UNTO THE SECOND GENERATION
young veteran tells how a few rough experiences
pushed him into A.A.—and how he was therefore
spared years of suffering.
EYES OPENED onto a hazy world. Two fuzzy objects came
into focus. Slowly I realized I was in bed and that the
objects were my feet, encased in a harness affair. I blinked
slowly as I shifted my gaze to my arms. They also were
held in some sort of strap arrangement.
returned enough to let me know I was in a hospital. I
looked about the room. At one end of the bed, near the
foot, was a printed card, and beneath that was a charted
graph. I couldn't focus enough to make out the chart,
but the card contained two words—"ACUTE ALCOHOLISM."
Then it came to me. I was in a hospital. The place—Hawaii.
The year—1948. I closed my eyes and tried to think.
I remembered having
had a little drink of whiskey with a can of warm beer
as a chaser. Then something happened. What was it? I couldn't
recall. I opened my eyes again and a shadow fell across
the bed. Standing there was a gray haired man—tall,
trim and in uniform. There were gold bars on his shoulders.
Now I know. I'm in
the U.S. Navy. This must be the doctor. He asked how I
felt. I didn't reply. A corpsman stood beside him. The
doctor motioned to
corpsman to undo my straight - jacket and leg restraints.
I moved about a little. The doctor sat down beside the
bed and asked me how I felt.
"Do you know
why you're in here?" he queried.
I could tell him a lot of reasons why I am here in an
alky ward at the age of twenty. I don't know how I got
here this trip, but it doesn't matter very much. I'm an
alcoholic. Don't mince words. I'm a rummy. I can't control
my drinking any more. It controls me.
I remembered back
to high school when I was fifteen. We all had lockers.
The other pupils kept books, pencils, paper, gym equipment
and such stuff in their lockers. I did, too. I also kept
beer. At fifteen I was strictly a beer drinker. I didn't
graduate to the hard stuff until I was sixteen. The other
kids would light out for the hamburger huts or ice cream
parlors, the pizza joints or bowling alleys, after football
games and dances. I didn't. I went to saloons where I
could get drinks.
I didn't give a whoop
about anything scholastic. I got a job after school pumping
gas and worked until ten or eleven at night. I was the
kid of the crew. I tried to mimic the talk, ideas, moods
and even the drinking of the older men. It hurt to be
considered a kid. I talked out of the side of my mouth,
as they did. I smoked as much, tried to drink as much,
and do everything they did, only more so.
I found I could boost
my income by selling gas coupons (rationing was in effect
then) that I'd taken in earlier from other customers,
by filching nickels from the Coke machine, by short-sticking
customers on oil, and by selling oil I'd drained out of
School was getting
to be one big bore. I was skip-
THE SECOND GENERATION
classes about two days a week and doing no book work whatever.
I was failing in everything. The principal had no alternative
but to expel me. I beat him to it. I quit, when I was
just past sixteen.
I had a drinking problem
on my hands even at that time. So did my parents. They
both drank like fish. They had been drinking for many
years and were getting progressively worse. Home life
didn't mean much to me. They were kind when they thought
about it, but that wasn't often. I wanted love and affection
but I didn't get it. I did as I pleased most of the time.
I wasn't burdened
with parental guidance and I didn't want any. I ran away
for the second time, with another lad. We got to Omaha,
from my home in Chicago. We headed out of town walking—no
money, cold and hungry. It was late at night. We spotted
a church in a small town. We broke open a window and got
inside. We started to light matches to see, but the draft
blew them out. So we rolled old newspapers together and
made torches to find a good soft pew and get some sleep.
My torch blazed madly and the pew caught fire.
We heard some yells
outside. A busload of basketball players had been passing
and saw the flames. They summoned the fire department
and the sheriff. I spent the next three days in a cell.
My dad, who was a newspaper man and had some connections,
had meantime put a stop on me, and I guess that report
went all over the country. We were identified and I was
put on a train for Chicago. The sheriff bade us goodbye
very happily. I still think dad paid him something to
let me go.
Back home again! Drinking
conditions at home
even worse than before. I would rather have stayed in
jail except I didn't like the bologna and cold potatoes
for breakfast. I got a job with the newspaper my dad worked
for. I liked it and soon moved into the photo department,
which was what I wanted to do. "Ace crime photographer,"
About this time I
got my first crush on a girl. I teamed up with a cute
little blonde with whom I was working at the office, and
for about a year we were inseparable. Beaches, parties,
dances, movies—everything. Here was the lost love
I'd missed at home. I was drinking quite a bit of whiskey
now. She didn't like it, but I thought it made a man of
me. Once in a while I stayed home for a night, to see
how my folks were doing. They were doing very well—at
least a fifth apiece a day, except on dad's days off when
they did some serious drinking.
