Interviewee: Tom McEwen
Interviewer: Eric Allen
Date: November 26, 1999
A: I am here with Tom McEwen, a columnist for the Tampa Tribune, former full-time
sports editor. Mr. McEwen, can you please spell out your name and tell me your
M: Thomas Massey McEwen. Right now, I write a letters column called "Hey Tom"
letters to me which I answer. That is what I do. I do some work for some
television, go on the air with Primarily, I continue to write and work with my
wife in her business, which is McEwen Travel and International Travel Imports.
A: You are a native Floridian?
M: My parents lived in Wauchula in the middle of the state. A little town, it was a
farming town at that time and a cattle My family are pioneers in the state of
Florida. They came down in the 1840s as circuit riders, preachers, Baptist and
Methodist preachers living side by side the original people in that area of
Hardee County. Dad was, at one time or another, a cowboy and worked with the
Doyle Carlton family because the family had big ranches. Then he became the
tax assessor and a car salesman and a bunch of other things, primarily an
auctioneer for a farmers' market in Wauchula and later in Plant City. My
mother is actually from Olustee, a little town outside of Lake City, and she
attended the University of Florida when it was in Lake City. That is a pretty good
root there. My father did not go to college. He went through the fifth grade.
Frankly, I do not know whether she graduated or not, but she did go when it was
in Lake City. Her father, James Milton, was a bugler for the Confederate Army
during the Civil War. Living in Wauchula, I grew up and went to Hardee County
High School. Wauchula High School was what they called it then. Played all the
sports, because you had to. There were not enough boys in the school. I was a
lousy quarterback. I played quarterback and defensive back. I was little and no
good at all, even got beat seventy-five to nothing one time, which demonstrates,
playing both safety and quarterback, how good I was. I think that is probably the
most exemplary of my play [in] a game. When I came along after three other
children, I was kind of an after thought. They had to go to the hospital to have
me. My mother [was] Virginia Milton McEwen. So, they had to come to Tampa,
and they went to [a] hospital out here at the end of Gandy Boulevard, the
Bigelow Hospital that is gone. It was only there [for] about two years. Anyone
who was born in that place now has a certificate that calls you a Bigelow Baby.
I actually grew up in Wauchula in an absolute small-town atmosphere
which was wonderful. [I graduated from] Hardee County High School [and] I had
good grades, that would be 1940. In those years, if you had a diploma from a
high school in the state of Florida, you could go to a state university. That was
your qualification. They took no tests. They looked at your scores in high school,
but if you had your diploma, you were eligible to go. At that time, of course,
[University of] Florida was for men, and Florida State College was for women.
Naturally, I went to the University of Florida. I did not have any money at all. I had
a brother and a sister who gave me $5 month. My father did what he could. I
worked real hard at the University of Florida. I began working while I was in high
school and then all the time I was in college. Some of the jobs were with the
Hardee County Herald and the Florida Advocate, which were the two weeklies in
the town and they have since merged. That was my early journalism
[experience]. I was a correspondent and wrote from Gainesville up there and told
him about how all the guys from down here were doing. I had a brother named
James M. Redden McEwen. He is now deceased. He was an attorney and a
quarterback and halfback on the 1928 University of Florida football team, which
was a good team. He was a good man, just a terrific individual in this city of
Tampa. He was president of just about everything. He started a lot of things. He
started the Tampa General Hospital Foundation. He was honored by both the
lawyers and the doctors, which was rare and maybe he was the last one. James
helped me get through college, and he was my role model. He helped me get
into ATO [Alpha Tau Omega, fraternity] at the university and just helped me in
every way. I graduated from Florida in absentia. I was in the journalism
department when it was in the law school. It was a department at the time, a
journalism department. There were not many people in it. I know a few who have
gone on to become pretty good people in newspaper[ing]. We sat in the jury box
most of the time for the course and had two professors, Emil Emig and an
esoteric guy and a practical man. Just two, that was all there was. The journalism
school was not very good. There was nothing practical about it. I learned more
on the Florida Alligator and the yearbook.
I was an executive editor of the yearbook, which is gone and interestingly called
Seminole. I was executive editor on that and executive editor of the Alligator and
executive editor of the F Book, which was an informational guide for students at
the University of Florida. A lot of people say I have conflicts-of-interest and that I
enjoy participating in conflicts-of-interest. Well, I guess it started at the University
of Florida when I was the executive editor of all those publications and I ran for
and was elected to the board of student publications, so now I was controlling
myself. I like to use that of being the start of my conflicts-of-interest that people
allegedly say I have, and made Florida Blue Key up as grade school. I would
not be anywhere without the University of Florida, nowhere, because it gave me
the educational base I needed. For example, in my junior year at the university, I
was president of ATO, vice president of the Inter-Fraternity Council, Blue Key,
and all the other things, ROTC, big shot. Yet, with all those things, I worked and
had at least three jobs throughout the whole time. Three jobs: student manager
of the cafeteria, student assistant in the journalism department and house
manager of ATO [which] gave me my room and food and a little money. I actually
made money my junior year in college and made the best grades when I was
working that hard. At that time, I went into journalism. I had considered medicine
of course, but decided to go into journalism because I wanted to, not sports,
journalism. I had no idea about being a sports guy.
