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Interview with Porcher D. Ancrum

Ancrum, Porcher D.
Lock, Sarah
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming Obstacles; Relationships with People and Places; Childhood Adventures; Stories and Storytellers
Porcher D. Ancrum talks about growing up during WWII and attending the Citadel.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Sarah Lock interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
SL (Sarah Lock): Today is December 5th, 1999 and I'm interviewing Mr. Ancrum. What is your name?
PA (Porcher Ancrum): My name is Mr. Ancrum.
SL: [Laugh]
PA: You got it right!
SL: [Laugh]
SL: Do you have any stories from your childhood or your college days you'd like to tell me?
PA: Sure! I have some stories from childhood. My wife suggested I tell you about things when we grew up and during the war, and I'm speaking of the Great War. Uh, and that's, uh, The Great Generation, I think that's the new book, I'm not certain. And folks who haven't, uh, had that experience, don't have much of a concept of what things were like. Uh, and the war, it was an all-out effort. Everybody participated, boy scouts participated, teachers participated, students participated, uh, civilians participated, uh, even kids participated. I had a little lightening patch. I was, I was a, um, messenger during air-raid practices and, uh, blackouts. And, uh, and nobody heard ( ) involved but I had a part in this program, but I would go and, and speak to the, um, the wardens, the, uh, uh, the civilians who patrolled the streets and I remember breaking into a house one time and turning a light off because it was a blackout. And, uh, this, these kinds of things, but the, the, uh, not sacrifices but participation, uh, was, uh, universal. Uh, we saved our bacon grease and when we got a good batch of it, I would take it to the butcher and the butcher would gather the stuff up and send it to somewhere and ostensibly to be used to make ammunition out of. I don't know whether it was or not.
SL: [Laugh]
PA: But, that was the idea. And we, we, we thought that we were contributing something, we were doing something. And, um, but we saved our, you don't know about rationing. Sugar was rationed, meat was rationed, shoes were rationed, uh, certain kinds of clothing, I think, were rationed and, uh, uh, and there were stamps, little booklets of stamps. You tear off a stamp and you get a hamburger, you know, that kind of thing. Well, not, not a hamburger, but a pound of hamburger.
SL: Right.
PA: And, uh, we saved our sugar stamps and we saved them and saved them and saved them 'til peach harvest time. And, uh, we had a pretty good batch of sugar and we went out to the county cannery and my mother and my sister and our maid, everybody had maids and that goes even to part time, which was the case with ours. Uh, and, uh, we canned peaches, I mean we canned, I won't say hundreds, but there were enough, a good number of cans of peaches we had. Little cans and we had great big old cans of peaches. And, uh, that was, you know, that would last us two or three years. And it was, you know, very satisfactory. Gasoline, we saved our gasoline tanks, stamps, and uh, uh, on Sundays, particularly, the poor Yankee soldiers had never been in the south and it was so hot, and, uh, there were 60,000 troops out there at Camp Croft. Spartanburg, at the time, which was a city of about 20,000 people, only a small number of which were eligible girls.
SL: [Laugh]
PA: And, uh, uh, as a consequence, these men had nothing to do when they, when they got out of the camp. And they were exhausted, of course, from the training routine. And they came into town and, and some of them went to church and that was nice but then there was nothing do. They'd lay out on the grass in front of the Presbyterian church, in front of the Episcopal church and lay there, smoke cigarettes and talk trash. And, uh, so, uh, they were thrilled at the opportunity, some little old ladies come along and say, "Would you like to take a ride, soldier?" And we could get seven guys in my mama's '37 Plymouth! I'd get up behind the back seat, and it was snug and we would ride. Sometimes we rode all the way up to the mountain ( ) like that. I got my license, I learned to drive the day before I was 14 and I got my license on my birthday and, uh, I couldn't see over the steering wheel.
SL: [Laugh]
PA: I was a little guy! But, uh, I, uh, I got my license that young. And sometimes I was allowed to have the car. And, uh, when I did, I could coast from Main Street to the bowling alley down one, two, three blocks, turn right, down one, two, three blocks, turn right and back into my aunt's backyard where we lived with my aunt. Uh, and, uh, saved on gasoline. But, uh, when we had the big oil crisis a few years ago, four or five of us guys who were brokers, with different firms, carpooled and the guys kidded me about coasting down the hill.
