Shoe Biz Profile - February 2002


Originally Written by Jeanette Claas

In an Italian settlement located in South St. Louis, known as the HILL, I was born January 1, 1925, 12:10am. All my childhood years growing up was in this lovely Italian settlement. My mom was the HILL midwife, My dad was a tavern owner.

My greatest memories, though many, were growing up with people who are now known professionals. Yogi (Laudie) Berra, Joe Garagiola, Ben Pucci, and many other great athletes from the HILL. Ben was the first player drafted out of high school by the NFL. Ben was drafted by the Cleveland Browns, standing 6'7" and weighing 280 pounds.

My horseshoes began here. At a vacant lot next to our home, horseshoes were pitched. Yogi, then known as Laudie, and I were always partners and hard to beat. In those days, all grade schools participated in summer programs. Berra and I were the champs in horseshoes for many years. We also played in softball and soccer leagues at the summer playground and the Y.M.C.A. also winning in softball. Some of the softball games were played at Southwest High School, where the right field fence was 250' from home plate. Yogi, then 12 years old, hit one over this fence, onto Kingshighway Blvd. What a shot! Was never done before or after by a 12 year old.

The HILL was a very interesting place to live; never a dull moment. One summer morning when a few of us kids were pitching shoes, we heard this rapid gunfire and watched this big black Sedan roar down Macklin Avenue. After interviews with police, we found out they were members of the "Cookoo Gang" and had just rubbed out a member of the Denny Colbeck Gang. My mom came running out of the house to join us kids running to the car that was shot a couple of houses up. Mom, being a nurse and midwife, thought she could help but was too late. The man was shot-up pretty bad. Gangsters were rampant in those days. Beside St. Louis gangs, Buster Wortman's East St. Louis gang was going strong. Early one morning around 3:00am, there was a knock on the front door. My dad answered and in came two big boys wanting to talk to mom. "We want you to come with us now." My brother and I were sure scared when we seen one of them holding a gun. They said they were taking her and for my dad not to call the police and no one will be hurt. When mom was returned, we found out they were members of the Colbeck gang and one of their lady friends had to have a baby delivered. She was told, "You saw nothing, you know nothing." For this delivery, she was rewarded with $1,000. Wow!!! $1,000 during the Depression! Mom delivered 90% of the babies born on the HILL and received very little cash, but we sure ate well. Mostly salami, homemade bread, prischutto (Italian ham) and numerous other items. We always had a sign in the front yard, which read, "Armida Volo, Livatrice" (midwife). That's how the gang knew where to get a midwife.

As I stated earlier, times were tough in those depression years. Folks had no money to go to taverns so my dad went out of the tavern business into the alcohol business (making his own, that is). Many others also went into this business. Half the homes on the HILL had stills where alcohol was brewed. It was almost an everyday occurrence having one blow up or being raided by police. The Fire Department would be called and the contents of stills went down sewers. Want a cheap drunk? Just stand around while this was being done. Our still was under the front porch and vented through the roof to ward off alcohol smell. Us boys took turns stirring it up to keep it fermenting. When done fermenting, it was pumped next door through underground pipes where it was put into holding tanks to age. Then it went through another process of many feet of copper tubing where it was cooked and processed to come out 180 proof alcohol and then cut to 100 proof bonded whiskey. Then we would put corks and labels on the bottles of the finished products. One day, I accompanied my dad on one of his rounds to taverns lucky enough to still be in the business. He would put his suitcase on the bar with his assorted brands, and the bartender (usually the owner) would taste a little of each bottle. Case of this brand, case of that brand all from the same barrel. Business got so good, he had to increase the size of the still and its components. Then, besides bottles, you could buy alcohol uncut in five gallon cans.

One night on one of Dad's round delivering five gallon cans of alcohol, he stopped at the warehouse to pick up five 100 lb sacks of sugar used in the fermenting process. When he pulled into the customers's driveway, spotlights flashed on, FBI agents jumped on the hood of both sides of the car with Tommy guns and pistols, scaring the hell out of him. He asked them, "Who do you think I am, John Dillinger?" When they unloaded the car, the sacks of sugar came out first. One agent asked him a stupid question, "What are you doing with all this sugar?" He answered them, "We drink a lot of coffee." For this caper, he was sentenced to one year and one day in Leavenworth Prison in Kansas with no parole. After his release, we started a new life in St. Louis County. I was heart-broken to be taken away from my Hill friends.

On to Normandy High School I went, playing and lettering in baseball, football and soccer. A great year in school ball and American Legion Ball. I was scouted and received a contract with the St. Louis Browns. Our Legion team wins our division and is scheduled to meet Stockholm Legion Post for the MO State Championship. Guess who is playing for Stockholm Post, my good old buddy, Berra. After handshakes and hugs, we got on with the game. We lose a close game thanks to Berra's moon shot. So we say good-bye see you later.