A: How close of a family were you back when you were growing up, with your
parents and your brother? How many other siblings did you have? Or was it just
you and Red? What was your family like? Were you close with your father and
M: It was a small town, so you get that small time. You get breakfast, dinner, and
supper at home. Of course, there were no such thing as divorces then. It never
occurred to me that there would be any divorce in my [family]. My mother played
the piano for the First Baptist Church, for everything they did, and played at every
funeral. I was a boy tenor, so I sang at any of the funerals in which there were
children and sang in the church, all the Baptist songs. My daddy was a deacon,
and we had four children in all. I had a sister who was ten years older than I, a
brother who was twelve years older than I, and my brother Red who was fifteen
years older than I. So, I was a late guy, and everybody was just about gone by
the time I came along, so my mother and father raised me. Again, it was a little
town atmosphere and hardly any trouble. We spent a lot of time on the street
corner just watching the cars go by. It is a little town and dry, by the way. It has
always been dry. It is one of two counties in the state of Florida that remains dry,
no alcohol whatsoever. In high-school, yes, we were close. Played the drums in a
little old crappy dance band that we had at Wauchula, but it was just another
experience. I was president of the student body at Wauchula back then. So, I had
a good high school preparation.
A: Were your parents considered strict with you at home, coming from a religious
background with your father being a deacon and your mother being involved in a
lot of the church activities? Describe the impact that kind of religious background
had on your youth
M: There were not a lot of rules. In a small town, you really do not need a lot of
rules. I mean, one guy had a truck with Babcock Furniture, which we pooled our
dimes to get enough gas to go swimming in Fort Meade where they had a pool.
My parents were not that strict. They did not really have to be. We just sort of
minded everybody when we were supposed to. We were pretty solicitous of all
adults at the time. I am not that religious. I am not known as a religious fellow.
We go to church. But, the effect was that you spent all Sunday in church. If you
were not eating, you were in church. I think that in the small-town atmosphere,
there were just no temptations, none. We fished and hunted and did the things
that you do when you live in the country.
A: You said you played all sports growing up through high school. Was your father
involved? Or was it just a natural thing for you as most boys growing up in small
town environments and playing sports, getting involved and things like that? You
said your older brother Red, the star of Florida, was fifteen years older than you.
Growing up, did you hear a lot of comparisons to your older brother in your
M: Not really. My family when I was growing up, really, was my mother, father and
me, and an older brother who was working in the town. He went to a military
school. My sister went to what is now Florida State University and then went off
and got married and went to New York. So, it was really the three of us. Yes,
they went to the sports events in which I participated. We had some pretty good
teams. [We] had some good baseball teams. I just was a healthy guy, so you had
to play the sports; if you did not, you were a jerk. We did not have that many.
There were fifty graduates in my high school class. Probably, five or six went to
college. I cannot remember. I was salutatorian, second. Betty Fitzgerald was
A: Was it expected of you, from your parents, to go to college?
M: Yes, it was. They could not have sent me to college if it were not the minimum
cost as it was then. I cannot remember, but my recollection is [that] it was
between $15 and $30 a semester for all your student activity fees and your dues,
and then you bought your books and found a place to live. It was not bad at all. I
lived in the ATO house after the freshman [year]. Well, it is very mixed up in
there, but I lived in dormitories for two years, and then the others were all in the
ATO house. Now, my college was different than most. The war was declared in
1941 [when] I was a sophomore. That was Pearl Harbor. Zach Russ and I were
playing tennis at the time when we heard about it. I was in the ROTC, so we went
in the enlisted reserve right away. So, we got through 1943. After 1943, after my
junior year, we were in the enlisted reserve [and] we were called up. That
summer, we were called up to duty, and it was an unusual circumstance. My
whole class of ROTC at that time, and that included some of the finest men in the
state of Florida, believe me, some of the great achievers, [like] the senior
partners, law partners for Holland & Knight, the biggest law firm in the state,
Burke Kibbler and John Germany. Kibbler was a roommate of mine. We were
all called up to duty. Again, I say, some of the finest people, later on. We were
sent to basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, because Florida's ROTC
program was artillery. The cadres then despised us because we were smartass
college kids coming in. We went through the basic training. Then we went to Fort
Sill, Oklahoma, to wait to get into OCS, Officer Candidate School. They were
overmatched. They had too many people. So, they announced to our class in the
spring of 1943...this is an interesting sidelight. We had about 400 out there who
were from colleges in their third years, and they were from everywhere, from
Duke, Cornell, Princeton, Georgia, Auburn, all over. They announced that
everybody was changed up, everybody there was going to Officer Candidate
School at Fort Benning [Georgia] to be in the infantry, except (I think they said)
fifteen. Fifteen are going to armor at Fort Knox, Kentucky. A good friend of
mine-he is dead now-Bobby Weddock, he had a lot of courage. I guess I was a
smart guy, too. We went to the office of our company and asked to use the
phone to call Senator Claude Pepper, who was a bigshot at the time. Why? They
wanted to know why and we said, well, we do not want to go to Benning; we want
to go to armor at OCS, so we need to talk to Claude Pepper, he is a good friend
of our fathers and we are sure he will intervene. Well, that threat was enough.