SL: Uh-huh.
PA: "I'll turn here and coast down the hill." Every one of those guys ran out of gas during that time. I never-.
SL: [Laugh]
PA: -I never even stood in line for gasoline, because I coasted down the hills. You learn those things.
SL: Right.
PA: All right. We, we made friends with some of these, uh, uh, Yankees. One, uh, fella from, uh, around Boston, Mr. Hardy, was a member of our church and, uh, had a little boy a little younger than me and I think a girl older. Anyway he was a nice fella and we got to know him personally and, um, my mother entertained some of these guys sometimes, uh, took them for rides and had them out for supper and that kind of thing and maintained a relationship with them for tens of years, twenty or thirty years.
SL: //A lot longer than you did. //
PA: //She still, // she still corresponded with some of those fellas. And, uh, but some of them were real sweet to me, uh, one of them gave me a model airplane that he was working on. I don't know if it was that huge, you know, and it had an engine! And, uh, I, that, that was some very pleasant, very pleasant relationships that way. One guy, I heard this tooting noise up in the bell tower of our church, and I went up there and there were two rooms up there. One room was just a room and the next room was where they rang the bells. Uh, and in this bottom room, uh, there was some GIs who were musicians. And, uh, they would, and this particular guy was practicing the clarinet. His name was Douglas Oliver, a Scottish name. He, uh, he, uh, uh, and I became friends and, uh, uh, and we visited there in the church. He sang in the choir, too, to compensate for having this music room up there, and I think the other guy did, too. Uh, but, uh, I, uh, I still have, I don't have his book anymore. He gave me a book, Fables for Our Times by James Thurber.
SL: Oh!
PA: And oh, it was so funny and cute! And, uh, I enjoyed it very much and have it to this day, my grandson has it now. [BREAK IN RECORDING]
PA: One of the things about, um, the, um, boys out of Camp Croft, and, of course, mostly they were boys. They took them up to age 36, and they paid them $21.00 a month, whether they needed it or not. And, uh, that was, that was the wage. And, uh, a lot of those fellas, I'd say there were some southern boys there too, of course, but, uh, they had seen 110 degrees in August, been there, done that.
SL: Uh-huh.
PA: Uh, and, uh, not that it was comfortable, and for them to be running out in the woods and the fields with their, carrying a pack and a rifle and ammunition and, uh, it was hard work and, um, hot. But, the, the northern boys just had never been exposed to anything like that. And at the same time the camp was under construction. They had great huge earth moving machines going out there and that red powder dust would, floating everywhere. And for a time, I think, I'm not exaggerating, about one guy a week would kill himself.
SL: Right.
PA: It was just more than they could bear.
SL: Right.
PA: Uh, and, uh, so, uh, they would, it was a tough experience for those fellas.
SL: Why don't you talk about when you decided to go to the Citadel?
PA: Well, I asked my mama, "Where'd my daddy go?" And she said, "The Citadel." Subsequently, I found out that his father in the, the, uh, prep school to the Citadel back before it went out of existence. And her father graduated from the Citadel. No, her father did not graduate from the Citadel. Her father was called up for the Civil War.
SL: Oh.
PA: The War for Southern Independence ( ).
SL: Huh.
PA: And, uh, he later got an honorary degree on the occasion of his son's graduation.
SL: Oh, that's very nice.
PA: An, uh, he, uh, he read medicine and became a doctor. He worked with Johns Hopkins and he got, uh, a Bachelor's Degree.
SL: Right.
PA: Uh, so, and my father went there and, uh, uh, his father, and, uh, my uncle, my mother's brother, and, uh, uh, three, uh, four, three first cousins, uh, and there was and is a sort of a military tradition. You'll find a high population of southern people in the regular Army today.
SL: Uh-huh.
PA: Uh, it's still sort of 'the thing.' And, uh, so, uh, I decided I'd go to the Citadel like my daddy did. And I did, and, uh, it was a, well, when you got through, you were glad you did it, but you wouldn't want to do it again!
