An interview with Boyd Brevington


Material Information

An interview with Boyd Brevington
Physical Description:
88 minutes
Boyd Brevington
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Panama Canal


General Note:
Interviewed by Matthew White

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
PCM 012 Boyd Brevington 7-1-2010
PCM 012
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Full Text
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The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz Office Manager : Tamarra Jenkins Technology Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix 241 Pugh Hall PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 Phone 352 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness accounts of economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life in Florida and the South In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists, and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, SPOHP recommends that researchers refer to both the transcript and audio of an interview when c onducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Oral history interview transcripts available on the UF Digital Collections may be in draft or final format. SP OHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the original oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim document of it. The transcript is written with careful attention to reflect original grammar and word choice of each interview ee; subjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a later final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and format I nterviewees can also provide their own spelling corrections SPOHP transcribers ref er to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information about SPOHP, visit or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. October 2013


PCM 012 Interviewee: Boyd Brevington Interviewer: Matthew White Date: July 1, 2010 W: My name is Matthew White. I the Panama Canal Reunion. He just asked me what I want him to talk about. is the social aspects, the day to day living of what it was like to be in the Canal Zone We can move from wherever that takes the ebb and flow of international politics or the interested purely in your personal experience s and what it was like to live in the Canal Zone Starting of course with who you are and how you found yourself in the C anal. B: I was born in 1932. My grandfather Harry Franklin Brevington, in May of 1912, left his three sons, daughter and wife in Clev eland. The youngest son was my D ad. He went down there on May fifth and was immediately hired. He was very good with his hands and his brains T hey hired him as a carpent er to start with at Pedro Miguel we called it Peter McGill T hen he was transferred to the Atlantic side where he became a foreman in the construction of defense [Pedro Miguel is a small town in the Panama Canal Zone, located on the east bank of the Canal near one of the locks ] The Canal had the north and the south, and at each entrance to the Canal, they built fortifications for defense purposes. Grandpa Harry --after that


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 2 w as done, he stayed there and my Dad went to local schools. My Dad and my G randfather rarely ever talked to me about their time there. Of course as a teenager, was I interested? Not until I got married and moved away. But G ramps resigned and went up to L.A. for a w hile, where my f ather graduated high school. Then in 1929, when the crash came, he went back to the Zone and was rehired. W: Your Dad or G randfather? B: My Dad. My G randfather went back and was rehired. His two sons, my Uncle Donald and Uncle Harold, sta yed. Donald married. They stayed, they L.A., just my a unt and my f ather went up there. They both graduated high school up there. Anyway, they went back and my d ad started working for the Hotel Tivoli. The C s Y T here compete agai nst itself. My d ad got a job as a hotel assistant at the Hotel Tivoli, which was on our Pacific side. The Hotel Washington was on the other side. Ju st as an aside, every year the l ame duck congressman, with the government paying their way, came down to stay in the Tivoli for a few days and then went back. W: Now when you say lame duck were they B: They were not reelected. W: They were just people who had just lost an election, so they


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 3 B: They lost, or were retiring. But senators and congressman were ever coming down there because of legislation. We had no representation and all that kind of anybody being in any kind of a party, unless they brought it up. We all talked about canals and stuff hierarchy of things. W: Did you have any elections? B: We elected nobody. Now, you had to keep on file your stateside residence, always. They kept putting out this information slip and it would change and who was still on the states that you because when you went on vacation, your way was paid to that stateside location on the ship, trains the way they had to keep that going for you. W: Pardon me for interrupting. Now, is that where you had to return every two had to re turn to? B: worked, and for every month or so, you earn so many hours of vacation time. Since it was so far away to the States like my dad, he would work for a few years and earn t hree months vacation. So, we could go to the S tates and really visit family and frie nds. W e did that in 1948, after the war. We put our 1941


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 4 Plymouth on the Panama Canal railroad ship, took it to the S tates, got it and we toured around, put it on and we came back. People would do that. S ince the canal did not sell cars and all those kinds of things, people would go to the states, buy a Chevy, put it on the ship. W: Yeah, I was going to ask you where you bought your car. B: Oh, you could buy used ones in Panama City. My folks never had a new car, they always bought used ones. So, my m other graduated from Balboa High School in 1930, I graduated there i n 1950. Somehow or another, my mom caught the eye of my d ad -he was four years out of h igh school -and they dated. My m om was staying with two of her sisters, not married. The fourth sister had gone background. He had been to Alaska and Arizona, he was quite an adventurer. He met my A unt Bessie in New Bern North Carolina the home of the Bell family, my m ey were down there and I guess A unt Bessie told her three sisters, i come on down, and they did. My m other, not having graduated high school, went to th e new Balboa High School, which became an elementary school by the time I got to go to school. They dated, and my A unt Nita, who was in charge o ad. So he went home to Cleveland, she went to New Bern take the same ship back to the Z one. So they met in New York City, were married, spent a night in the Hotel Dixie or so, got on a ship and when they got


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 5 kay. They never had a church wedding or anything like that. Then in [19]32 I came along. They were married in [19]30. W: Now, you said you graduated from Balboa High School? B: Uh huh. W: In 1950? B: Uh huh. W: What was it like to go to high school? B: I went from kindergarten all the way up to grade 12, except for [19]42, I went to North Carolina because of the war for a few months. But anyway, your kindergarten class would go all the way through high school with you. W: How large was your class? B: Proba bly about 125 people. There was a high school on the Pacific and one on the Atlantic. We knew each other all that time, through every grade. We were a group that knew each other dated each other had parties with each other played sports with each other, went to dances with each other, and so on. Occasionally, a kid would come in from the S tates and we would accept him or her into our group.


