
while the cousin whose name I cannot remember (Karen or Carol) came by in a station wagon
to pick us up. With the cousin was another girl and again I cannot recall her name but it
really does not matter because she didn’t talk much to Ronnie or me but only to her friend
who was Ronnie’s cousin.
Ronnie and I jumped into the back seat and we spent the day riding around seeing the sites
around St. Louis most of which seem unimpressive just street, buildings and the likes. We
stopped at some drive in for a bite to eat, once again I paid for Ronnie’s meal, and he was
short of cash and decided to take in a movie.
Playing at the local theater was Sean Connery as James Bond in the movie Dr. No as well as
some other movie as theaters played double features in those days. We all bought our tickets
separately so it did not look I guess like we were together. It did not occur to me then but as I
reflect on it now it was not to cool for a dark skin guy to go into a movie show with two white
girls even thought a white guy was with them.
We would all sit in the same row but the two girls sat on one side with the two guys sitting
next to them but not together. It was after watching the movie I got hooked on James Bond
and would start picking up the novels written by Ian Fleming and eventually watching all of
the Bond movies featuring Sean Connery.
The next part of my St. Louis adventure now took a strange twist. Ronnie was invited to stay
with his aunt and uncle at their home and he took them up on that. I would end up getting a
room at the YMCA in downtown St. Louis with the promise that I would be picked up Sunday
afternoon in time to catch our ride back to Fort Leonard Wood with the guy that gave us a ride
earlier that Saturday.
Sunday morning I awoke, showered and grabbed my AWOL bag and walked outside of the
YMCA looking for a cheap place to get my breakfast as I was starting to run low on money. I
would eventually pass a USO office and walked in where for free I was able to get a cup of
coffee and a couple of donuts and this would be my breakfast. I then would spend the next
few hours walking up and down St. Louis streets.
By one pm or so I was starting to get a bit concern as to when Ronnie would come by and pick
me up and was also getting a bit hungry as my breakfast had long settled and my stomach was
telling me it was time to eat. I passed a store front and could see a handful of individuals
sitting around drinking coffee or something. The sign outside of the store front indicated it
was some kind of religious meeting place and so I stepped inside where I was greeted by some
guy who welcomed me in. I asked what they charged for their coffee and seeing some
sandwiches the cost of the sandwich.
The guy informed me they were free and I could help myself to some which I did and sat
down. This guy asked a few question like where I was from, what was I doing in St. Louis
and so on and I shared bits and pieces of my story. He then got on the subject of religion
asking what my religious background was and I informed him I was raised a Catholic but I
did not practice the faith. We would have a conversation of faith while I ate my sandwich and
drank what was probably kool aide and eventually I excused myself and left and headed back
to the Y hoping to meet up with Ronnie.
Arriving at the Y I didn’t see any sign of Ronnie or his cousin and started to make plans to get
directions back to route 66 so I could hopefully hitch a ride back to the Army base. It was
then I saw the car I recognized as belonging to Ronnie’s relatives and was more than relieved
to see I was going to be picked up. Ronnie who had been driving headed to the location where
our ride was suppose to pick us up and within a half hour of getting the 57 Chevy pulled up to
take us back to Fort Leonard Wood, we would not be AWOL.
“In the midst of a memory you wander on back to me”. Now fifty years later the memory of
my first visit to St. Louis did in fact wander on back to me and I began to relive that weekend
a long time ago. However it was not the song Deep Purple that refreshed my memory but the
song by the Caravelles, and the melody to “You don’t have to be baby to cry that kept this
experience fresh in my mind. It was now October of 2013 and I was now with a group of
individuals from School District 14 in Commerce City, Colorado attending the 5th annual
Courageous Conversation Summit and I was not Private Larry Quintana but Larry Quintana
Vice-President of the Adams 14 Board of Education.
I arrived for this my 3rd or 4th visit to St. Louis not in a 57 Chevy but on a jet airliner from
Denver. Fifty years earlier it took almost 2 hours to travel down Route 66 from Fort Leonard
Wood to St. Louis a distance of about 100 miles. On this October day it also took about two
hours to travel some 900 miles from Denver to St. Louis, times had changed.
