Bob Mitchell: Navy experiences a good learning curve

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Putting together enough words on a weekly basis to fill the allotted space of this column can sometimes be a chore, but often, assistance can come from the least expected of sources.

Over the past several months my son-in-law, Dennis Bartkoski, has possibly unknowingly come up with some good ideas.

Dennis could have been a native of Barry County. His dad was born in the Pulaskifield area before migrating to North Kansas City. He and Shelley have been married 30 years, so I hope some of our Ozarkeeze has rubbed off on him.

His latest contribution included some information published on the Little White House in Key West, Fla., a location dear to my heart.

Started in 1949

My first real duty in the Navy when I was just out of school, was at the Commander, Atlantic Fleet Headquarter in Norfolk, Va. The fleet duty was good, living in a converted hospital facility and having duties of a radio program with a civilian Navy tailor outfit featuring talent aboard various ships and writing for Grit Magazine about the ships named after those losing their lives in WW II.

The latter was especially good since it required frequent research in D.C., which provided visits with the Beulah Cox family, including Dorsey and Jay Dean (Chick).

Quick transfer

Those of us new to the command knew our time was short here, and just before Thanksgiving, Commander Miller called me in his office asking me ďhow would you like to serve with a fellow Missourian?

Further explanation revealed there were no PR personnel in Key West Bases where President Truman frequently vacationed. Having relatives in that part of the world, I jumped at the chance. The next afternoon I was on a flight to Jacksonville, Fla., for an overnight stay and then a flight to the Land of Saiahauso.

Office across alley

My office was on the backside of the administration building, which faced the harbor. Across the alley was the back yard of the Little White House.

One week after I got my gear in a locker, Truman arrived and things picked up considerably.

There was a Public Information Officer with the arrival group but he was of little help, spending most of his time trying to impress the White House press corp.

His intentions of having me in civilization clothes and attending officer club functions with the press corps was quickly refused because of what other enlisted would think. My involvement with them was adequate in many other ways.

More about the LWH

This article provided by Dennis was explicit concerning Trumanís desires to keep his vacation quarters very plain and without any extravagant fixtures. By his orders the facility was to remain as is and exempt from Navy projects that would provide changes. He did insist on one provision, the backyard poker table where he and his closest friends would settle most evenings for a game and possibly libations along the way.

Evening work in my office usually consisted of filling special requests, which meant I was accompanied in my office by a Secret Service man who frequently gave me some valuable insight on doís and doníts around the D.C. press people.

Trumanís visits

The presidentís visits, up until 1952, numbered 11, one time while I was there, Bess and Margaret were in the party and the atmosphere was quite different on the Naval Station.

Ironically, during a later year visit to Key West, I learned while talking to a storeowner that my office was then his apartment. In fact the entire Naval Station, which had included a submarine base, sonar school and headquarters for the destroyer base, Boca Chica Navy Air Base was under one command, some remaining Navy.

Visits started

On Trumanís first visit to the Keys, when in D.C. he contracted a cold and his doctor, Dr. Graham, recommended he vacation in a warm climate.

Until this day, photographs of certain interior sections of the LWH are not permitted for national security reasons. Seems as though it might be used in the future.

Out of there

My stay was finished as the Korean War was warming and the Navy decided three journalists from the Atlantic Fleet would go west. For me, it was a stop in Pearl Harbor, then to Tokyo, then to Amphibious Fleet where I remained for the next three years of an enlistment.

It was difficult to leave the Naval Station Cardinals, where I caught and played the outfield.

The experiences and learning curve that I gained working with some of the best newspaper men in the world while in and around Korea could not have been attained in two more years of college.

Being a Navy veteran of the Korean War isnít about to be forgotten in my house.

It is a forgotten incident in the minds of many Americans, which is a dirty shame, to put it as politely as possible.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State Universityís Regional Media Hall of Fame.