E-Company Marines Remembered


Home / Oral Histories / Alfred "Al" Leon

Alfred Leon
Alfred "Al" Leon

I was born in Tucson and grew up at 424 South Arizona Avenue. Avenue, they call it. Actually it's an alley between 5th and 6th Avenues, just a block away from Safford Junior High School. My Aunt Tomasa owned two houses there. The Hansen family lived in the other house at 422.

My childhood was pretty raunchy. I remember what a "clean-cut" school Safford was. Sometimes I would get all the way home without getting in a fight. I guess I was too popular with the teachers to be "in" with the gang. I enjoyed singing and one time Miss Slette, our music teacher, talked me into singing a duet with Hector "Guerito" Leon. We were to sing Tico, Tico, for which we practiced and practiced. The night of the program, "Guerito" had to sing a solo ... Mickey Lopez and his gang had put me out of commission. They beat the heck out of me!

Mickey and I were always tangling. Onetime, I was walking Irma Montijo home from choir practice. She used to live on Meyer Street at the end of Cushing. Her stepfather, Mr. Cambero, had a bakery shop there. Just before we got to her house, I saw Mickey with another guy. (I think it was Joe Saenz.) I heard him say, "Now we can get him!" I told Irma to run home as soon as we got to them. Mickey came at me, swinging hard! He hit the telephone post, breaking his hand! While Mickey was, moaning and groaning, Itook off after Joe, who ran into his house through the front door and right out the back door! His mother was making tortillas and had a stack on the kithen table. I grabbed a tortilla as I ran by and hollered thanks, and continued out the back door after Joe. Needless to say I won the fight! Mickey got a broken hand and I got a tortilla!

One of my chores around the house was to chop wood for the stove. A Papago Indian (this term is now considered politically incorrect but was the way we used to identify members of the Tohono O'Odham tribe as I was growing up) would unload a wagonload of mesquite wood in our front yard and it was up to my older brother, Art, to haul it to the backyard. Somehow he would side-step his chore; usually with the excuse that it would ruin his hands for playing the piano. I played the violin but I guess my hands didn't matter. Of course I was no novice at side-stepping. I usually had money in my pocket so I would call my friend Pete Luera, who lived in another of my aunt's houses on the corner of 16th Street and Arizona Avenue. I would offer him twenty-five cents to chop wood for me.

I used to do quite well selling newspapers, which is where I would get my spending money. One of my best friends Richard Bennett and another guy, Edgardo Suarez, and I were the only newspaper boys allowed to sell papers at the Santa Rita Hotel. In 1939, when the movie "Arizona" was being filmed in Old Tucson, William Holden would pick me up at the front of the Hotel and carry me on his shoulders and give me as much as a doller for a five-cent newspaper.

After graduating from Tucson High School, I enrolled at the University of Arizona. I was told that I also had to sign up for the ROTC. I told them I didn't want to, but all they did was issue me an army uniform. A few days later, I joined the Marine Reserves at the Armory on 22nd and Alvernon. The next day, I turned in my ROTC uniform.

I attended one summer camp at Pendleton in 1948. I qualified for the officer's school at Quantico, Virginia, where I attended classes for platoon leaders along with Jim Reedy, Dick Oxnam and Ray Stevens. We had to qualify with every weapon the Marine Corps had at the time. The trips over there and back were fun. Jimmy and I hitchhiked. We made two trips for six weeks each time. Our second time at Quantico was about the time hostilities started in Korea. We were told that we had to sign up 'til the Korean War was over, plus I think, two years active duty and six years active reserve, or take our staff sergeant stripes and go back to college until we were called. In late November, I received my orders to report to San Diego for boot Camp. I had opted not to make a career of the Marine Corps. So, now I was a sergeant going through boot camp. When my records finally caught up with me, the D.I.'s really laid it on me. They called me "Lieutenant" in a sarcastic way. When they found out I didn't even know how to swim, they had me dive or jump off the diving tower every day, sometimes twice a day. It was a matter of sink or swim, so ... I learned to swim!

Once out of boot camp, I was given buck sergeant stripes because the staff sergeant stripes had been temporary.

After boot camp, I reported to Camp Pendleton. Then, the fun began! Nobody seemed to know what my MOS (job assignment) stood for. I wish I could remember what it was. Anyway, I reported to a real nice sergeant major at the 14th Area who told me to make myself at home until he could find out where I belonged.

For three months I had "open-gate liberty." That is, until this Colonel Brink caught me asleep in my bunk. When I told him about my MOS, he said, "Well, I'll sure as hell will find out where you belong!" And, he did! I was a PX stewart. They had been waiting for me to open up a PX and slop chute in the 14th Area. Having worked in a clothing store in Tucson paid off. I had a natural knack for it. The Colonel was so pleased with me that he sent me to the 16th Area PX, and then to the 15th Area to straighten them out.

I think what impressed Colonel Brink was that I kept a good set of books, always balancing to the penny. Of course, it was more like juggling the books. I had a few gimmicks that worked well. One in particular was that we were to sell Eastern beer for fifteen cents and Western beer for twelve cents. Well, I would sell both for fifteen cents. That way my crew could have free beer on their off hours, as long as they kept a close count of the extra three cents we had accumulated. I tried to treat my men right and they gave me 100% back.