We were put on the train to go to armor at OCS. Before we went to armor at
OCS, because there was a little wait, they sent us back to the University of
Florida. We went to the University of Florida in a program for the enlisted
reserve, and we were able to stay there three months in uniform doing military
but going to classes. I worked really hard, and I was able to graduate in absentia.
I got enough to get a degree at the end of 1944. They sent me my degree in the
military in absentia. So I was not there. I did not go through graduation. I did not
need to. I had my degree. That is a little aside that people in this country would
not know. Then we went back to Fort Knox, Kentucky, went through Armored
Officer Candidate School, and then went into the military on a regular basis. I
went to a tank battalion, and we went to the Philippines almost immediately. I
was in the Pacific almost two years before I came back. So, now I am graduated
[and] there is no need for me to go back to the University of Florida unless I
wanted to go to law school. I did not. I came back and went right to work at Fort
Myers News Press in late 1946.
A: Growing up, did you write as a kid, besides regular school work? Did you ever
know that, hey, this is something I really want to do? Or were you just going to
school trying to do your best, getting good grades, participating in sports, and
being a kid of a small town?
M: That was it, I worked. I worked in dry good stores, I worked in grocery stores and
all that sort. I did anything I could to make a little money. We did not have any
money during the Depression, none, zip. Could I write? Yes. I could write and I
could speak, and they were both important. That all came pretty naturally. My
father was political. He was an elected officer, and he was a heck of a speaker.
On the stumps, he could crack jokes. He had a fifth-grade education, but he
could crack jokes. He was a really good speaker. I suppose it came from him
because, later, my brother was a good speaker. Emceeing around here in
speeches, where I am now and in the last thirty years, has come natural and I do
a lot of it. But, no, I did it because it was a job. Then, I got to the University of
Florida and began corresponding and working there in summers. I had some
thoughts about journalism and decided to go to it. Later, I will tell you that I
almost got out of it.
A: Were you always one of the kids who was comfortable speaking in front of the
public because you had seen that in your father, and he seemed to excel with the
communication aspects right away?
M: I do not think there is any question about that. I think I did. I saw it in him. As I
said, I was president of the student body of Wauchula High School, as they
called it at that time, so I was speaking from an early age before audiences [as]
president of ATO. Yes, I have always been comfortable in back of a microphone
and in front of lots of people, speaking or singing. It has never bothered me. I
mean, I have spoken before 3,000 people and, no, it has never bothered me at
all. But, you need to know this: I prepare. Anything I do before people, I prepare.
It is there. It is written down with heavy, heavy notes, or complete, and I refer to it
but am able to do it without any one thinking that I may be reading something.
But, most of my ad-libs are prepared.
A: Describe growing up in a small Southern town as a kid. What was that like?
M: I grew up almost just two blocks from Main Street, so I was considered a city
slicker. We did a lot of outdoor stuff. We were up and down the river on boats,
fishing. We had a piece of river through there. We hunted birds. I had a .410
shotgun. We were always doing something. We were always outdoors, but I do
not remember any trouble to speak of because there was very little to get into at
that time. I do not think you can beat growing up in a small town. There were lot
of boys. There were lots of girls. There were lots of friends, lots of gatherings at
home, but never any alcohol. I never even thought about it. Now then, you bring
up an awfully interesting point. In those days, I had no idea where the black
people went to school. I had no idea. And it did not occur to me to wonder where
they went to school. The black people in Wauchula were in what we called
quarters. They lived in an area just about two miles outside of the town, heavy
segregation. On the other hand, we had people who worked for us, women who
worked for us in our home. I was with Georgia and Zeta as much as with I was
with my mother. We were not rich, by any means, but they did not cost much
either. They were like housekeepers. There were no blacks in Hardee County
High School, none, not one, but it was a very country school.
We had people who walked to school from four or five miles. I rode a bicycle to
school. I will give you another example of small town. I lived on a dead-end
street, not a highway. Very residential, very quiet, and we played in the middle of
the streets and that sort of thing. Very close to the end of the street was a
church. It was a Roman Catholic church. As a kid, I had no idea what that was.
We did not know anything about Catholicism then. I can remember my friend
Finley Hannah and Marcus Taylor, who lived right across the street, and R. C.
Minsey, that as little kids, we would go down and get on an orange crate and
look in the windows of the Catholic and see those statues. We would see those
statues and run. We did not know what this was all about. The Catholic masses
were held on Sunday morning. They were up early and gone by ten or eleven
o'clock, and it was over. Many of the Catholics were middle European farmers
and lived outside the town. In those days, in the 1930s, there were no blacks
downtown after dark. It just did not happen.
There was an active Ku Klux Klan in the town that marched in the parades, for
the July parade or anything else. I think there was a lynching when I was very,
very small. I was not there and I do not remember anything about it, but I believe
that there was one lynching in the town. But beyond that, there was no trouble. It
was just heavy, heavy segregation, as you might expect in Southern towns in
those days. Like I said, I did not know where the blacks went to school. I did not
know that, but they went a long way. They rode a bus a long way and had a
central school for about four of those cities.