I was now nearly eighteen.
I enlisted in the Navy to escape the Army draft. It looked
as if the war would be over any day, but I had to go anyhow.
I planned to stay home the night before I left, but my
folks got so drunk I walked off early in the evening and
spent the night with my girl, getting very drunk myself.
Next morning I was sworn in, feeling no pain. I went into
the Navy in fine style. I was drunk. Three years later
I was discharged in the same way.
At Great Lakes Boot
Camp I latched onto a soft billet. My job was to make
out the guard schedules and thus I was exempt from ordinary
recruit training activities. This went on for thirteen
weeks, the first eight of which I wasn't allowed visitors.
But my dad pulled some strings and got in to see me after
three weeks. He and mom smuggled in a couple of pints
THE SECOND GENERATION
This was fine, but it was just an extra dividend, for
I'd made connections by this time and was buying a bottle
a day from the cook. I stayed in the barracks all day,
"making out guard schedules," and getting mildly
plastered from the jug under my desk. I applied for photo
school at Pensacola Air Base and made it. While waiting
to depart I was selected—by giving a CPO five dollars—to
be bartender in the Navy Chief's Club. At night I tended
While I was at Pensacola
my dad became dangerously ill and almost died of pneumonia
plus a heart attack. I got emergency leave for twenty
days. Mom and I drank every waking moment because we felt
so sorry for dad. I tried to control her drinking by pouring
her whiskey down the sink before I'd leave for the night,
to get drunker myself.
I don't know why I
didn't fall out of the open cockpit of some of those planes
I flew in while taking aerial pictures. I didn't. And
when this six month school was over I applied for duty
in Hawaii and pulled it. I wanted to get as far away from
home as possible.
Pearl Harbor was a
breeze of nine months, a gay Hawaiian paradise, drinking
under the palms, listening to the surf beat on the shore,
a bottle of whiskey near at hand. I was becoming a solitary
drinker, but I didn't care. I was transferred to Kaneohe
Bay, across the hump to the windward side of Oahu, to
the aviation base. This was wonderful. I talked the Old
Man into letting me live in the photo lab instead of the
barracks, and for eighteen months nothing interfered with
my drinking. The boys at the Post Office used to bring
me my jugs; mail couldn't be opened for inspection at
the gate. This was an ideal set-up.
was only twenty now, but I was a man. Wasn't I drinking
more than a quart every day? I knew I was hitting the
skids, but what of it? Didn't I come from a family of
drinkers? There wasn't much I could do about it, and I
didn't want to do anything anyway.
About this time my
folks found A.A. It solved their problems and they started
living a sane life again. They wrote me many long letters
about it. I thought it was fine for them. They really
needed it. But I knew I'd never get that way.
I seldom left the
base anymore except once in a while when I felt the need
of talking to some girl. Then I'd get a pass to Honolulu.
Meanwhile the letters from home were telling about how
much my folks wanted to make up to me for some of the
things I'd missed. I hadn't told them about my drinking,
but I guess they knew. I'd reply and some of my letters
they saved. To this day I haven't been able to decipher
what I wrote to them.
One night I was sitting
in the lab alone with a fifth and a case of beer listening
to dreamy Hawaiian music on the radio. Slowly a pile of
pineapples started to build up on the table. They got
bigger and bigger and nearer and nearer, as if they were
going to fall and crush me. Two of them leaped from the
table and crashed into my head. I was knocked to the floor,
swinging madly at the faces on those pineapples. I swung,
I swore, I started throwing beer cans at the advancing
hordes of pineapple faces. I cut my hands, my face, my
legs. Then I collapsed. I had D.T.'s.
The doctor was still
sitting beside my bed. My past had slipped before me in
a twinkling. The doctor said I'd been brought into the
hospital like a madman,
THE SECOND GENERATION
raving, ranting, swearing, completely in the throes of
I was released in
a week, a week of hell with no drinks. I told the doctor
my parents' drinking history and blamed them. He was interested
and said he'd help me all he could. He even went to bat
for me before the court martial that inevitably followed
and, as a result, I drew only thirty days—fifteen
Two months later I
was discharged. I was supposed to come home on a troop
ship, but I talked the base commander into flying home.
