Since I have been out of the service I have never had the desire to again go to Las Vegas for it could never come up with the times that I had there as a soldier with little money, and not a bit of responsibility. While stationed at Yucca Flats being used to gather information concerning the Atomic Bomb when they were not trying to kill us with the bomb we did get a lot of leave time. We would go back to the base camp, and be told that there would not be a test for some time which allowed our officers to give us passes. Even through our base camp was quite a ways from Vegas it was not difficult at all to get there.
Sometimes you would be lucky enough to catch a ride from someone working at the base camp with a car, however most times all a soldier had to do was stick out his thumb and he found transportation to town.
I at that time was palling around with another soldier by the name of Wayne Keller. He was a little guy from Indiana. I at that time had never known anyone from Indiana. At Fort Bliss we had started to hang out together, which was odd since in no way were we alike, and really didn’t like one another, This being true Keller and myself caught a ride in Vegas. Now the most interesting part of Vegas is not the Strip, where all the tourist goes. The real action is downtown. There is where you will find the real Vegas characters, and a lot of fun.
Keller and myself had hit the gambling clubs downtown like the Mint, the Frontier Club and the Golden Horse Shoe. We didn’t have any money, but if you as a soldier stood at the dice table betting odd or even they would allow you to stay there bring free drinks to you. We did this for a while, enjoying ourselves watching the glitter of this fast moving town. We decided to walk to some of the back streets where we found a bar called the New York bar so of course we entered. In this bar they had a number of pool snooker tables. These are small pool tables with only two pockets set up much like a pinball machine. I was not much of a pool player, but Keller was quite good at it. We started to play when a man approached us with a very thick Irish ascent. He told us his name was Tommy MacGallister and ask us if he could shoot pool with us. Keller shot first and put all but one ball away. He was quite proud of himself. It was Tommy’s turn. With ease, he cleared the table, leaving only one ball on the table. He picked up Keller’s last ball dropping it into the pocket, saying; ” God Bless you Mee Boys you win can I buy you a beer” That was how I came to meet my friend Tommy. He must have been in his forties. I found out that Tommy had been a very good prize fighter as a matter of fact, I was told he had been the Irish middleweight champion. Some years ago he had come to the US to fight a Frenchman Marcel Cedan who was one of the best middleweights ever. Before Tommy had the chance to fight this Frenchman Cedan was killed in an airplane crash. Tommy stayed in the US ending up in Vegas. At least that is the way the story was told to me. Tommy was an interesting man to know, and a good friend to have while I was in Vegas. If all the stories about him were true or not I didn’t much care.
Keller never got close to Tommy, however Tommy and myself became buddies. For whatever reason he likes me and wanted to look after me. Tommy knew a lot of the downtown characters who also I got to know. There was Bart, who I was told had been the light heavy champion of Australia. There was Quinn who was a blackjack dealer at one of the downtown clubs, and there was Johnie Sapota who was a movie strong man extra. If you ever see the picture The Ten Commandments look for Johnie with a woman in his arms just after Moses comes down from the mountain and sees a big party going on. Tommy among other things was the head bartender at a club downtown called the Boulder Club.
Being a soldier, I never had any money and didn’t need it since I had my friends to take care of me. They called me the wrestler. They would not allow me to lose money at the blackjack tables for Quinn would chase me from them. Johnie wanted me to go back to Hollywood with him telling me that he could find me a lot of work in the movies. I never took advantage of this for I was in a hurry to get back to New York and my family there. At that time I only had a short time left for my stay in the Army, and would be discharged soon after our unit finished its business at Yucca Flats and was sent back to Texas. Tommy wanted me to come back to Vargas after I was discharged, and had some rather interesting ideas to involve me in. These are the friends I had. They were interesting and a lot of fun.
I spent many hours at Tommie’s bar speaking with him. At that time everyone at Vargas walked around with pockets full of silver dollars. When someone would come to Tommy’s club and seat themselves on a bar stool they would pile a bunch of silver dollars on the bar before them. As they bought drinks, they would push the silver dollars towards Tommy. All this added to a very exciting picture with the bright colored light of the club, and all its gambling green tables, and turning wheels, The club also had a sound of its own which made the whole scene that much more fun to be part of. At that time I drank mostly Olympia beer, which Tommy referred to as an Oly. As I would be sitting a couple of stools away from a tourist who was ordering a drink, Tommy would say to the poor man, and you had to see what Tommy looked like; ” You would like to buy an Oly for the wrestler won’t you?” They took one look at my friend’s prize fighter face and said sure I would. Tommy would slide an Oly down to me. I would stay there until the end of Tommy’s shift never buying a single drink. There seemed to be a never ending group of people that wanted to buy an Oly for the wrestler. It was a fun time for me, and I learned a lot about life from the likes of Tommy and my other friends.