A: Now, the way you were taught in your home and in the school, when you came
across a black person as a boy, what were your feelings? What was your
automatic reaction to that, that they are just people or that they are people below
M: A different person. That is what we were taught. I mean, I was not taught
anything. It was just happening. Nobody made any effort in any of the schools. I
do not remember any of that. If it happened, I do not know about it. But, I did
want to bring that in, that there was heavy segregation at the time, and that I did
not know anything about it.
A: Growing up, who inspired you? Was there somebody you wanted to be? Did you
know what you wanted to be like? Was it your older brother?
M: It was my brother Red. He was just a good man. Of course, he went to college,
going back to be a lawyer then at that time. Yes, he [influenced me] more than
anyone. I did not have a journalism idol. No, it was all family. There was not
anybody in town, particularly. There was just my brother.
A: What are some of your fondest memories of childhood?
M: I still have good friends who are in Wauchula, and relatives, of course. They are
my good friends, and I can call them all by name. We had good times roaming.
We had good times getting in the car and going to the river. We had good times
fishing on the river. We had good times riding a car up to Fort Meade and looking
around. We cruised. We went up and down Main Street when we had somebody
who had a car, and I said there was one, Bobby Lambert. I said we did not do
anything wrong. We did do one thing wrong. We had some BB gun wars against
each other, little groups that would shoot them. Thank God, nobody got hurt.
Now, I remember in this town, we had one police officer. He was the chief. His
name was Harry Yetter. Mr. Yetter, as we called him, walked down the middle of
Main Street. He was a big man. He did not have a gun. He had a billy club. He
was just speaking to everybody walking up and down the street. We knew he
was around. I do not know if he ever arrested anybody or not. Maybe somebody
got drunk. I do not know. But it was so peaceful. I had a bicycle stolen. I won an
amateur contest. We had Major Bowle's amateur contest one time at City Hall,
and I won it with a solo, I think, Trees, and beat the tap dancer and the juggler.
$15 was the first prize. I went down to Western Auto Stores and bought a bicycle,
and a few weeks later, it was stolen off my front porch. I cannot remember
anything else being stolen. It was stolen, gone. We did not do that. We left
everything out. [The] doors [were] unlocked [and] they found it. They put the heat
on this one. They found it over in Avon Park on the side of the lake and brought it
back. The crime was so little of it that if you stole a bike, they went to work and
found the thing. Bondship with friends in the town. We spent so much time with
each other because there was not anything to do, except play sports. I played
sports. Even in the summer, we played baseball and tennis. We had one tennis
court, no swimming pool. One tennis court in the back of the Baptist church. I
participated in everything I could in sports. I was not any good, but I participated
in everything. If I could not play the sport, I was always the manager. I always did
something around sports, so I guess that is part of the reason that I have done
what I have done in journalism.
A: Not to make this too dark of a question, but [was there] anything growing up that
really troubled you or was a traumatic experience for you when you were a kid, a
harsh memory of your childhood that was hard to deal with?
M: I did not have any with the family. I got switched two or three times. That was the
way they did it. They would cut an orange tree branch off, my daddy [would], and
switch me. I am telling you what, when you get that on your bare legs, that would
straighten you up pretty quick. I got it a couple of times for little things, like not
mowing the yard. We had a big yard and a chicken yard and everything, orange
trees and pecan trees. So, if he had to be stern, he would be stern. I suppose
you could call that a harsh memory. I had an automobile wreck one time [with] a
Model-T Ford that scared the hell out of me. It knocked us all out of the car, but
everybody was all right. I did not get caught at anything. I do not have any harsh
memories, I am sorry. I am not sorry.
A: Let's start talking now about your days at the University of Florida. Was that just
a natural progression for you from high school to college? When you got there,
did you ever feel overwhelmed? It seems like with all the activities that you talked
about that you really went to school and attacked it, basically.
M: Yes, I was overwhelmed a little bit. There were those dangerous times the first
couple of months when you are in school. Yes, I was nervous about it because I
was from Wauchula, and you joked just when you sa[id] Wauchula. The other
people were from Tampa and Jacksonville and big cities. Only the legacy
probably got me in the ATO fraternity, the legacy of my brother. I probably would
not have been invited to join ATO if it had not been for him because I was a little
jerk from a little bitty town in the state nobody had ever heard of. I have often
wondered myself, why I had little trouble at two things. First of all, little trouble
with grades. I did not have any problems with them. I had a 3.4, I think it was. I
graduated with honors, went up for high honors, and was overwhelmed by the
questions they asked me. I am sure I did not even come close to getting the high
honors at the University of Florida, but I was impressed that an education at
Wauchula High School would work, that I could study and make good grades
there. There were times, you know, when you almost came home. There were a
couple of times when you almost had to come home because you were out of
money. But I never did, was never interrupted except for the war, and I explained
that to you. No, I always felt about myself this way: given time, I can adjust to
anything, and given time, I will fit in. That is pretty much what has been the story
of my life. It was a much bigger place. In the end, in the long run, I was able to do
the things that made it possible for me to graduate with honors and to be Blue
Key and those things, and to win a campus-wide election. I was able to adjust. I
do not know why. I have no idea. Perhaps it is patience. My daddy was one of
the most patient men in the world. That probably has a lot to do with my
reactions. I am very patient and very tolerant and do not get excited in moments
of stress or on deadline. So, my experience at the University of Florida was good.