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 6 W: Did that include the military dependents as well? Did they go to the high school? B: The military was there for the defense of the canal a nd their bases were within the Z one. Panama would not per mit them on the outside until World War II when the war was over they had to come back in. They came to our schools. The military had their PX and their commissary which t make schools and they came to our schools [PX, or Post Exchange, and commissaries were retail stores located on army bases] S o we got to know them -the military brats and the Canal Zone bra ts got together. So, that was it. doing to you now interact with our group. There are about forty of us here. Reunions are very important to us, as this is. It provided a place where we cou ld get together in high school, because we always came here. You wanted to know about how we lived with one another? Is that what you wanted W: heard in the previous group we just listened to, they talked a little bit a bout sports teams and rivalries. I found that did you play any sports? B: Always. W: Football, he mentioned. Who else did you play? Did you just play each other? Who else plays football in Central America?


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 7 B: Through elementary school, the C anal schools and recreation were excellent in providing activities. We were always busy. After school there were intramurals at the high school or varsity sports, et cetera. When school was out, we had a recreational program that was outstanding with archery, fencing and all kinds of things. B aseball, all of our buddies would get together, we were divided by age. There was no little league, no adult supervision. No adults coming and yelling at us. The coach would give us a ba to Gamboa or Peter McGill [ Gamboa is a township in the Panama Canal Zone, located on a sharp bend of the Chagres River northwest of Pedro McGill ]. W play the other towns. B asketball was the same. Then when we got to junior high we came together as one, all of the schools. We kne w all the identities of the elementary school but we all became one in the junior high and high schools. To th is day, we still remember Balboa High as the place. Our teachers, we boast about them. They were all hired, mostly from the northeast, many of them from W: Columbia, you mean the school, not the country? B: Columbia Universi ty. Which I understood back in those days was pretty high on teacher education. S ome in the Midwest Wisconsin. But very few, if any, of our teachers came from the West C oast because it was easier to go up and recruit. We got an education; all of our books were from the United States. We studied


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 8 United States history. W e did not study Panama history. We had it all. Our English in ninth grade was Ivanhoe and tenth grade was Silas Marner. Junior year, Macbeth and senior year she was getting us ready for college. We were divided into two groups, by the way, college bound kids and non where. One of the biggest parts of our education was dance. In elementary school we went t o a class called cotillion where they taught us to dance -the foxtrot, waltz, all of those things. W: And what year was that? That was elementary school? B: That might have been the beginning of junior high, somewhere in that area. We did it at the YMCA i n their auditorium. And then in the high school we had a bout four formal dances, wore a tux. Think about the tropics. I had mine tailor made in Panama City, wore it all the way through. We had a Christmas dance, Easter dance, all these things, and then if ave a big formal one, we had informal one s after a game. I records. We had circular tables and we held our big dances at the Hotel Tivoli. Manners and social niceties were big. We sat at a circul ar table, a couple went out to dance, when they came back all the guys stood up when the girl was seated. Our junior senior prom we just learned all these things from these parents who had gone through the D epression, et cetera. W h ich by the way did not hi t the C anal Zone as much as it hit the S tates. In fact, many people moved


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 9 down, you hardly ever felt the effects of the D epression down there. As I said varsity sports were big time. Whom did we play? W: Yeah. B: Cristobal High School, on the Atlantic si de. They were a little bit smaller than us. Also the junior college, which was housed in the same building as Balboa High School T hat was our scholastic league. W: Just three teams? B Three teams. In football we played home and away, basketball home and away, and baseball living in the tropics, when you got out of school at 3 it was quite warm and humid. als and then we had all stars, and they played the other schools. Then, when I was a junior we brought in the varsity system, no more all stars. We started wearing uniforms. In my senior year, the fall of 1949, we had our first tackle football game. Since we had lights at our stadium and the other s ide had lights, cooler evenings. I practiced in the evenings My high school, we were the first interscholastic champion, we won 4 0. I was a quarterback and it was a lot of fun. Guys from that school went away to scholarships at big schools and so on. My number one sport was baseball. I just loved baseball. When they got us uniforms for baseball -Balboa High was red and white from head to toe


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 10 the uniforms were red. Wild. Blue and gold was Cristobal so their uniforms were all blue. And the JC was green and white, their uniforms were all green. W: Not even interrupted by stripes or B: No. Well we played each other. W: It frankly sounds quite garish B: Oh no, [laughter]. T hen when you g ot out of school there was a group called the working boys. T he kids who got out of high school and stayed there and went through apprenticeships or whatever -and they wanted to continue playing. S o they became working boys and the high school would play them in an off season a few extra games, and that was kind of neat. W: Now tell me a little bit about this time period, about your family. How big was your family? Where did you live? B: My g randfather, three sons, a nd a daughter; they all came down. The youngest, my y Aunt Etha she spent some time there and then she went to LA, stayed, and married my Uncle Tom up there T hey never went back. Donald married a girl from Connecticut and he lived on the Atlantic side H e worked for the commissary division. He was an electrician. Over there on the Atlantic side, they processed our milk and ice c ream and shipped it to our side. H e worked with them until he retired. They had one girl, my cousin Jane.


