Monthly Archives: May 2013

Memorial Day: The Cavalier Hotel at Virginia Beach

Old Cavalier Hotel, Virginia Beach, VA

Old Cavalier Hotel, Virginia Beach, VA

In the late 1930s, despite a lingering Great Depression and a looming World War, my father had it made.  He had recently completed a three-year apprenticeship to become a first-class machinist, and he had a good job at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard where his father, as a Spanish-American War veteran, had enjoyed guaranteed employment and had risen to become the superintendent of the shipyard paint factory.  Then too, Leger Joynes was a very handsome, trim-figured, dark-haired man who drove a brand new Ford Coupe.

The Joynes homestead in the Fairmount Park section of Norfolk, Virginia was not glorified by class because the family maintained acres of garden crops and fruit trees, as well as coops of egg-laying chickens.  The family was thus considered prosperous during the Depression, even to the extent that they had a tennis court in the side yard of the house.

Mother (far left) and Dad (far right) in their pre-WWII party days

Mother (far left) and Dad (far right) in their pre-WWII party days

The approaching “Golden Age” of the middle-class working family allowed my father the luxury of owning two tuxedos, one with a white dinner jacket.  And although he was not a member of the Cavalier Beach Club, he was a frequent guest at the highly regarded Cavalier Hotel for their “Big Band” dance weekends.  In those days, Dad was very well known in Virginia Beach through a web of family interactions that crossed several social classes.

On that late Friday afternoon, Dad led a caravan of Memorial Day

Photo courtesy of virginiaimages.com

Photo courtesy of virginiaimages.com

revelers from Norfolk to Virginia Beach.  To begin the weekend, they planned to dine and dance in the hotel ballroom, lie around the pool and beaches the next day, and then party all Saturday night to the big band likes of Tommy Dorsey.  What lifestyle could be better for young people of their age and social class where they mingled with the truly rich and privileged?

Dancing at the Cavalier Hotel

Dancing at the Cavalier Hotel

When Dad arrived at the Cavalier Hotel front entrance and turned his beautiful new Ford over to the valet parking attendant, he was met with a very concerned face.  “The general manager wants to see you right away in his office,” Dad was told. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

While Dad’s date and friends checked into the hotel, he went to the manager’s ornate grand hotel office wondering what could be the matter.  Dad and the GM were on a first name basis through mutual family friendships, although the formally dressed man behind the desk was old enough to be the 21-year-old’s father.

“Leger,” the GM began, “I’m so glad that you are here.  I’m in a jam, and I need your help.”

The jam was that the pump that supplied water to both the indoor and outdoor swimming pools was broken, and that no one was available to service it on a Memorial Day weekend. “We can’t have empty swimming pools on our opening weekend,” the GM affirmed as the obvious. “Would you take a look at it?  If you can fix it, I’ll comp you and your party the entire weekend. Rooms. Meals. Everything!”

Cavalier Hotel Interior Swimming Pool

Cavalier Hotel interior swimming pool

The mechanical repair was a filthy, greasy job down in the dark pit of a pump room. While Dad’s friends partied at the best table in the ballroom, he worked throughout the night to fix the pump and fill the swimming pools by morning. Pools filled, the GM’s gratitude to Dad was boundless.  Even Dad’s car was returned to him washed and simonized.  Every expense for the weekend incurred at Dad’s table was covered. He was treated like a celebrity by the hotel staff wherever he turned.

Soon enough the ebullient times for Dad and his Fairmount Park pals and girlfriends ended.  The World War arrived like an Atlantic hurricane, and some of them were lost in the storm of the military violence. Dad tried to join the Navy three different times, but the government would not release him from his job as a leading man in the Naval Yard machine shop.  For lack of rationed tires and gasoline, the snazzy Ford Coupe was put up on blocks in the driveway, and Dad took a shabby commuter bus that picked him up on a slow roll in front of his house and delivered him directly to the shipyard.  Busses like that ran through almost every working-class neighborhood in Norfolk and Virginia Beach to service the war effort.

Dad, me, and Mother around the end of the war in 1945

Dad, me, and Mother around the end of the war in 1945

I was born in September 1941, about three months before Pearl Harbor and the US entry into the war.  My early childhood memories are filled with food rationing and the massive flyovers of military aircraft en route to the war.  I did not get to the Cavalier Beach Club until a date took me there to a Sunday afternoon tea dance when I was in college.  The old and faded Cavalier Hotel that set high on the sand hill across the coastal road from the Beach Club beckoned to me that day, and I insisted that my date take me in her Impala Chevrolet convertible for a brief tour of the grand dame where my father had celebrated his glory days.

In telling my date the story of my father’s favorite Memorial Day weekend, I was affirming my admiration for the blue-collar trades, and for the seeming miracles that they can perform with their skills and their hands whenever they are called into service. In summation, I said to her, “A first-class machinist can make or fix almost anything. What the hell are we going to do with our Liberal Arts degrees?”

“Maybe we’re supposed to tell their stories,” she wisely replied.