The things I got into were fine for me, helped me with my career.
A: If you could state the years you attended Florida? And, how many people
attended Florida? Estimate the number when you arrived on campus there.
M: When I arrived, it was the largest class in history. It was 3,000 people. When I
left, during the war, there were probably less than 1,000. Everybody had gone to
the service. Then, it ballooned again. It just went nuts after that. I just did not
have any trouble. I was a freshman in 1940 and graduated in 1944. See, after
1943, except for going back for that three-month period, I never went back to the
University of Florida. I was thinking about law after I got out of the service, but I
said, what the heck? I got a degree. Most people went back to school. Most of
my friends went back to school, whether they needed to or not. I was rare, I got a
degree. Most of them went back to get their degree and to go into a profession.
So many of them became lawyers, but I went right to work. I went right to work at
the Fort Myers News Press. I stayed there three-and-a-half years and created a
sports department [because] they did not have one at the time. I went to work in
December of 1946, and got ants in the pants and, in 1949, went back to the
Philippine Islands to work over there.
A: Now, how did you feel about World War II coming around? Were you scared to
serve, or were the boys excited?
M: I was among the greatest generation, so to speak. We wanted to go. Everybody
in school, most of them (now, I know there were a few who were not) were
anxious to get into the service where everybody else was and to do what you
could. It was our war. It was everybody's war. It was our responsibility to go. Of
course, you are getting into the military, and you want to do as well as you can. I
mentioned to you that I was overseas in the Philippine Islands for about a year
and a half in that campaign. As they do in wars, they pulled my company from
the tank battalion and told us to set up the prison camp just outside of Manila. It
was the POW Camp Number 1 in the Western Pacific. Of course, we knew
nothing about civil affairs or running a prison camp, but that is what they told us
to do. They sent barbed wire down and said, build a camp; you are going to start
getting prisoners in three days. So, the company commander, Captain
Howduane, got the five officers together of the company ...
A: What year is that?
M: 1945. Captain Howduane says, okay, McEwen, you have a college education;
you are going to be the prison officer. Lieutenant Anderson, he was a friend of
mine from Florida, you are going to be the supply officer. And he passed these
duties out. Well, to shorten all of this, we built] a prison camp right outside of
Manila, and within no time, I was the prison officer for 2,000 Japanese prisoners
of war or Japanese civilians-we mixed them all together-from Manila. We were
doing work in Manila at the time. So, I ran that prison camp for at least nine or
ten months. Then, they came down and said, close it. That was one of the great
experiences of my life. You talk about leadership. I had guards and everybody
else. We worked the prisoners twelve hours a day. We came in and got prisoners
and took them.
A lot of them were shot and killed because Filipinos would drive by and
shoot into the camp. There were squad tents, perhaps twenty-five people in one
big tent, and they would sleep there at night. They were killed because they were
so brutal to the Filipinos during the war. So, I had to learn to keep records for the
prisoners and learn how to work them. You had them twenty-four hours a day, so
you had to take care of them. Guards all the time. Now, an interesting point is
that my jeep driver for me during this whole time was Joe Garagiola. Joe went
on to the Today show. He was a major league baseball player. He was my jeep
driver, and he was just a 19-year-old PFC [private, first-class]. They later began
the Manila Dodgers after the war was over, and it was a great team. They beat
the hell out of everybody. Early Wynne [later a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians]
was on it. Joe was on it. Wonderful players were on the team. But he was jeep
driver. He still salutes me any time I see him. He went from Manila before I left. I
was still there getting ready to come home. He went straight to the St. Louis
Cardinals and was a hero in the 1946 World Series. We were great friends, and
we have been friends ever since. Of course, he really boomed. Like I said, he still
salutes Lieutenant McEwen and says, how in the hell did we win the war with me
and you there? So, the prison camp, talk about experiences that stick with you.
That was one of the great learning [experiences], as was the military. You talk
about being able to speak before people and at home, we had all that thrust upon
us, from college to the military to the Officer Candidate School where you took
instructions in teaching and speaking, and then to run a camp like that after
running a platoon in armor in the Philippines, you grow up pretty quick. I am
twenty-one years old, and I am running a prison camp. So, you learn.
A: What kind of emotional feelings come out when you are running a prison camp,
besides the learning experience? You are seeing the atrocities of war on a
day-by-day basis. How well-received, when you are running this prison camp, did
you try to make the POWs feel? Did you have any problems with some of the
guys in your unit who might have had some problems with the opposing-side
prisoners of war?
M: It was on-the-job training. You had to learn as you went. I had nothing. They kept
referring to the Geneva Convention rules. I never had a copy of the rules. I just
ran the camp as I thought it should be run. At first, early on, some of our people
were tough on the prisoners unnecessarily, and of course we took care of that.