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 1 1 She married a stateside man and they lived in New Jersey. After my aunt and u ncle passed, they moved into their house in Rock Stream, New York, which was built during the Revolutionary War. Beautiful house, we stayed in it once. My Uncle Donald, if you want to know about him, he had his problems. He married a woman in LA and brought her down to the Z one for a while and they divorced. He was a very sad man. life. I was walking home one day, past his bachelor quarters, and I s aw a police car out there and thought, my Uncle Donald lives there. Got home, another police car out front. I got up t he stairs and my d My g randfather came down from Pasadena and spent some time with us. Donald left ten thou sand dollars and G keep anything for himself. So, th at was Uncle Donald. My d ad, as I say, retired down there. My m other went to work there. She went to work for the laundry. One laundry serviced the whole isthmus, one bakery serviced the whole isthmus, one dairy all of the dairy cows were on the Atlantic side. The trains were going back and forth all the time. The canal had three ships up to New York, up and all of our dry goods. W: So, let me interrupt here for a second, everyone sent their l aundry? There were no in house machines or hand doing? B: No. A maid. You always had a maid, as soon as y ou got up enough salary you hired a maid, a Panamanian lady. They were paid like forty dollars a month. They


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 1 2 could come in the morning and leave in the evening. They could do your laundry. Every apartment, every building, had its own washtubs, every house had its own clothesline. But my m om, since she worked at the laun dry, she would take shirts and things like that, give them off, take them home. Dry cleaning and white shirts and all that were sent to the laundry. It was a huge building, modern [inaudible]. My d ad, at one time, got to work for the housing division, whic h took care of all of our buildings. They said in the Canal Zone it was as if a gardener had come along with scissors and cut the grass. Immaculate, nothing out of place. I used to tell p eople, what do you do, well my dad cuts your lawn and my m om does you r laundry. But be that as it may, where do we go from there? W: Well, you sai d your u Who chose where you got to live? B: Early on, in the construction days, the government in the S tates decided tha t it had to do a number one job. I within budget, et cetera. N obody goofs off. They hired all these guys in the S tates and sent them down there. They were foreman types, because they brought in from the islands, the Caribbean, the manual labor guys to do all the digging and that kind of thing. The me n who went down there, like my g randfather, they w ere tradesmen mostly. Then the C anal, five miles on each side of the waterway, the boundaries And at that time most of the guys


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 1 3 drinks, he does whatever, and so they go in the wild. T hey made their own police force which was almost like an army. T they started providing the commissary services, the recreation, entertainment schools everything, for the C to pa y anything for these things. If they started goofing up and if tates you went. They had inspectors. We called them gum shoes -around -and they watched people working. Work was it, you did your job, you did an outstanding do it again. There is a book called The Canal Builders ling you about right now. A history professor, University of Maryland, wrote the book, excellent book. You can see it here in the museum if you wa nt to take a look at it. W: om Maryland, actually, so a little pride there. B: That book explains to me why it was I lived the way I did when I was there. Because it sta rted there in 1910 and all that, building all of these -As I say, you ect anybody unless you had an absentee ballot. We never had an election for anything. The governor was basically just a name, it was run by an executive secretary who was the boss. We all knew who the e xecutive secretary was. Then there were all these sub bosses going down. However, I got the feeling as a kid growing up down there that all the Zonians


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 1 4 the D emocrats in charge back in Washington from FDR on. B ecause they made certain policies but we carried them out. W: Well then, of a R epublican Eisenhower there did you guys notice a difference between administrations in Washington? B: No, no, they always what the S tates was doing, oh, leave us alone. There was a Panama Canal; I think it was a committee, under the direction of the S ecretary of the A rmy This was the number one guy in Washington D.C. that was representing the C anal to the secretary back in th ose days during war and then the president. The gover nor was usually a ge neral in the Corps of Engineers. Y ou can understand why. H e was more of a title. He had a nice house up on a hill, a beautiful place. Now, you asked about homes. And they built these homes -the town of Balboa was a marsh. the C anal. And what do you do with the diggings? You bring them and you put them in this marsh and then you bring them out and then you build this town. What else do you do with the digg ings? Well, there were these three islands out here where they put these fortifications. How do you get back to the mainland? You build a causeway, all from the diggings. So, where a lot of that went. W e lived in the Balboa Flats, the land was all f lat there. W: And that was on top of sort of fill


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 1 5 B: It was fill dirt, yeah. We all lived on fill dirt there. T hen Balboa Heights was a little up the hill, Ancon Hill, toward Panama City. They built two kinds of houses, wooden ones, built for the tropics, all screened in, and there were four families. W: In one building? B: One building, four f amilies, A, B, C, D. F rom the administration building, which was up on a hill, down to the center of my town of Balboa, where the clubhouse was there was a restaurant and toiletries and a theater, all that kind of stuff there was a street coming down there and on both sides of that we built concrete houses, once again four. Houses always built off the ground, not for flooding insects. You go up the stilt and there was this tin thing going around to keep them from going up. So, we had those and each house had these two laundry things. You did not live, according to the C anal records, on a street. You lived in a house. We lived on streets, they had names, but ac cording to the you lived in Balboa 0848 House B, that was on your official record. W: say? B: No, no, no. No mail came to the house. Never. No mailman walking around. Balboa P ost Office, Diablo Post Office, Ancon, each town had its own post office. It was all delivered there and we all had a box. Three and a half, two and a half, four and a half, that was our It was delivered there.


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 1 6 W: What was at three and a half, two and a half? B: That was the combination to get into our W: Oh, you remembered all of these years? B: Oh yeah. And it was funny because ours was box 111 and it was in the top row lights inside the office would reflect. If we saw the light, we drove on because there was nothing in there. Just an aside. Everything was air mail if you wanted to get a stateside bag If you mailed something regular mail it took three to four weeks, on t we sent cables and so on, wrote lots of letters. W: When you were growing up, what about your immediate family ? You told me about your aunts and uncles. W hat about your immediate family ? B: I have a sister, lives in Connecticut now S there were four of us. W: Were there sports for her to play? B: Girls got their sports too, but not as much as boys. In high school they played volleyball and softball di d I say basketball? That was about it for them. They out and cheer them as they would go out and cheer us while we were playing.