SL: Right.
PA: It's that kind of thing. But, uh, I'm ashamed to say how much fun I had down there when I was supposed to be working and learning.
SL: [Laugh]
PA: We learned some stuff. We were, uh, proficient military men when we got through. And, uh, we weren't, uh, ( ). However, when I went down there in the fall of 1947, seventeen years old, and, uh, I didn't, I didn't know how to shave, and we were told we had to shave every day. And I had my daddy's razor, my father had died then. I had my father's razor and I about cut this ear all the way off the first, I think I shaved at night because it wouldn't make any difference, I wouldn't have a beard in the morning, either. [Laughter] And I cut that thing and it bled and they chewed me out for destroying government property. [Laughter] And they gave me demerits and it was terrible. And, uh, so, you have the bracing and the hazing which is not all bad, uh, it's, uh, I guess maybe it's a testosterone thing. Anyway-.
SL: [Laugh]
PA: -We, uh, we had to deal with that, and, uh, then I first, see, Saturday morning inspection is the high point of the military week.
SL: Sunday morning?
PA: Saturday morning.
SL: Saturday morning.
PA: Saturday morning, yeah. And, uh, you have to get yourself all spiffied up and polish those shoes. We could shave, honest to Pete, you could make out your facial features on those shoes. And polishing shoes, you might spend an hour and a half on each shoe.
SL: [Laugh]
PA: Brass! Brass! You got a breastplate and a waist plate and a belt buckle and an emblem on the hat and, uh, something else. And you had to polish those things. You get a scratch on that breastplate, three hours, four hours.
SL: You had the time to do all this?
PA: Huh?
SL: You had the time to do all this?
PA: No. [Laughter] But we didn't need to sleep. I slept in the, I slept through most, the first time I stayed awake through a whole class, it was a history class and I think it was about the fourth week.
SL: [Laugh]
PA: Uh, it was, you know, it was a kind of demanding program, but we, we grew with it. It, it was good and, uh, we learned, uh, some stuff about the military and, uh, some of us liked it. Now, I, uh, it's again, something you glad you did, but you just wouldn't want to do it again.
SL: Do you have any particular bad experiences there? Or good experiences?
PA: As a freshman, we were, they were called Plebes, uh, and a Plebe, I got, I was assigned a room, my roommate quit after the first quarter. I had chosen him, I got in line behind him because he wore glasses and looked smart, he wears glasses.
SL: [Laugh]
PA: Oh, he was dumber than I am.
SL: [Laugh]
PA: And, uh, he quit after the first quarter. So I was by myself in the room, there wasn't no roommate and, uh, I discovered a loose board in the floor. And, uh, so I got some cookies, some cake and some candy and stuff and put that in. And of course, there were guys who had known about that loose board for fifteen years, you know, I mean, different classes would come along-.
SL: Right.
PA: -That knew about that board.
SL: Right.
PA: And so I was caught. And I was instructed to report to, to the, uh, platoon sergeants. I'll never forget these names. One of them was named Grimmer and one of them was named Stubbs. Now you're a seventeen year old boy [laugh] and you're told to report in a military fashion to, uh, Sergeants Grimmer and Stubbs [laugh] you go down there with a certain amount of anticipation.
SL: Right.
PA: "Drive in," and I drove myself through there. ( ) And, uh, and uh, he said, "Where'd you get, why'd you use that loose board in your room?" I said, "( ) sir," and he said, "Don't give me that stuff! Why did you? At ease! Tell me!" And I said, "Well, sir, truth is-." "Don't give me that stuff!" [Laughter] And before, before they got through, I was so scared! Golly Moses! And he said, "Stubbs, you remember that guy Jenkins over there in artillery?" "Yeah, yeah." "He found a firing pin for his, for his M-1 and they caught him out on the dock shooting ducks!" He said, "Yeah. They gave him four years! And he was a senior!"
SL: [Laugh]
PA: I, well, young men didn't wet their pants in those days, but some of us came pretty close!
SL: [Laugh]. Well, thank you very much.