But I learned very quickly that I better not do that sort of thing. So, what I did was,
I brought in the biggest Japanese sergeant that I could find who was in the
prison-he was a prisoner of war-and I brought in a couple of the smartest guys
who were in there, and I put them in charge under me. I let him administer all the
punishment unless it was something that I needed to get into, like [feeding them
only] bread and water. We did nothing worse than bread and water for two
weeks. That was the maximum, and that was for beating up each other or
stealing or something like that. But, he administered most of it. The first day he
walked into my office to administer, he popped a guy right smack in the nose and
knocked the prisoner across the desk and into my lap. We cut that up pretty
quick, but he draw up the rules. I let him. What we found out, of course, was that
saving face among the Japanese people in those days was the single most
important thing, so if he wanted to punish a man severely, he made him stand in
the center of the camp. We had these tents where we __ kitchen office where
the trucks came and went. He made him stand with a sign around his neck
explaining what he had done and why he was being punished. To them, that was
far worse than bread and water, that everybody could look at them and say, you
caused a problem. But, there were some things that we did that [were] not right. I
mean, we cut the rations for the whole camp until we found who was the guilty
person about something. It always worked. It is harsh, but we certainly never
struck anybody. To my knowledge, that never happened.
Now, as I said, there were drive-by shootings, and a lot of prisoners died. They
were wounded. We set up a medical tent and tried to take care of them. I mean,
they were doing everything in that tent. I went over and watched them. These
were Japanese people who were captured. They were surgeons, and we gave
them so much stuff. They had never had anything like that. Just administering a
system whereby we got clothes and food and that sort of thing for prisoners of
war, it was very difficult. I am such a fool for not making notes and taking pictures
of all that because it was quite a time in my life. Then, when we closed the camp
just as abruptly as we began it, I was sent to WESTPAC Headquarters, U. S.
Army at Western Pacific. They made me the officer in charge of the armed forces
press service in AFPAC [Armed Forces Pacific] Headquarters. What we did was,
we gathered the news from all around and from wire services, and we sent it to
unit companies for them to give it to the troops. That is essentially what we did.
We were a funnel for the news to the troops all over the Pacific. Then I came
home, released as a first lieutenant and afterward moved into the National Guard
and was in the National Guard for years, even during the riots in the 1960s, and I
retired as a lieutenant colonel with twenty-four years of service. So, I am also a
retired military officer, and it grew me.
A: How often did you fear for your life, or is that something you did not think about
when you were there? Being away from home, did it make it easier that there
were thousands like you over there from the States over there fighting for the
country? Did you not even think about that, or was it really tough being away?
M: You are always armed, and anything can happen at any time, of course, but, no,
we were glad to be there. There was such a concentration of troops in the
Philippines because that was the jumping-off place for Japan. The invasion of
Japan was to come from the Philippine Islands. That is where everybody was,
and everybody was being trained at the time. So, there was plenty to do. You
worked, but you also trained hard. There was such concentration [of troops] that
there were always officers' clubs and that sort of thing that could help you, that
you could relax with. I was proud to be there and proud of my military service. I
guess I got homesick, but I do not remember it. Everybody was around you. I
went to Japan a couple of timess. I saw my brother in Japan, by the way. He was
in the Judge Advocate Corps. He worked on the war crimes trials in Tokyo when
he was up there, and I went up to see him one time. By the way, in my little camp
(of 2,000), we kept all of the high-ranking officers who were to go on trial. I went
to the trials when they tried [General Tomoyuki] Yamashita and [General
Matsaharu] Homma. These were the great generals of the Japanese forces.
[General Douglas] MacArthur, whose headquarters were there, quickly hung
them before civilians could get involved. He court-martialed them and hung them.
A: What is the difference between a kid today going into the armed service and
what you had to face, and are they producing different people, do you think, in
the armed services? In this modern technological age, do you think it is as
physically demanding and as mentally demanding to be in service right now?
Obviously, it is hard to compare it to going to a world war. But I am asking if it is a
different person today who is joining the military.
M: I do not have any idea. I really do not. When I left the National Guard, things
were changing so fast. That was about ten years ago, I guess, or longer than
that. Let me see. Of course, they were better back then, except for the
equipment. Think a minute about all the equipment that you have now compared
to what we had back then. It was minimum. Now, I do not know, but here is
another point. When I was in the service, all the time-here we go on segregation
again-the black troops that I dealt with, and I dealt with lots of them, were all in
transportation-Red Ball Express, Yellow Ball Express-or supply, and that sort of
thing. I am talking about the black people who I dealt with where I was. There
were some black fighting units, but there were not any around me at that time. Of
course, we had no women. The women were all either nurses or WACs
[Women's Army Corps]. There were lots of them. They were all volunteers, too.
There was no integration of either my military, either by black or by women.
A: What kind of feelings did you get when you came home from the Pacific? How
grateful were you to be home? I do not know how you actually came home
yourself, but what kind of reception did you receive?
M: My family had moved to Fort Myers where my daddy was running a farmers
market at the time. When I came home, I brought a unit home. My job was officer
in charge of a battalion and, by the way, it was black, so some things did change
then. I was the officer in charge. It was a troopship, and I worked all the way back
here. I think it is very interesting to tell you that a black lieutenant taught me to
play bridge. I would not at that time have expected that to happen, but it did
happen. So I came back to San Francisco. I think the thing I wanted more than
anything else was milk, fresh milk. I came back to San Francisco and then went
to Fort Myers and then got a job at the Fort Myers News Press. I had to go to
work right away.