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 1 7 T here was nothing to keep you from being an act ive person, whether you be a boy or a girl. In high school, the Spanish club, the chemistry club, and the photography club we had all thes e clubs that you could join. E ach club had a sponsor from the high school and that was good. W: What were your favori te hobbies in school? Besides the sports. B: Gee, not much. I had an electric train as a kid and I just loved my electric train. Lots of rain. It rained 85 inches on my side, Pacific, and 115 on the Atlantic side. So we had 9 months rain, 3 months no rain. W: A lot of indoor hobbies, I suspect. B: Yeah. So I would get the train hardly can you find them? W: With ru bber bands and stuff, not the kind you make yourself and put an engine on. B: We made our own scrapbooks. A buddy of mine, Albert Joyce, he and I did football, and another friend of mine, Norby Jones, we did World War II. To me, and my group, if we say war we know what we mean. It was the war, World War II. W ith my group, that was it. T he Panamanians made our newspapers there


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 1 8 that. W: hinking to myself how you kept up with events. B: La Estrella The Star and Herald was the morning, and the Panama American the evening. That was divided into two parts. On the outside was English, three or four pages, and the inside was Spanish, three or four pages. But no matter who you were, you got both. I was greatly interested in the war. Every evening I would get the paper and find out what was the Fourth Army doing, what was the Fifteenth Air F orce doing, and I knew the commanding generals and where they were going each time. I followed it all the way to Normandy and all the rest of this W: Let m e ask about the newspaper real quick. You said the Panamanians produced it? B: Yes. W: And were they Panamanians who did the reporting and the writing and the B: No. In the English the AP the NEAA, the UP, that [News Agencies during World War II that covered intern ational affairs Associated Press, United Press ] They however, would have one of their reporters write up our sports in English,


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 1 9 or something that was going on with our local government in the Canal Zone. We also had some Americans; some Zonians, would be employed by the newspaper to do things. We had our own local news in the inside. W: I was going to ask you, as a sports fan, were you able to follow stateside? B: Yes. W: And how did you do that? B: All they gave were the line scor e s, no box scores. Oh, I devoured it. My d ad was from Cleveland so I was an Indians fan. You know, I hated the Yankees and all this stuff. And every kid who was a Yankee fan, oh you just wanna be a winner. Anyway, I followed all the bowl games in football and then Indianapolis and the Kentucky Derby. All these things were important to me, and to this day still are. ers. But at night, radio, short band dial and I might get a station from New York City or Florida. W: Oh really? Florida I could see, or maybe Dallas or somewhere in Texas. But New York, fabulous! B: Yeah, and usually I would get a baseball recreation game that took a half an hour. Now this was a whole thing Boyd come to bed! You know, the folks. And then on weekends we got radio live. Red Barber for the Dodgers and Mel Allen for the Yankees. I just fell in love with those guys. To me, they were the ultimate


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 2 0 armed forces radio stat ion T hat was the only English. Later, after the war, the TV came down. O ur radio, we would have the Shadow Jack Benny and Bob Hope; but th ey were three months late. O ur movies were the same way. We got your stateside movies, but they were three months l ater. But we did get the Movietone News right on the dot. Each town had its own theater, so down would come Gone With the Wind and it would start in Balboa, go to Diablo, go to Ancon [Fox Movietone News, was a newsreel that aired before films between 1929 and 1963 in the United States] W: So you had one copy for the whole Z one? B: Yeah. So if you missed it in your town you could go to the next town. Movies were very big. Friday nights was a Buck Rogers serial with a movie and during the summer they put on for us, to keep us busy, a serial on Tuesday and Thursday afterno air conditioned theater until the year I graduated high school in 1950. We were the first class to have the air conditioned theater. There was no air condition ing while I lived in the Z one fans, whatever. So that was kind of neat [Buck Rogers is a character from a well known science fiction series, Armageddon 2419 A.D.] W: You said you graduated in 1950, what did you do after that? You said you were on the college track in high school, so did you go to college? If so, where?


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 2 1 B: My m om, North Carolina. My dad, Ohio. Where you gonna go to school? Oh, I aybe Southern Cal. What are you gonna study? Oh, accoun ting my d ad. So I wanted to go to a small school. There was a small school in Nort h Carolina called Guilford. My g randmother was giv uaker school. I got their app lication and everything and my d ad said, you know, Grandpa is living in Pasadena, and I years, went to Oxy. Then married, two years in the army, Berkeley, another credential, started teaching. So, in 2008, my genealogy society the second one I belong to candidates, McCain and Obama. McCain and I were born in the same place he was born in the Canal Z one and Obama and I attended the same college. I was brought up to think, you ca n never b e P resident of the United States because you were not born within the continental limits, even though I was an American citizen by birth and location. Well, up came certain people during the thing who e was bor n in the Canal Z one. He was born, in the Navy, in Coco Solo on the Atlantic side. But he had two American parents born in American territory. I thought well, that blows my W: Well, someone lied to you. [laughter] Just an aside, I grew up in a military to wn B: Did you? Where?


