John Moullette writes about growing up in Camden
NOMS de PLUME
NOM de PLUME ONE
THE TITLE of this section might well have been: "Growing Up In Camden, New Jersey." North Camden -- my section of that industrial city of 200,000 -- was just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Sometimes, we referred to it as "East Philly." North Camden was a residential section of mostly three-story brick houses not more than 12 feet wide and 30 feet deep. They housed the workers of the shipyards that lined the river or who worked at Campbell Soup, RCA, and the Pennsylvania Railroad.
The Delaware River Bridge connected "East Philly" with Philadelphia. Between my house and "the bridge" was "Little Italy" -- a nice neighborhood of hard-working Catholics, daisy wine, and good-looking, dark-complexioned girls. Spaghetti and tomato pies were common there long before Pizza Hut. It was from this influence that I got my first nom de plume -- Spaghettee:
"Johnnie Moullettee ate a spaghettee and that's how he got the name Moullettee." The boys in that neighborhood were tough and it was from them that I learned how to street brawl: Stand and fight or suffer the consequence of being called "coward." The best fight I ever had was in Little Italy. I was whipped but I stood; and my self-respect rose and I felt good about me. That battle was to pay dividends in the years to come.
river -- like all rivers -- was an attraction. It started somewhere in
New York State and emptied into the Atlantic Ocean between Cape May, New
Jersey, and Lewes, Delaware. In it, we learned to swim and to fish (not
too successfully). By it, we dreamed of faroff places signaled by the
national flags of the ships that delivered wares to the Ports of Camden
and Philadelphia. And, we dreamed of being sailors -- some of us even
realized that dream.
It was at the marshalling yards that the greatest excitement took place. For here, almost every day of the Great Depression, came the hoboes -- those wandering, homeless and unemployed men of the '30s who were seeking a new life just over the horizon. They camped there, slept in the box cars or in tarpaper shacks, cooked in cans over open fires, shaved by looking into broken mirrors (seven years bad luck) and cleaned their clothes in the river or by holding them over a fire to kill the lice, or by scraping packed dirt with a knife.
They were kind and friendly and, mostly, they were interesting. They always had a story for those of us who were brave enough to approach them. We ran errands for them, watched out for the yard dicks, brought them meager rations of food from home and listened to their stories -- stories of the American West, the Plains, the mountains, the lakes, the endless fields of grain and cotton, and -- of course -- the big cities: New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, San Francisco, Birmingham and New Orleans. My first determination to travel came from these men -- never did I believe that I would see each and every one of those cities as well as the major cities of Europe and the Orient.
some of the men had stories of the Great War. Some showed us their wounds
and their medals. From them, we had first-hand accounts of trench warfare,
Compared to those stories, school in North Camden was terrible. Not the schools but the tedium of the subjects taught. For some of us whose homes were unheated, lighted by kerosene lamps, or without adequate plumbing, the schools -- Cassady and Cooper -- were warm, cheerful and cozy. This was especially so in winter and on rainy days. We looked forward to the rainy days as we usually were dismissed for the afternoon.
I loved my first grade teacher, my second grade teacher, my fourth grade teacher and the "roving" art teacher, who later became a lieutenant in the Women Marines (the BAMS). In common, these teachers were interesting, imaginative, enthusiastic, and understanding. They were also "young," not like "old lady so-and-so."
My favorite subjects were geography, history, reading and spelling. Math I dreaded, and to this day I carry the burden of not being able to tackle any job that requires arithmetic beyond adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Much later in life, I passed-- just -- statistics in my doctoral program; by perseverance mostly. Plane and solid geometry held some promise for me. As I was later to learn, the establishment of a hypothesis and the step-by-step solution to proving the hypothesis suited my linear way of thinking.
THE MANSION or "cow-lot" between Point and Front Streets and York and State Streets and adjacent to the river and marshalling yards was our "fields of Eton.” Here we played pick-up football (tackle without gear), softball (not slow-pitch) and hard-ball baseball. If you didn't have a mitt you caught the balls bare-handed. If you had a ball, you automatically were the pitcher and, if you had a bat, no one could keep you out of the game.
The lot had been a 19th Century Mansion and pasture that become a derelict - it was abandoned, razed and leveled. At night, we used it to build fires to roast potatoes, cook marshmallows, and to set around -- watch the flames -- and tell stories. After the Christmas holidays, we used it to build massive bonfires with abandoned Christmas trees. During World War II the mansion lot became a parking yard for defense workers' cars.