We were supposed to take off at noon, but were delayed
until six p.m. I spent the time in a nearby tavern, was
loaded on the ship, went to sleep before take-off, and
the next thing I knew someone was shaking me and telling
me we were over San Diego.
I went to Tijuana
that night and landed in jail. Drunk and causing a brawl,
they said. Heck. All I'd wanted was one more drink. I
was escorted back to San Diego next morning—by the
Shore Patrol, but I was discharged on schedule.
I headed home for
the most wonderful experience of all time—meeting
my "new" parents—mom and dad looked different
than I had pictured them. They had color in their faces,
sparkle in their eyes and love in their hearts. It was
a glorious homecoming. Dad got out a jug for me and poured
welcome home drinks. I took it easy, because they didn't
know about me. But I was soon drinking as heavily as I
I would drink all
night in bars, come home about five a.m., down a good
big glass of whiskey straight, and tumble into bed. Or
maybe I'd come home wild drunk, singing and raving about
what a fine place
was and what grand parents I had since they joined A.A.
Sometimes I'd make
it home and go to sleep at the wheel of my car, for all
the neighbors to see next morning as they left for work.
I paid nine hundred dollars for a second hand car on my
return. I lost it many times and mom and dad would drive
me around until I found it. I spent eighteen hundred dollars
fixing up that car in the first year I was home, after
four bad smashups. Why I wasn't killed or how I got home
I don't know.
The end came early
in 1950. I'd lost my car again, pawned my wallet and all
identification papers for a bottle, and gotten home somehow.
Again I went into a mild form of D.T.'s, but with no pineapples
this time. The folks called a doctor and he knocked me
out with sedatives. I'd heard a lot about A.A. and met
a great many A.A.'s during that year at home, but I hadn't
thought of it for myself. I'd thought of it in an offhand
way, of course. But I didn't want to stop drinking—not
at twenty-two. I merely wanted to cut down. And the folks
said A.A. was for people who wanted to quit,
otherwise it wouldn't work.
But as I came out
of this second bout with D.T.'s, I knew I was licked.
I'd packed more drinking into seven years than many a
heavy drinker does in a lifetime. And I'd proved I couldn't
handle it, time and again. That doctor in the Navy hospital
told me I wouldn't live five years if I didn't quit. I'd
fooled him thus far. But for how long? "I've got
to stop if I want to live," I told myself, and if
I don't want to break my parents' hearts and maybe jeopardize
their own carefully built up and hard fought-for sobriety.
THE SECOND GENERATION
do it," I told myself. "I'll do it. I'll join
A.A. if it kills me. Mom has said the only requisite to
start is willingness. Well, I'm willing, if it will curb
this awful desire to drink, this fear of not having a
drink, this feeling of always being alone, scared, deserted,
sick. Dear God, I'll do anything! Only show me how."
That is how I came
into A.A. There was a red plush carpet to welcome me,
but even so it wasn't easy. I'd acquired a new girl, a
lovely girl who knew of my problem and had tried to help
me. A week after my decision to join A.A., she called
it quits. Three days later I lost my job. This combination
nearly threw me. I thought, "If this is A.A. why
not go back to drinking, kill myself with booze in the
next three years the doctor had given me, and call it
a bad job?"
But I didn't. I attended meetings, I talked to my folks,
I talked to younger people they had gotten in contact
with to sponsor me. And somehow or other I stayed sober.
I joined A.A. at twenty-two.
I'm twenty-six now and I haven't had a drink since I made
my decision. At that time life to me was spelled "w-h-i-s-k-e-y."
Today I think of life in terms of happiness, contentment,
freedom from fear and despair, sane thinking, ability
to face problems as they occur, the opportunity to help
other alcoholics and to be decent.
Were I to revert to
drinking, even now, I wouldn't give anything for these
four years in A.A. They have been the happiest of my life.
I have been helped morally, spiritually, mentally and
materially through A.A. I used to think, "Why live
without whiskey?" Now I know I can't live without
Four years ago I had
nothing but a jumbled, mad
Today I have all that anyone could ask. I have a lovely
wife who understands my problem and helps me with it.
I have two wonderful little boys. I have a good job. I
have kind and sympathetic parents. I'm buying a home.
I owe no one—except A.A.
is no more resources for this