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 2 2 W: chemical stuff, weapons and ordinance But I had lots of military friends and they were born all over the world and they were always told they could be president, as long as they were born on the military and their parents were anyway. B: Lies, lies, lies. [laughter] W: Once you finished college, did you return to the Canal Z one? B: So [19]56 came, first child, [19]58, second child, [19]61, third child. W: Where are you B: In Sacramento. Oh no, Mark was born in Arizona when I was in the ar my, Douglas, Arizona. B ack in Sacramento, the two girls. M y folks still working, both for the Panama Canal. They paid our way down when the son was two and the daughter was one. We went down for a Christmas. They brought me home my first summer from Oxy, and then the next three summers I s tayed and worked at the school and went down for Christmas time. That was [19]59 I think it was. [19]79. [19]79 was the year that the Carter Torrijos Treaty took place and the land five miles on each side, coast to coast was in October of [19]79 to become Panamanian [the Carter Torrijos Treaties were two treaties signed by the United States and Panama in 1977 agreeing to transfer control of the Panama Canal over to Panama by 1999. The Panama Canal Zone


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 2 3 was dissolved within two years of the signing of the treaties ] So my sister and brother in law were still working there and they said come down, last t ime. So I went down and spent two weeks with them and I took my daughter who had just graduated high school. That was [19]79. Then I kinda got homesick. In 2004 my there is a company here operated by a classmate of mine and you spend nine or ten days down there and they take you around. I just loved it, we had a great time. Then in 2005, my wife and I, and my sister and my cousin and her two cousins went with us. T hen time touring, I want to spend time in Balboa where I can walk around. In 2006, I said to my wife, hesitantly, are we going back to Panama? Yes! Oh, we are? said everybody. I said what? She said yeah I talked to the thirteen of us. W: Wow. So you had kids, grandkids? B: Three married children, five grandchildren. I got in touch with my high school friend and gave her all the arrangements. I ordered all the tickets, got them all down there. Had a great tour, we had our own little minibus, went all over the (laughter) That was 2006 and we had a good time. In 2008, I took my son. I wanted him to see, just he and I a little bit more bonding and we could do what we wanted to do and he could ask questions. In fact, he would put his audio


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 2 4 thing, recorder, on and he interviewed me while we were there. Why, Dad, did time. W: Do you plan on going back? B: Yes. W: Any specific plans? B: Atlan tic side I went to Portobello W hich is quite important in the history of trade because colonial ships would come to Portobello ship them by river and back to were down there for they have the political systems they have now, whereas in the states it was ay. een to the interior of Panama toward Costa Rica. I did that in 2004. I know where my coffee comes from now. And I order all y their coffee ther e, ship it


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 2 5 W: home? B: Altitude, shade, and rain make you r coffee. The best coffee is grown, the beans are grown in shade. W: grown coffee. B: M ost of Costa Rican and Panamanian, from the top Boquetes in 2004, very interesting. H ow to grind it and how to make it. We Americans like our drinks cokes [leche is the word Milk in Spanish] W: Uh huh. B: You say uh huh? W: B: You have the coffee in this hand and the milk in the hand and you go like this. We were in Costa R ica once W: So is it steamed milk or is it cold?


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 2 6 B: before it curdles or whatever W e were in San Jose, Costa Rica going back in [19]79, put our daughter on an airplane, shipped her back home, m y w ife and I stayed there. F or breakfast, we said caf negra. Senor? Caf negra! [negra is the word Black in Spanish] he volcanoes and all that. Sitting there one morning in our cubicles where we were We overheard w her e and there. It was ABC news. W: B: And Alfredo is getting in the way W: Geraldo Rivera? B: now this was the Nicaraguan revolution t he Sandinistas were doing [ The Sandinista National Liberation Front ( Spanish : F rente Sandinista de Liberacin Nacional or FSLN ) is today a social democratic political party in Nicaragua Its members are called Sandinistas in both English and Spanish. ] I n the hotel one night we heard all this ruckus and that was when the Sandinistas finally took control [Sand inistas were Ni caraguan Leftists who fought Somoza regime during the


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 2 7 Nicaraguan Revolution]. T he Costa Ricans who had Sandinistas living with them I mean the others they were given permission by the Costa Ricans to parade. So we were there during that time, rather interesting. W: What was that like? In [19]79 you went and visited. You knew that your home was about ready to be sort of turned over to the Panamanians. What was that li ke? What did you go back and see? What was important to you? How did you feel? B: Until 2000, when the whole thing was given over, my friends and my sister was still there somewhat. By treaty, the Zonians were offered full retirement before age 50. Y ou cou ld stay and keep working and then retire and get more. My sister and brother in law decided to stay a little bit longer. So, they kept staying in the Z one which was still Panama. It was done the right way. There was a commission operator. For the first few years it was American five, Panamanian four, chairman American. After that, it switched. They were making sure that all of these positions that were very important to the operation of the Canal were being handed over in the right way. Training a Panamania n, the American would stay and so on and so on. It went rather well. But when I went down in [19]79, I said to my classmates, hey guys how come? They said, Boydy, the senators came down here and they interviewed us and they said you k eep this. They went right back to the senate and voted for the treaty. So some of them we re a little bit upset with that. I never was.


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 2 8 W: B: U.S. senators. W: And they were told what? B: They would interview my friends who were still living there, local employees, what do you think? They said no we have to keep doing this. The most important thing about an American wherever you go is maintenance. We maintain things. that was imp ortant to the operation of the C anal. You had to clean those gates every few years. So they were concerned. They made sure that during the interim time those who were to take over would know what to do. W: So when the senators went back then, they voted for the treaty? So your friends felt that they were betrayed? B: Exactly. I was living in the S tates at the time and people were asking me what do going to happe m not against this. doing a good job. T building that new set of locks to be done in [20]1 4 or something like that. It was a wise thing this treaty did, it made the operation of the C anal and its income separate from the well,


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 2 9 their history has been oligarchy. Which famil y takes over now and makes the So, the y had to separate that so this C anal could do what it wanted to do. When they passed that referendum of six million or so they had no problem because they knew where the money was coming from. That was a wise thing, too. W: previously, that seems to be the consensus it has turned out B: T W: They will? B: Yeah. W: B: [Laughs] W: Did you ever personally work for the Canal Zone ? B: One summer when I went home. It was a recreation. Director of the gym, I ran W: You were a P.E. major? As a college B: In college, yeah. W: And was that what you taught then, when you taught?