Before I began my narrative of my new adventure in St. Louis another dynamic item has
changed. Fifty years earlier I cannot recall seeing one African American on the streets of the
part of St. Louis I walked, today I saw hundreds. Fifty years ago I was the only Chicano
walking the streets of downtown St. Louis now there were many more all be it mostly from
Colorado, I think.
Fifty years ago you would not have seen a white female being hugged by a male of any color
except white and now it was a common site as I walked around the St. Louis Union Station.
However, the greatest fact and I would bet my last dollar on this you would found few if any
people of color with more than a high school education and now I stood in a group of
individuals with AA’s, BA’s and BS’s, MBA’s and PhD’s. Yes times have changed but yet not
While I enjoyed or perhaps was able to digest to a degree the concept behind Courageous
Conversation I must began with my most enjoyable breakout session. The session was entitled
“Bananas, Apples, Coconuts, Oreo Cookies and Uncle Tom’s”. In a class of about 40 in
attendance we were asked if we had ever referred to a person of color by any of the terms in
the session’s title. We were also asked if we had ever been referred to by any of the items in
the session’s title. Father, as it was said that George Washington informed his dad, “I cannot
tell a lie” just as he spoke the truth, I could not lie and confessed that I had use them all plus
one of my favorites, Tio Taco, when referring to a person of color who was yellow, red,
brown, black on the outside but white on the inside. I also had a unique description who
happens to be not only white on the outside but white on the inside, but I better keep that to
MY BOOMERANG WON'T COME BACK - Charlie Drake - 1961
(Oom-yacka-wurka, oom-yacka-wurka, oom-yacka-wurka)
In the bad backlands of Australia - Many years ago,
The aborigine tribes were meeting, - Having a big pow-wow.
My boomerang won't come back, - My boomerang won't come back,
I've waved the thing all over the place, - Practiced till I was black (blue) in the face,
I'm a big disgrace to the Aborigine race, - My boomerang won't come back.
One would have never thought that in the sixties a period free love, or following the dictates of
Timothy Leary, the American psychologist whose mantra was “turn on, tune in, drop out” or
“think for yourself, question authority” that political correctness in relationship to ones color
or race could be an issue.
When Drake’s song hit the charts in 1961 Native Americans drew back at the reference to the
term pow-wow in the song that perhaps was more reflective of Africans. African Americans
not only in the States by in England did not like the term “black in the face” which lead to the
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to ban the song from their airwaves until the tune
was re-recorded and change to “blue in the face”.
As the nation’s minorities or people of color became more empowered and concern over the
injustice as to how they were being treated by the White power structure, the color of one’s
skin was now an issue. Primary Blacks, Chicanos and Native Americans began to voice their
stand on the issue of racial bigotry. Not only did the fact that as a group minorities were
treated as second class citizens by whites but in many cases by other minorities who saw
assimilation into white society as the means to reach equality even if this meant putting down
their own race. This action prompted the use of titles for these sell out as Oreo Cookies and
Uncle Toms for Blacks, Apples or Native Americans and Coconuts or Tio Tacos for Hispanics
by the masses now marching in the streets.
Brown, Black and Red power was the action word for the sixties empowering those who had
no power. Viva La Raza and Ya Basta were the cries of Chicanos the faction I was a part of
with a close association to the Indigenous people and allied to the Black activist. However we
were now in the year 2013 in the city of St. Louis, fifty years after my first visit there and were
preparing to engage in a Courageous Conversation looking to stop the tied that was now the
new Civil Rights movement centered on the achievement gap affecting the 21st century
children of color.
Saturday, October 23rd, 2013. My first hurdle as I was to now explore an old, new adventure
was to get into the right training session. I had initially enrolled in what was to be a Monday
and Tuesday training session as I was engaged in a School Board Election which was one of
the dirtiest campaigns I had been involved in and in my forty plus years of electioneering I had
seen more than a few dirty campaigns. This particular campaign had clear indication of
racial, age and gender bias although some in key positions preferred to allow their whiteness
to blind them of this.
Reflection of St. Louis Fifty Years Later