A: So, that takes us to Fort Myers News Press which you started in what year?
Also, what were your duties at Fort Myers News Press? Along with that, did they
look at things like what you had done with the Army?
M: No, not really. Everybody was out of the Army. Most everybody had been in the
service. We were all back and just going back to work. That was all it amounted
to. It was over. It was over pretty doggone quickly. I got a job at the Press. I was
just a reporter, six days a week. $35 a week was the pay. I had made more than
that as first lieutenant in the Army. Fortunately, we saved a lot of money by being
overseas because I never collected any of my income, so when I came home, I
had a nest egg. I had to have it with $35 a week. They did not have a sports
page, so we started a sports page and I started writing sports right away. I
moved over to that department and ran the little department of about three
people. I will run through this real quickly. I went back to the Philippines. I
decided I wanted to go back and make some money. I went back to the
Philippines and did not have a job. I got a job with the government, with the
veterans' administration. They were all over. Remember, the Philippines was
directly involved in the war. The Philippines scouts and Philippine Army were
taken into the U. S. Army, so all kinds of benefits were due. I became an
investigator right away for the veterans' administration. I was investigating fraud
against the United States government.
A: What year was this?
M: I went back over in June, 1949, and worked for the veterans' administration over
there as an investigator. I traveled all over the Philippine Islands for four years. I
think I might have been on every island in that archipelago, all the way from Jolo
in the south to Bataan in the north and did the investigations, traveled
everywhere, even down into Mindinao, did investigations down there, which is
Muslim and very difficult. I traveled always with a .45 on my hip and had an
interpreter. There were about sixty dialects, so wherever you went, you had to
have somebody else to interpret for you. So I was investigating claims against
the government. We actually discovered non-existent battalions that had been
created and approved as guerilla fighters, and some of their people were
receiving benefits, and they just did not exist. So it was worthwhile. We were
Then, I decided to come back. I came back here, to the United States,
and was not sure what I wanted to do. I was going to stay with my brother, but I
had a friend here in Tampa who would give you a test [about] what you should
do. Harlis was his name, Harlis & Associates. So, I took all these battery of tests,
and they said you should be in the newspaper business. I wanted so badly to get
in something else. So, I immediately got a job with the St. Petersburg Times in
the sports department. I came back in 1954, and I worked at the Times from
1954 to 1958. I did everything, in sports, did it all. [There was] nothing I did not
do. I worked my behind off and was making $75 a week. In 1958, I was offered a
job. The Tampa Tribune bought the old Tampa Times. It is now gone. It is an
afternoon paper. The man they named managing editor was a friend of my
brother and of [mine]. He had been with the Associated Press. He offered me the
job of sports editor of the Tampa Times. So, I left the St. Pete Times, came to the
Tampa Times, and took over their sports department which, at that time, had
three people. I hired two who were graduating from the University of Florida to
come and work for me. We built the Times into a pretty doggone good afternoon
paper, up to about 50,000 in circulation, and challenged the Tribune as best we
could. We challenged them well enough that in 1962, the publisher of the Tribune
asked me if I would like to be the sports editor of the Tampa Tribune. I moved
over there and changed everything, just changed the whole deal. I began writing
a column six days a week as I had been for the Tampa Times. Through the
Tribune, in most of the years, I wrote six columns a week, ran the department,
and did a lot of the make-up. When I left the Tribune, the staff was sixty-three. It
was eight when I [started]. To give you the growth pattern of the Tribune. And, I
was just doing the Tribune, and the civic career in Tampa began.
A: You said the Harlis test said you should go into the newspaper business, and you
said, I really did not want to do that, and you did not like the results of that test.
Can you elaborate on that a little bit? Tell me about the time at the St. Pete
Times when you were doing everything, covering games, writing columns.
M: Well, remember I traveled the world at a young age. Pay was so low in the
newspaper business that I certainly thought I could do better than that, but the
test said I could not, that I better stay with what I had. As it turned out, it was
okay, and the test, I suppose, was right. At the Times, Bill Beck was the sports
editor. He is dead. Nobody is there now who was there when I was there, of
course. The staff was not big, about eight, and we did everything. You wrote. You
made it up. I learned to make up the newspaper, make it up, lay it out, make it
up, put it together, and to write on everything from major league baseball to back
to high school stuff, of course. I had a great background there. I came to Tampa
when they offered me the job, because it was a big pay raise. They offered me
$150 a week. That was a big pay raise for me in 1958 to be the sports editor and
into what was almost my hometown. Remember, my brother was here at the
time, and he was the state attorney. He was quite important in the city. I was
born here, and most of my college friends were here. They were not in St. Pete.
So, it was quite natural for me to come to Tampa. It was the paper that I read in
Wauchula. It is the paper I delivered in Wauchula.
A: After you built the Times and you were actually hired by the Tribune in 1962 as a
Tampa sports editor, was it done where you thought that you had really come full
circle? You had started at Tampa in your youth, and now you are at the Tribune
and you are running the sports department. How did that feel? You are
seventy-six right now, so you were in your early forties when you got here, right?