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 3 0 B: For six years in Sacramento and then I went to San Diego County to El Cajon, an elementary district, and I became the supervisor then a princ ipal, and then my last eleven years I taught grades four, five, and six. I loved it. W: what I w as going to say. My understanding is, and of course please always correct me, th at it was toward the [19]50s when you started to see a lot more of the protests, the rioting, or more peaceful protests by the Panamanians. Were you there for any of that or were you gone? B: No, I left in [19]50. [19]61 time of year it was, the students at the University of Panama, which is just a few streets over from the Zone the Fourth of July Avenue, Zone, Panama City, if you walked across the street you were in a foreign country. These kids, students, protest ed abou t their government. S ometimes they got close. Our army would put tanks tomorrow night when I talk with my classmates more about this thing about them coming over to Balboa High School to the kids who fell, the Panamanians. W: And what year was that? B: [19]61, somew here around there. Eisenhower, P resident. What they wanted was they wanted to put the American flag in front of my high school no the Panamanian flag, in front of our high school.


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 3 1 them up! So they did. Up at the administration building where we had our government well what ran the Canal, too. A top of Ancon Hill which looked into Panama on one side, it was quite an impressive hill. We had one, two. Now you go back, Panamanian, Panamanian. I was living in Sacramento at the time and I picked up a copy of Look magazine and they had an y in an article, he was q uite biased, I thought he was against us. He said, even the Canal Zone study Spanish. (quickly clapped hands sound) It took me that long to pick up a piece of paper and write that man. Dear Sir, care of Look magazine I am from the Canal Zone. In the seventh grade, in 1943 or [194]4, eighth grade, ninth grade, and tenth grade, I took Spanish at Canal Zone schools and sought Spanish afterwards. I had Panamanian students going to my school. You were wrong. He writes ba ck, on a piece of paper like this, in his own handwriting, Dear Mr. B r evington, my wife has told me to go to the kitchen blackboard and write one hundred times, Spanish was taught in the Canal Zone schools. Okay, big deal. But they never came back in Look magazine to correct what he said. Made us look bad. W: I heard a previous group, that there was misinformation in the S tates about B: My sister was keeping me up, she would send articles from the papers and she would type them up and se nd them to me. That way I kept with it. But I want to


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 3 2 much of that. W: take talking. B: Oh really? W: Well, sometimes if they get going they can last an hour and a half but everyone mark. B: I spent a lot of time in bed last night thinking about what to say to you. W: Well what have you not said that you wanted to say? B: Zone memoir 1932 to 1950, which is B r Canal Zone Look Panama Canal Zone. Oh! Your folks were in the military? (quickly clapped hands sound) I say to myself, how much education about where I grew up did you ever get? Because I know more about where you got it because I studied the same


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 3 3 book as you did. Zilch. I said no, I think you need to know that the operation of the C anal was by civilians to read it. A lot of my friends are writing things. I started this on the computer and books of knowing about why was I th ere, who were my people? you quite a bit about who they were. All the way back to the American Revolution and this kind of thing. W: Wow. Let me just back track to something that you mentioned, the Panamanians did go to your high school. Was it a strictly Canal Zone school for just Canal Zone ? B: We paid nothing. If they wanted to come over, which they did, they paid a tuition. y or thirty. Now these were not (knocks wood) R ep ublic is run by European oriented it and the workers are local workers, many of them we brough t over and they lived in Panama. F rom Barbados and so on, and the local Indians there, they do the manual labor f or the Panama. We hi red them at forty or sixty cents an hour to do the hard work. W: So the kids who came to your high school, that would be the


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 3 4 B: They would go on to the States. M any of them became lawyers. All their doctors in Panama went to our schools. I think now the University of Panama offers medical, I think. They have an excellent, as I understand it, social security system. conditions for the people. Many of the kids, the Panamanians, are still working in the Zone. T ng on the lock s. You know, the mules that pull the ships through. Those operators are all Panamanian now. In [19]79 I went back (hits wood) A high school classmate, Earl McArthur he had become a supervisor of the Miraflores Locks, the first locks you come to and he made arrangements for me to come out with my wife and daughter. We went across -lk where they could watch, they never went across. We walked across. The guy had just come back from vacation and he said, this fella, Boydy, is gonna take you and your wife and b een down in there. Saw all of the big tunnels where the water goes, no pump We saw these huge weirs wheels that would open the gates. A forty pound electric motor, excuse me, forty horsepowe r, started one and then they did the others. Then we went up into the operatio anal, we stood on the side and we were invited to go inside. In the middle of this room is the operation of each lock and there are handles that g o like this that turn. The guy said to me, would goose pimples even right now thinking


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 3 5 do it. Okay, flip it! I flipped it, walked ou t, and I watched the gate open. W: B: them many times. So that was one of the thrills of my life was to be able to do uil ding. I never went through the C anal until [19]79. The C anal there where I lived in 1941 before the war broke ou t and look at those ships go by. re W: So like I asked you before, is there anything else that you thought of last night or a story you wanted to tell? An anecdote that you think mig ht illustrate your life in the C anal? B: In the R epublic, they had no army, no police force. They had what were called la guardia, their national guard, which was used by Torrijos and Noriega. They became commanders in this outfit and if you became a commander you coul d overthr ow the government and take over. W hich those two guys did. We w ere told with la guardia. So I was ver y respectful of their authority. I and you did n ot want to get picked up and taken to the hoosegow [slang for jail] for whatever reason. So we were very careful when we walked into a shop or to a dance or to eat, or whatever. W hich you could do quite often.