PYNE POINT PARK was a lovely community park with hundreds of deciduous trees, a water fountain, concrete walkways, a gazebo, a bandstand (Um-pah! Um-pah!), a wading pool, a swimming pool, and baseball diamonds. We gathered there for most sports and events- mostly to meet girls as we became teenagers. Fourth of July was the major event at the park:
Parades, games, contests, band music, plenty of free ice cream and cotton candy. And, later at night when it was plenty dark, fireworks (Ah! Oh! Beautiful! Clap-clap!).
Later (during the war) the Army came to Pyne Point Park and they brought their anti-aircraft guns. They took over the pool, camped on the diamonds, and wired off the open spaces where they placed their guns, listening devices, search lights, and ammo bunkers. That was the end of the park as I knew it and I never returned there after the war.
around the age of 12. I began to pal around with a gang. That's when I
became known as "Spaghettee." We joined the Scouts, camped
out at Palmyra hills and Woodcrest woods. We hopped trains, tried to sneak
into the movies, skipped school, fought the Bubsi Besoe gang on Fourth
Street, hid in the comer sewers, experimented with sex in junior high
school, smoked a few cigarettes and drank a little beer. The beer made me
dizzy and the cigarettes made me throw up. I never smoked a cigarette
after my first one.
AT AGE 11 OR 12 I had a job in a comer grocery -- stacking shelves, getting raw sauerkraut (good stuff) from the cellar. and delivering orders. The tips were good -- about two dollars per week -- not bad during the Depression and just enough to take a girl to a movie, buy her a sundae at the comer drug store and keep some for spending. Life was simpler then.
I huckstered -- sold fruit and vegetables from a horse-drawn wagon ("Yo, tomatoes, fresh ripe Jersey tomatoes! Yo, peaches, fresh ripe Alberta peaches! Watermelon? Cantaloupe?") Huckstering required me to get up at 4 a.m. during the summer to try and wake the owner (impossible), feed and water the horse (Sylvester), hook up the wagon, and lead it to Henry's house. After waking him (barely), we plodded on to Cooper's Point Ferry, crossed the river by ferry to Philadelphia, rode up to Dock Street, shopped for and purchased our commodities for the day's sales, ate a hot dog (a Frank), drank a hot cup of coffee from a Dock Street vendor, and returned the way we came to Camden and to our homes for a breakfast that would last us all day. After breakfast, a long day of selling commenced and didn't end until we were nearly sold out. At the end of the day my reward was 10 cents and a basket of mixed vegetables and some fruit (both getting ripe). I kept the dime and my mother welcomed the vegetables and the fruits -- after all, those were Depression days.
THE MEMORIES of those days are all good ones. We didn't expect much in those days and we relied very little on our parents for anything beyond home and hearth. We made our own entertainment (radio shows notwithstanding), earned our own money in order to attend a Saturday matinee, bought our own Scout uniforms and our meager sporting equipment, and -- in most cases -- our own clothes (how proud we were to buy that first pair of trousers).
To get money I shined shoes (walking from one bar to another -- standing on the comer didn't work), sold magazines ("Liberty" and "Saturday Evening Post"), ran errands, and cleaned cellars and yards. Eventually I worked as a stock boy. a curb service attendant. and as a bus boy in a restaurant and lounge (where I fell in love with my first woman -- a torch singer-"My Sweet Little Alice Blue Gown"). But my big job in the shipyard was yet to come -- just before I joined the Marines.
MY DAD WORKED as a switch tender -- very difficult with one leg off and half of one hand gone. He became active in politics -- the Socialist Party then the Democratic Party -- and eventually he became a Deputy Mayor of Camden. My mom worked as a waitress in a Philadelphia chain restaurant (Linton's) during the Depression. During the war she did volunteer work -- Red Cross -- and was always available to help the down-and-out during the Depression.
We kids had a code: Ruffians we might have been, but there was a code and the code prevails:
-- Don't embarrass the family or bring dishonor to the family name.
-- Obey your mother and make her proud.
-- Stand up to your father; let him know you are a man, too, but do it with respect.
-- Respect another's sister.
-- Respect all grownups -- even the teachers you dislike.
Call a man a "son-of-a-bitch" only if you are prepared to fight
to the death.
-- Be loyal to your country and be prepared to defend it without question and without hesitation.
WAR CAME to North Camden as it did to all America. Some of our neighbors' and friends' brothers were killed at Pearl Harbor or captured or killed at Wake Island, Guam and in the Philippines. Others were to die later around the world -- in the Pacific Islands, the jungles of Burma, in the deserts of North Africa, on the plains of Europe, at sea, and some in the air over Berlin and Tokyo.
Many -- those who served in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Federalized National Guard -- became the nucleus of the wartime Army. Enlistments in both 1939 and 1940 brought the promise of twenty dollars a month and food. This money was needed at home to help mom and dad raise the brothers and sisters. The "kids" gladly gave most of their monthly earnings to help the other "kids."