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General George Patton: WWII Commander

General Patton wearing his 4-star service cap in 1945.  Photo by U.S. Army

General George Patton wearing his 4-star service cap in 1945.  U.S. Army photo

Our images of General George S. Patton, Jr. as the greatest combat commander of WW II come from either newsreels and documentaries or from the 1970 feature film, Patton, starring George C. Scott that won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture.  My personal connection to General Patton, however, is based on my friendship with Peter K. Babalas, who as a 23-year old Military Police Lieutenant was the first on the scene of the accident that ultimately ended the four-star general’s life in December 1945.

General Patton, although famous as a battlefield warrior, was also infamous for what his superiors deemed politically inappropriate remarks to the press. After brilliant victories in North Africa and the invasion of Sicily, Patton continued to lose commands because of his controversial public remarks.  But the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Dwight Eisenhower, was not about to sideline his best field commander for the Normandy invasion of 1944.  He made Patton commander of the Third Army, and ol’ “Blood and Guts” drove the Germans into submission culminating in the famous remarkable dash of his Third Army to relieve Bastogne and win the critical Battle of the Bulge.

Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Lt. General Patton in Tunisia, 1945.  Photo by U. S. Army

Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Lt. General Patton in Tunisia, 1945. Photo by U. S. Army

In the months after the end of the war in Europe, as an officer overseeing the occupation of Germany, Patton gave former Nazi military officers jobs and stated that the real enemy was the Soviet Union.  Sidelined again, Patton was given command of a phantom army assigned to a historic documentation of the European war. On the day of the accident, December 9th, Patton and his Chief of Staff, Maj. General Hobart Gay, were traveling in their large 1938 Cadillac staff car en route to a pheasant hunt.

Lt. Gen. Patton with Maj. Gen. Walter Robertson pass in review of Third Army Troops in April 1944 prior to the Normandy invasion in June. US Army Photo

Lt. Gen. Patton with Maj. Gen. Walter Robertson pass in review of Third Army Troops in April 1944 prior to the Normandy invasion in June. US Army photo

Near noon, a 2-1/2 ton military truck unexpectedly made a left turn into the front of the staff car. The driver of the truck was a technical sergeant on his way to a quartermaster depot. In the low-speed collision, Patton was thrown against the steel frame of a glass partition that separated the driver from the passengers in the rear seat. The impact of the blow scalped the general’s forehead and caused a compression fracture to his cervical spinal cord.

Army Lt. Peter Babalas as he looked during WWII

Army Lt. Peter Babalas as he looked during WWII

Military Police Lieutenant Peter Babalas, in an Army jeep, came upon the accident moments after it occurred. He ran to the staff car and opened its rear door to render assistance.  General Gay was supporting Patton’s body, and he instructed Babalas to call an ambulance. Patton whispered to Gay, “I think that I’m paralyzed.”  Two medics arrived on the scene, and then an ambulance with two medical officers came.  Realizing that Patton’s injuries were serious, the officers made the decision to transport Patton to the best equipped medical facility in the area—the 130th US Army Station Hospital in Heidelberg, 25 miles away.

All the others involved in the accident were only slightly injured.  Lieutenant Babalas, as the Military Police officer on the scene, thus became its official investigating officer. During his investigation, Babalas discovered Patton’s uniform service cap with its four silver stars wedged in the back of the Cadillac’s displaced rear seat.

I met Peter Babalas in 1967, a few short months after my discharge from the Vietnam War-era US Army where I had served as the Plans and Training NCO of the 91st Evacuation Hospital. I was recommended to Peter as a speechwriter in his campaign for a Virginia General Assembly senate seat.  My father, a tool and dye maker by trade, had been a long-term Democratic precinct committeeman, and the compromise Chairman of the 2nd District Democratic Party, when the party divided violently over war politics. I was thus personally familiar with all the major players in both state and local politics.

Peter Babalas as my friend in 1967.  Photo by Foster Studios

Peter Babalas as my friend in 1967. Photo by Foster Studios

Within weeks of joining the Babalas-for-Senate campaign, I was managing the day-to-day operations of the campaign, and I formed a lasting friendship with Peter and Lillie Babalas.  We unseated a well-entrenched incumbent in the Democratic primary and went on to easily win the general election.  Peter remained in the Virginia Senate until his death in 1987.

Peter had earned a Harvard degree in economics after his WW II military service (1942- 1946), and then went on to earn a University of Virginia law degree in 1950.  He was recalled into the Army for service in the Korean War (1951-52).  When I went to work for Peter, he had a large law firm housed in a downtown office building that he and his partners owned. I both liked and admired Peter.  Later in my career when I became the founder and editor of Metro Hampton Roads Magazine, I asked Peter to tell me, for publication, about his encounter with General Patton.

At the Army hospital in Heidelberg, General Patton was completely paralyzed from the neck down and was having difficulty breathing.  Specialists were summoned from London, but the prognosis was grave.  The general, however, was fully conscious, and he insisted on being told the truth about his condition. “Would he ever again be able to ride a horse?” he asked. “No,” the chief doctor admitted.