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 3 6 W: Did you do it often? B: My folks, my mom and d ad, loved dancing and there were three beer gardens. W hich I think were open air restaurants and dancing floors with li ve music. They loved to go over there and dance and would occasionally take us over there to eat. That was that. Otherwise you went to the Hotel Tivoli on the American side. So, that was a lot of fun. W r window and put the beer there. pony up which was a jigger of b eer, that was kind of fun. T hen when I was li ild had just gotten out of the Air F orce and he was livin g up near Riverside, California. H e and his buddy had gone down, parked the car at the border and gone over. They were at a bar, according to their story, just standing there with a beer in their hands (swoosh of air) off to the hoosegow. Well I treated the Mexican Federales ( Federales is a short term for the Mexican Federal Police ) and police the same way I did the Panamanians, I respected them. So he calls me on the if you wanted to pee you did it on the floor, if you wanted a blanket you had to pay a buck for it or whatever. H e calls me a few in Tiajuana and there are all these people gathered around this S o one guy looked at me and in English said, sir, you got somebody back there? I said yeah, he said go up there and tell that


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 3 7 guy his nam eventually his name was called and Steve came out. He said Uncle Boyd my buddy is still back there I had gone to find where I could pay the fine. N back into th e main jail. Well, I did and paid the fine up there and then had to get back to the other jail. I asked a policeman there, how am I gonna get there and he going back there get in my car. He gets in his car, puts his red light on top, g oes dow n the center of Tijuana (swoosh of air) W did you do, blah blah blah. I said, Steve, what did we learn in Panama? Respect for the local authorities. He said, Un ba wl him out. T hen I put him in the car T his is Sunday T he Americans going car. So I said, Steve you and your guy get out Y aside f rom my bringing up, and he was brought up in the same way. W: I was gonna ask you, did he grow up in the Canal Z one? B: Yup. My sister stayed there and all of her kids graduated school there, went to the same school. But her schooling of her kids was diffe rent from my schooling, apparently.


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 3 8 W: Was that reflected in how he grew up there? Were he and his cohort maybe less respectful of the Panamanian authorities? B: You know, my poor sister, it just drove her almost to death. She did not want to call me, she did not want her big brother to have to do this for me. She finally got up enough courage to say, thank you, thank you. Thank you for what you did for my son. is to go down there G et borracho (Spanish slang for drunk) and c ome back, you know. Whereas my D W: question except to ask, as you were the Panamanians in general? That line? Was there a respectful distance between the two or how did you interact with the Panama peopl e? B: We were the Yankees, we were the gringos. We had money. We had a nice place to live. I never felt that I needed police living in the Zone. I never had a key to our house, never had a key, it was never locked. The Panamanians respected the fact that y country! They have their own rules, their own laws. So I was taught to respe ct it and not to take advantage. B ut to some Americans they are, I hate to use the word, b ut they were spics, which is a derogatory term. My d either.


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 3 9 W: Going back to that story about your nephew, did your friends use that attitude or is that something you saw coming in from later generations? B: See, I wa home that summer where my buddies and I would go to a bar and have a couple of beers. It was right on the border and we went to a place that was not too involved with the city, and we W: Okay, well thank you. Again, one more chance, one more story you want to get out of your system? B: as a very special place. We had doctor; dispensary and got fixed up. If I wanted to see a doctor I put my name in and saw the have to worry about politics. You had to worry about your job, I guess. But your schooling was done, it was stateside schooling. But our teachers taught us Panamanian songs, but not much, I got that from reading McCulloch and other books that I just told you about. Even Zonians today, we have a Canal Zone dance here and one night is mostly Panamanian music. We love to be Panamanians in a certain way. We sing and dance, and have a good time and to this day we still do. We like that. Some Panamanians would come across to watch our baseball games, American guys,


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 40 f you wanted to do some shopping outside of our commissa ry, which did you co uld go into Panama and pay more. B ut you would get something from France or whatever. You could rent furniture or you could go into Panama and buy from the Singhs the Indian people with their stores an d Buddhas and all that kind of stuff. For the first few years even into World War II we had an icebox. An ice truck came by ev ery day gimme a chip! W: You mentioned Indians, so it sounds like it was a very multicultural, international place, Panama. B: O h, Panama City was, very much so. A lot of Chinese. On December the first, I lived across the street from what was called a quarantine station where my Uncle Sam, who was the first to move down there, worked I t had a big tall fence and if a seaman had an illness he was taken off the ship and put in that quarantine station and he we had a blackout that night. A ll night long we heard trucks go by and we looked out and they were troop carriers of the U.S. Army, all night long. In the morning, we got up, we walked down here, an d they had already put up tents. T hese old brown tents and in it were Japanese. That night, the night of December seventh, our government knew, apparently, because they rounded them all up, where every Japanese living in Pa nama was. Panama said you can come over and get them. W: And these were Panamanian citizens, or at least residents?