M: It was a big deal to be the sports editor of the Tampa Tribune. Remember, now,
here is where all that military training and running prison camps and that sort of
thing began to come into play real well, being in a command position or in a
control position. That all came into play then. I had always done well with people.
People had always been no problem. I get along good with people. I had all the
staff here to the house at least once a year for dinner. I always [gave] every
member a Christmas present, that sort of thing. I did consider it a big deal. I did
figure that I had come full circle. We began to do a really good job. We put out a
dadgum good newspaper in those days. We were tops. We were looked up to. I
won an awful lot of awards in those years. I was sportswriter of the year nineteen
times during that period, and all that sort of thing. But it was all because of the
paper, because I had the platform. Everything I have done in this town,
everything I have done, is because the Tribune was there, because the Tribune
made it possible. I would not be anything if I did not have the Tribune as my
place from which to work.
I had a series of publishers, most notably Red Pitman, who was with me
in the service and with me at the University of Florida. He was a publisher. When
I first came to the Tribune, Pitman was a bookkeeper. Now, he was a publisher.
Look at me, when I came to the Tribune, I was sports editor, and I am still the
sports editor. The friendship has meant a lot to me. Yes, I was very proud of the
role. That is what thrust me into popularity around here, because I spoke and
represented the paper. The publishers allowed me free reign. They allowed me
to involve myself. That is not so true any more. I was not only the columnist. I
was a sports editor, and I spoke for the sports department. Now, you have a
sports editor, and then you have columnists. You have a whole range of
columnists, and they say they want a chorus of opinions. Well, it was one then at
the paper, and it was strong. It was mine, and that is the way we did things. But
Pitman and the other publishers allowed me, they encouraged me, to get
involved in the public affairs, to speak, and so we were involved in all these
campaigns to bring all these facilities and these teams to the city of Tampa. You
see that evidenced everywhere. I am not so sure that will ever happen again,
because newspapers have changed now.
A: Speak a little about your family. How does your journalism career, especially for
very busy man like yourself, affect your family life?
M: It definitely affected it. Linda and I are both second marriages. We were married
in 1970, so we are coming up on our 30th anniversary. She had two little girls at
the time, whom you have seen and whom we raised, and I had two little older
children, Ricky and Jenni. Ricky went to the University of Florida, and one of the
other daughters went to the University of Florida. Ricky is now the operations
manager for Channel 8. He has a very big job for the WFLA in Tampa. He is the
operations manager. I am proud of all that. Yes, as I said, there was a divorce in
there. My first wife is remarried, and [is] very happy and lives in Tampa. More
what you were saying, work was killing. I worked twelve hours a day, almost
always until midnight. Newspapering definitely takes its toll on home, and it did
on mine. Linda, since we have been married, has always worked as well. She
was a schoolteacher, and now she is in this travel and import business. Yes, it
has definitely had an effect, but all of our children and everybody are fine now.
They are all doing very well. Ricky lives right around the corner. Jenni lives in
town. They are all in Tampa. Nobody has gone anywhere.
A: Could I ask about your first marriage, when you got married and the name of
your wife. Did your professional life really cause a strain on your marriage?
M: It did. I met her in the Philippines, and she came back with me. She was a war
bride. Her name was Pacita Jugo. Her real name is a Maria de la Paz Jugo. We
were married in the Philippines, a military wedding. She came back before I did. I
wanted that to be so, so that I could be sure that everything was done getting her
arranged. She came to Fort Myers and joined my parents there, and then I came
to her, and we went right to work. So, I was married over there in about 1946.
She is here, and she is remarried, and she is very happy living in Temple
Terrace. Sure, work took a toll on everybody. I worked so hard, so long, in this
business when we were building it and striving. I was just told the other day [by]
my neighbor, a cardiologist, and he said, the divorce rate in cardiology is the
highest in business, 90 percent. That is what they told me. I do not know this. It is
what a cardiologist told me, because they are up and gone, up and gone; there
are emergencies all the time; this man comes and goes like crazy.
A: So, you married her in 1946. How long did the marriage last?
M: I do not know when that ended. It was 1968 or 1969. I was not single very long.
Linda and I married in 1970. Ricky and Jenny were from the first marriage. Ricky
was born in Fort Myers. My daughter's married name is Jenni Mullaney. She has
a red-haired thirteen-year-old son named Sean Mullaney, who is one heck of a
hockey player. He is in Atlanta in a tournament right now. Jenni has always lived
here, and Ricky has always lived here. They have never gone anywhere else.
They have always lived right here.
A: And the ages?
M: Ricky was born in Fort Myers in late December, 1947. Jenni was born in the
Philippine Islands. See, that is another reason I went back. I am sorry I missed
that. I went back because my first wife lived over there. So we went back. She
had a big family, a successful family. That was another reason we went back,
because it was her home and they would help me get something if they could,
but I got my job anyway with the veterans' administration. Jenni was born in
1950. Linda's girls are Gabriela, who is a manager in her office, and Elissa.
A: What do you think of the journalism business today? How has it changed?
M: In writing that, I said that sports angle in today's investigative
sporting events, finding the best group so shallow.
[End of the interview.]