After more than 70 years there are still two things haunting me.
The first one is, I and two friends stole a watermelon.
I suppose I was about 14 when the Bean Bag Super Market was located on East Boulevard. Across the street from the Bean Bag was a place called Richard’s Auto Court. Motels were actually called auto courts in those days.
Many Lakota people looked fondly on Richard’s Auto Court because it was one of the first places in Rapid City to open its doors to Native Americans looking for a temporary place to stay while they looked for adequate housing.
Anyway, back to the watermelon story. One fine summer day Joe “Philly” Arguello, Hobart Lonehill and I decided to go fishing in Rapid Valley. Back then the valley was flush with acres and acres of sugar beets. Many Lakota families and immigrants from Mexico worked in the beet fields. One of our favorite fishing holes was on the farm of “Ducky” Bierenbaum. He was a sugar beet farmer who employed many minorities and always treated them with kindness.
It was really hot the morning we set out on our fishing excursion. Believe it or not the fish we caught were actually cooked and eaten by us. As we approached the Bean Bag Super Market we noticed watermelons piled against the south wall of the building. We strode on by but managed to snag a watermelon as we passed. We hurriedly made our way to the Rapid Creek.
We sat down by the creek, cut up the watermelon with our fishing knives and enjoyed one of the finest meals I can remember. The watermelon was delicious, but even to this day I feel guilty about the way we acquired it.
The other thing that still bothers me was quite different. I was 17 years old and had just landed in Osaka, Japan. I went downtown with several shipmates, hit a bar or two and then I decided to head back to the ship. I saw a Japanese man standing by a rickshaw and so I hailed him and climbed on board.
That little Japanese man soon became a “beast of burden” as it was his back and foot power that hauled me down the streets of Osaka. It bothered me that this man, dark like me, was substituting himself as a horse to haul me to my destination. Although the trip to the dock was only about 300 yen, I gave him 1,000 yen, and he bowed in gratitude. It made me even more ashamed.
I must say that from then on, for the rest of my tour in the Far East, I never again rode in a rickshaw.
And while I am talking about those days I learned some valuable lessons as a teenager in the military. All of the way from America I had an African American friend name Percy. He was about 19 years old and from Chicago. Everybody treated him the same as me when we were at sea. One Saturday I was about to take shore leave and I saw Percy standing by his bunk and I asked him if he wanted to come to town with me for lunch and maybe a movie. He beamed at me and said, “Sure.”
A couple of the guys from Georgia overheard me ask Percy to join me on liberty. One of them pulled me aside and said, “You ain’t going ashore with that “N-word” are you?” I was completely taken aback because on the way over from the states nobody ever questioned my friendship with Percy.
My partner in crime Hobart Lonehill died last year, and “Philly” Arguello just moved back to Rapid from Denver. My friend Percy died in Korea.
And it’s been a long time since I went fishing out in Rapid Valley and even longer since I stole a watermelon.