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 41 B: No, Japanese c itizens. W: They were Japanese citizens? B: W: But they were living in Panama City? B: They were living in Panama working. And then later they added Germans and Amador, right next to it. Well, the Fort Amador soldiers had nothing to do with this containment. They brought in more tents and brought in their own guards. There were (knocking on wood) four turrets built above the fence with m achine guns and guards wal ked twenty four hours a day. A s I borracho now, American soldiers who were stationed t here and this fence was probably ten feet high and our h ouse was higher than that fence. B ut the turret was a bit higher. Anyway, I was just in bed and I stepped out on the porch area [sounds imitating machine gun]. They had climbed up there to that machine gun and were firing it. If they had turned it this way I might not be sitting here. W: Wow. Were they just firing it into an empty field or B: I guess they fired it this way, but we were told the next day that these guys were drunk T me in and said get out of bed and get down on the floor. W: Did that camp stay there for the duration of World War II?


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 42 B: o years it was. We went to the S tates in [19]42 it was still there. I think it became disbanded toward the end, before the war was over, and I think maybe they had shipped them up You know California had its W: Sure, they were all over the West. B: anal coming the local Zonians ke pt their smart boats, and cruisers and things. Then out here, these islands I told you about. W ell right here we built a structure here on this side and over on this side on the Canal, and they put down a net to kee p submarines out. So, every time a ship came, a little boat over here took this and opene d it up. I could sit and watch this incoming. That was one of the ways in which we defended the C anal. The other ways, on the locks, they had these ball oons that looke d like a little Z eppelin kind of thing and they were just a few feet above to keep planes from g etting in and dive bombing the C anal. Our lights on our car were painted dark and there was just a little slit just about this size fo r the light to go through. W e drove that way through the whole C anal during W: Did you notice any other intrusions into your life? Or changes in your life during the war? How about rationing? T here was rationing here in the S tates of various materials. B: We di d not have a rationing card or rationing stamps or anything like that. All we had was, if it was there you bought it, get it. So if you


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 43 wanted like beer disappeared from our commissary. If you wanted a shirt, it may not be the re. Milk turned into klim, which is milk spelled backwards, and that was the powdered milk. And we had very few -W: You called it klim? B: It was called klim. I found a can a few years ago, milk spelled backwards, I loved it. We added water to the powdere were two pairs of shoes to choose from. I went wild the other day trying to find a birthday card for my son. Tho usands of cards! Just show me six, would y ou please? When we came to the States, my m om and sisters went wild shopping. To this day she eight years that are still my morals a nd customs. I find myself being more open minded about certain things, and some of my Zonians are not, they are very strict about what they anyway, so be it. W: Well, thank you very much for joining me. Again, one last time, any other stories? Every time I say that it sounds like the conversation starts to lull and then of course we take off again. B: I could go on and on and on. As an adult, I w as sorry that I never asked my d ad and my grandfather and my uncles. My a unt, she was very helpful, she did reme mber a


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 44 few things, which helped me get started on my genealogy, which is very extensive with Brevingtons and my Bell side. It was very interesting because my mother brought Southerner, my father brought Northerner, but they still f el my d ad held any prejudice against Panamanians the way many people did. When I came b ack to the S tates -my sister and mother and I and a lot of people left because of the strategic C anal. You know, in those days we only had one navy. It went back and fo rth. It could fit that 110 feet, thousand foot long thing. And we always knew when the fleet enough to get into Panama City. Well, after the war it became the two So I alway s grew through the canal. There was one thing about that that I wa nted to Oh, when I went to the S tates and came home after fiv e months I used the n word. My d ad said, don us e that in front of me again. I had never used it before. The Panamanian blacks were bajans [Barbados slang word ] They were baja ns We called the workers that came to us from Barbados, baja ns (some accented language spoken) talk baja n talk. Well, they had English, because it was an English colony. W hen they are you bilingual? Yeah. You speak English and Spanish? I said no, English and baga n ns, they were neat people. went to my school s. They had their own.


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 45 W: Was it official, sort of like our J im Crow South? Separated, segregated by law? They lived off the Zone? Or they lived on the Z one? B: No, they lived in the Z one, had their own towns, had their own theater, own ir commissary. W: And they were Zonians? B: They were not U.S. citizens; we did not hire Negros from the U.S. to go there. Only whites. Their provisions were not as good as the U.S. In the early days, the U.S. employees were paid in gold, and all the othe r workers were paid in silver. When the pay train came up, you got in this way, they got in this way. After a few years it became local rate employees and U.S. rate. If you got on a train, the gold sat here, the silver sat here. If you went into the train station, this was the toilet and water for the golds, this W: Now how long did that continue? You know, Jim Crow started to break down around the [19]60s. B: After I left, I understand that after the land was given back and they started integrati ng, I think some of the locals could go to what I used to call the U.S. schools. As I said, some Panamanians could pay, but nobody else. They had their own schools kind of sad.


PCM 012; Brevington; Page 46 W: What about now in Panama? Do you keep up? B: How do I keep up? W: No, I mean, in American of course now there are integrated schools. Have they integrated more in Panama? Are they still a segregated society? Do you keep up on that? B: w the Republic of Panama, so my high school is still there, the schools my element used to be the Canal Zone schools as schools. We gave them everything, you know. All the buildings, all the houses I lived in now have Panamanians living in there, but they have to buy th em. M any U.S. former employees, Zonians, are moving back. And they ad and that kind of thing. A s I said there is a good social security system there and a good health system going, so the y are probably into that. And they like to get together with their buddies and do old things. No, there is nothing else I want to tell you. W: Okay [laughs]. Well, thank you [End of interview] Transcribed by: Anna Walters 10/2012 Audit Edit by: Angela Hoppe, 4/2013