August 1945. Gen. Patton riding "Favory Africa", which Hitler had personally picked out to be presented to Emperor Hirohito.  The horse formerly belonged to the riding school of Vienna.  It was confiscated by the Germans and later returned by the Americans. US Army Photo

August 1945. General Patton riding “Favory Africa,”which Hitler had personally picked out to be presented to Emperor Hirohito. The horse formerly belonged to the riding school of Vienna. It was confiscated by the Germans and later returned by the Americans. US Army Photo

Patton also wanted to know the outcome of the accident investigation, and thus Lieutenant Babalas was ordered bedside to report to the general.  Babalas found no fault on either driver, and the general concurred.  Then Peter produced the general’s service cap that he had retrieved from the staff car and offered to return it.  Patton instructed Peter to keep the hat as a “souvenir,” and he added, “I won’t be needing it anymore.” This remark has been widely reported as evidence of Patton’s premonition of death. And so it was that within 12 days of the accident, the great General George S. Patton, Jr., age 60, died from pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure.  He would have much preferred to die in combat. Certainly he could not have abided invalidism.

Gravesite of Gen. George Patton at the American Army Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg.  US Army Photo  May 1949.

Gravesite of Gen. George Patton at the American Army Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg. US Army Photo May 1949.

General George Patton was buried in the Luxembourg American Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg along with other wartime casualties of the Third Army.  It was his personal request “to be buried with my men.”

Peter Babalas safeguarded the last military headgear that General Patton ever wore, and later he offered it to the Patton family for display at the General George Patton Museum of Leadership at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

By this posting, I hereby render my most respectful military salute to General George Patton and to my friend, former Army Lieutenant Peter K. Babalas.

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Elizabeth Taylor: Her Violet Eyes

violeteyes In 1977, I was on the Virginia Beach Neptune Festival Committee and thus earned a seat at the table that hosted the famous actress Elizabeth Taylor and her husband, John Warner, a former Secretary of the Navy, who was then running for a Virginia US Senate seat.  As the Grand Celebrity Marshall of the month-long festivities, Elizabeth Taylor would crown King Neptune IV on his arrival from the sea.

That late September, Elizabeth Taylor was still amazingly beautiful at age 45.  And yes, as I can personally attest from close-range observation, her violet eyes were mesmerizing. Her major movie career triumphs, including Academy Awards for Butterfield 8 (1960), and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1965), were behind her, but she was still a major world-class celebrity.  Why she decided to marry John Warner and seek Washington society as a junior US Senator’s wife was an enigma to her fans. Nevertheless, there she was on the campaign trail doing her best to get Warner elected.

Elizabeth Taylor as she appeared in Cleopatra

Elizabeth Taylor as she appeared in Cleopatra

Prior to the memorable close-contact Neptune Festival Committee dinner party, I was invited as a magazine journalist to a Republican fund-raiser reception featuring Elizabeth Taylor as the ultimate attraction.  Prominent Republicans and their best dressed and bejeweled women paid big bucks to potentially socialize with the once Cleopatra (1963), and the hotel ballroom was overcrowded, with all eyes focused on the doors where the gorgeous one would make her entrance. After an hour of disappointed expectation, it was rumored that Elizabeth (we were all on a first-name basis with her by now) was having problems with her hair and that she was screaming at a local hairdresser who was obviously unworthy of her trust.  That, at least, was the unconfirmed rumor sweeping the ballroom.

When queen Elizabeth finally entered the end of the ballroom, there was a mad stampede of women toward her.  They ran recklessly head on with flailing arms and handbags. From my view among their stunned and discarded men, the women appeared to have lost all sense of decorum in their determined dash to gaze into the star’s famous eyes.  Their behavior was shameful and embarrassing, and I wondered then how the women at our upcoming Neptune Festival dinner might react in their close proximity to the star.

When we were seated at the table for ten at the Neptune party, I arranged for my then-wife Theresa to sit next to Elizabeth Taylor, while I took an opposite seat.  From the very beginning of the dinner, socially prominent women approached the seated celebrity and leaned in on her with excessive attempts to engage her.  My wife was rudely pushed aside as these women wedged themselves between her and Taylor.  Theresa reported to me that some of these star-struck ladies who were smoking cigarettes actually spilled ashes into Elizabeth Taylor’s hair.

Monty and Theresa

Monty and Theresa

Throughout the ordeal of the interruptions, Elizabeth Taylor kept her composure, but she did not eat her dinner, and she left the event as soon as she reasonably could.  Theresa apologized for the bad behavior of her peers, and Elizabeth hugged her for the sincerity of it in parting.

Taylor and Warner alongside the Carl Vinson ship.  Photo from Carl Vinson Public Affairs

Taylor and Warner alongside the Carl Vinson ship. Photo from Carl Vinson Public Affairs

As a witness to the outrageous conduct of celebrity fans, I wonder if fame is worth the abuse.  Elizabeth Taylor endured all and thus helped John Warner win the Virginia Senate seat in 1978. She had married him late in 1976 as her 6th husband, but they were divorced in 1982. The role of a senator’s wife, as many had predicted, was a miscasting of Elizabeth Taylor.  Then, too, how many Washington society dinner parties could she have endured with rude women leaning on her and spilling cigarette ashes into her hair?

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