Those were the good old days -- the days of semi-classical but popular music (Glen Miller's "String of Pearls"), heartwarming movies ("Casablanca"), tragedy (the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby), excitement and pride (Joe Louis defeats Max Schmeling with a knock-out blow in the first round), and the end of an era (the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor).
ON TO HIGH SCHOOL I went, but I hated it! I would rather have worked and I did -- until my dad caught up with me:
-- He said, "You have a decision to make -- school or work."
-- "Work." I said.
-- "Leave home, tonight." he said.
-- "Now, without dinner?" I asked.
-- "Yes" he replied.
And, so I did. I walked out with my gym bag in my hand (surely he's kidding and he'll ask me back -- not so!) and with the delicious smell of my mother's homemade beef stew in my nostrils (how can they do this to me?) and by the witness of my favorite uncle (how we laughed about this episode in my life -- years later).
I spent that first night at the "Y" [The YMCA on Federal Street- PMC] and many nights thereafter (a dollar a night, five dollars a week with clean sheets every week and a communal toilet). The next day I went to work at the shipyard as a cleaner -- sweeping up after the welders, carpenters, pipe fitters and electricians. It was hard and dirty work, but it was exciting to watch a ship being built from the keel up, be launched, make her trial run down the river, be outfitted, and sailed away to deliver supplies to our fighting men around the world.
IN NOVEMBER 1943 the Marines hit Tarawa -- a small island in the Pacific.
The casualties on the coral reef surrounding the island were high and terrible; the fighting on the island was bitter. It was too much to stand by and watch -- I had to go. So I "doctored" my birth certificate to read 1926 instead of 1927and marched off to the recruiting station in the Custom House at Second and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia. There I presented my birth certificate to a Gunnery Sergeant: "You're not 17, you son-of-a-bitch, but if you want to go, you're going." I went! I was on my way to the biggest adventure of my life -- an adventure I would never forget and one I would never regret.
And, I would lose naiveté and the first of my noms de plume -- Spaghettee -- and pick up a new one: Chick. That's another story.
John B. Moullette Papers
Dates: Date Span: 1944-1993. Bulk Date Span: 1951
Enlisted man, United States Marine Corps, 1943-1946, 1950-1952
On January 16, 1951, Marine Corporal John B. Moullette, while stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, wrote a letter to his father, Clarence W. Moullette, questioning the involvement of the United States in the Korean War. Clarence Moullette, who was Assistant to the Mayor of Camden, New Jersey, forwarded the letter to United States Secretary of State, Dean Acheson. Acheson responded to Clarence Moullette in a letter dated February 23, 1951. The Acheson-Moullette correspondence was subsequently published in many newspapers. The papers of John B. Moullette include the original correspondence, as well as public opinion letters and published materials sent to the Moullettes in response to this correspondence.
Less than one linear feet. (About l600 pages)
On January 16, 1951, Marine Corporal John B. Moullette, while stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, wrote a letter to his father, Clarence, in which he questioned the involvement of the United States in the Korean War. His father, Assistant to the Mayor of Camden, New Jersey, forwarded the letter to United States Secretary of State, Dean Acheson. On February 23, l95l, Acheson responded with a long and thoughtful letter about the ideals and aspirations that were guiding the Truman administration's decisions regarding the Korean War. The State Department released the correspondence on March 3, 1951; the letters were published in the New York Times and were serialized in newspapers throughout the country. The papers of John B. Moullette include the original Moullette-Acheson correspondence. Additionally, the publication of this correspondence inspired many Americans to write to the Moullettes voicing their opinions; the collection contains about 150 of these public opinion letters.
This material has been arranged in a Correspondence File. The original Acheson-Moullette correspondence is in the first folder in this series. Subsequent correspondence between the Moullettes and Acheson is in the second folder, which includes a 1969 letter from Acheson to Clarence Moullette, acknowledging his letter regarding John Moullette's successful career. The public opinion letters follow in subsequent folders, filed alphabetically.
In addition to correspondence, this collection contains a Printed Materials File with a wide range of printed matter dealing directly or indirectly with the Korean War and various aspects of the United States policy in Korea. This material includes religious and astrological tracts expressing various ideologies from extreme left to extreme right, directed at religious and political groups such as Catholics, Jews, Communists, and anti-Communists. It includes pro-Communist literature including excerpts from the Daily Worker and selected speeches of W.E.B. DuBois.
The Moullette Papers also contain two spiral-bound collections of the autobiographical writings of John Moullette and a book of Clarence Moullette's poetry edited by his son. The cross-reference folder documents two books that were transferred to the Library's printed materials collection.
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