Once, when the Bob Hope Show was in Camp Pendleton, I went to see the rehearsal because I wanted to let my men off to see the show. I was going to run the slop chute for the night and wouldn't be able to go. (We opened, at 1700 and I had a jeep at my disposal so I could get all over the camp.) At the rehearsal I ran into my C.O. (Commanding Officer) and he called me over to tell me that their lead singer was coming down with laryngitis and if I could run her over to the dispensary to see if they could do something about it. Low and behold, it was Rosemary Clooney! She was really nice. We got well acquainted on the way over to see my friend, Corpsman Kelly. Like a true friend, he had her facing the right way when he gave her a shot so that I could see through the small pass-thru door ... except that five other corpsmen, crowded around and edged me out.

After seeing Kelly, Rosie (by this time we were on first-name basis) invited me to a little party, she was having at her motel room. On my way back to the slop chute, I stopped to see a little bit of this baseball game that was going on. I see this guy thrown out at third base and I recognized Rudy Castro, an "E" Company member. He had real rough duty, too! I told him about the party but he couldn't make it because some girl had come from Tucson to see him. He did drive me over, though, since I was not allowed to drive the jeep off the base. We walked up to the motel room door, knocked and Rosie opened the door. Before Rudy had a chance to introduce himself, I slammed the door shut behind me! I don't think Rudy has forgiven me for that yet.

You know, I consider myself lucky not having to go to Korea but I had scary moments staying behind. One incident in particular happened in Oceanside, California. To begin with, girls in Oceanside would snub Marines. There was just too many of us, but getting away from the camp was a welcomed change. I used to frequent one particular place that had pool tables and in the evenings, a small combo played there. From time to time, they would ask me to sing with them. This one girl would ask me to sing, "Because of You" every time I got up there to sing. Well, one day, I was playing pool when these two big goons appeared and said, "Come on. You're going with us!" They escorted me to this bar where the bartender, Manuel (a Mexican who thought he was the Italian mafia), wanted to know where his wife was. I didn't know what to say. "Do I know your wife?" I asked. He says, "You should! You've been singing to her for some time now." I don't know how, but I managed to convince him that I was the wrong guy. Later, I was told that she had had a bad accident in Malibu and didn't survive it.

I used to pal around with Kelly, the corpsman, a mess sergeant, among two or three others. One day, we went to the Paladium to see some big-name band . We went to the bar where I paid for the first round. I didn't notice that I had paid for an extra drink. When this old man, sitting next to us was told that I had bought his drink, he thanked me and we didn't have to pay for another drink the rest of the night. It was the beginning of a lasting friendship with Froedendal. When he found out we were girl-starved Marines, he had me drive him home in his beautifal '52 Buick Roadster! What'a fine, big car that was! He was renting an expansive, luxurious house owned by Alan Jones, singer and movie star. It was in Beverly Hills. You could see Bing Crosby's house from his back yard. In short order, he made a phone call and a handful of Hollywood starlets showed up and a party was under way!

What a fine, old gentleman Mr. Froedendal, was. I used to spend a lot of time at his place. I would drive him to different places and he would let me have the use of his car. Sometimes I would even take it back to the base. I found out he was head of the commissary for 20th Century Fox. I got to meet a lot of interesting people through him. I made friends with Keenan Wynn and Ralph Meeker. It turns out that Mr. Froedendal was the illegitimate son of King Frederick of Denmark.

He used to love to bake. He would bake hundreds of dozens of cookies for Christmas, box them and take them to the Red Cross for distribution. He was furious and quit doing that when he found out they were selling them!

When I was released from active, duty I stayed in Los Angeles and went to work for a chemical company, so I still saw a lot of the people I had met through Froedendal. One day, Keenan called me to tell me that Mr. Froedendal had died. I went to his funeral. Quite a bit of Hollywood was there, including Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Sinatra.

In 1956, I left Los Angeles to attend my brother Art's funeral and stayed in Tucson to look after my mother. I went back to managing the National Shirt Shop where I had worked before leaving for the Marine Corps.

My brother Art's story is another that should be included with our "E" Company. You know, when he heard we had been activated, he went to the Armory and volunteered to go. He worked in the Armory office, processing the paperwork for "E" Company's departure. Before the Company left, they found out he was in the Army Reserves and they would not release him to join the Marines. He had been in Korea with the Army before. I remember him talking about a Korean orphan he had tried to bring back with him, but he couldn't arrange it. Art wound up back in Korea with the Army and looked for the kid, but could not locate him. It left him very sad.

Art was killed by a motorists as he walked to work when the driver gave a cyclist wide berth. The motorist didn't see Art walking on the side of the road.

About three times while I was in Pendleton., I went through infantry training and waited to be placed on a replacement draft for Korea, but my name would be taken out. Someone had to run the slop chute! The Lord was looking out for me. I guess I still have my regrets about not having gone to Korea. However, I've never regretted being a Marine.

It feels great to get together with my fellow Marines and friends that are still around. I sure miss the ones that have gone. Like the saying goes, "Once a Marine, always a Marine." I guess that's the way we'll always be.

return to top

 

 
About Oral Histories Photo Gallery Homepage Kino Korean War Memorial Dedication