The war is going strong. I enlist in the Navy on June 7, 1943, graduated on the 9th and leave for duty on the 15th. Stationed aboard a submarine tender for the next three years, we were the most hunted ship in the South Pacific, keeping our subs operating to help destroy the Japanese Navy. We belonged to Task Force 58 under the leadership and flagship of Admirl Bull Hulsey. At one time we had as many as 14 subs along side for supplies, torpedoes and repairs. Broadcasts by Tokyo Rose had us sunk many times. In Milne Bay, New Guniea, she stated we were left on our portside with no survivors. Then in Midway, she states we were going to be sunk on our way to Saipan. This one worried us because the Japs knew where we were going. About two hours out of Midway, with two destroyer escorts, we had general quarters sounded. Enemy subs. Before our destroyers' depth charge and sink the sub, they fire three torpedoes at our ship. Thanks to our zigzag procedure, two torpedoes missed our bow, but the third one hits our port side about 30' past the bow, only inches from where we had all our ammo and torpedoes stored. Our guardian angel must have been present. The torpedo hit solid and did not explode. Left a nice big dent in our hull a couple feet below the water line and no leaks. We were ordered back to Midway to check for damage. After A-OK, we are back on our way to Saipan. This time only about an hour out before our destroyers rendezvous with us, GQ is sounded. We man our stations. My station is trainer one of our bigger guns. Trainer makes the barrel of the gun go horizontal; the pointer makes it go vertical. Looking through our gun sights, in the black of night, we sight a long black object off our port side. The bridge orders our gun to fire, we have direct hits. By this time, our destroyer escorts arrive to search the target area. Destroyer reports to bridge, direct hits and to congratulate gun 4. Tell them we just sunk a whale. Back then, the Japs had a two-man sub that was about the length of a whale. Better ! to be sa fe than sorry. Their two man subs were as dangerous as regular subs. After the laughter was over, our Captain came down and congratulated our gun crew. Then our painter painted a whale on our gun turret.

During World War II, almost every home had a service flag in their window. It was a white satin cloth with blue or gold stars embroidered on it. One blue star for every member in the armed forces. We had three blue stars. One brother was in the Army, one in the Merchant Marines and myself in the Navy. Thank God, our stars were blue. Gold meant missing or killed in action. Our folks kept up the Christmas tree and all its trimmings we decorated in 1941 until we were all home in 1946. It was petrified after all those years.

We finally arrive in Saipan. The island is still under siege and we anchor out of the harbor for a few days until we get the "all clear signal." We anchor and start our work on subs. We have 14 subs tied along side. Now begins the fueling, ammo, torpedoes, water, food and many needed repairs. When you see some of the damage, you can't believe how they surfaced. We were always happy to see a broom tied on their conning tower, which meant "clean sweep." All torpedoes accounted for in sinking of Jap shipping and naval vessels. It's now Christmas Eve, 1944 in Saipan. G.Q. sounds. Here we are with 14 subs tied along side, and coming in are six Jap zero's. Subs are off and diving. We see the zero's in our gun sites. We are ordered not to fire. Three P38's encounter zero's. In a few minutes, four zero's are downed. One coming down in flames is heading towards our ship and crashes about 50' off our starboard side. The other zero's try to run for it, but our 38's down them before they even get out of our gun sites. All clear sounded. End of Christmas Eve in Saipan. No damage inflicted by zero's. Just noisy and bad shooting.

We are ordered to Guam. Before leaving Saipan, I, my boat crew, and top brass head for a cruiser anchored out beyond the harbor. On the return, the boat compass failed. You couldn't see your hand in front of your face. After what seemed like hours, not knowing where we were, our ship turned on its huge spotlights. This is a no-no! You can't even light a match at night. It can be seen for 11 miles. Thank God, no Jap subs or planes were around. We made it back to the ship okay. We were 10 miles out. To cut the story short, the cruiser we boarded was the USS Indianapolis. We finally were told after she was sunk who she was and that we delivered secret papers about the A-bomb. Small world!

Then it was off to Guam. The ship's crew is granted a few days R&R on shore. Where there was only one day when we are ordered back to our ship. Orders are to standby to ship out for the invasion of Japan. After getting sea worthy, our orders are rescinded and we go back to R&R.

Now the A-bomb is dropped, we are ordered back to our ship, invasion is canceled. War is over. We are ordered to proceed to Parl. After arriving in Pearl, our ship is awarded the "Presidential Citation" for meritorious service in the South Pacific. After a few days in Pearl, we hear a news broadcast the Japs are asking for an apoology from the u.s. for dropping the A-bomb. Can you believe this? After the cowardly sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

I have a good buddy in the crews quarters of the Battleship Arizona lying on the bottom of Pearl Harbor. We are moored in Pearl right across from the sunken Arizona. After colors every morning, we turn and salute the Arizona. "Rest in Peace."

Now after almost three years, it's homeward bound for the good ole U.S.A. and discharge six months later, 1946. After being home a few weeks, its back to baseball tryouts for the Browns. My arm and shoulder is injured from the war efforts. After working with the brown's baseball team, I don't survive the first cut. Now I have a tryout with the Yankees. Hitting is great, can't throw to bases from outfield. Don't survive the second cut. If they would have had a (DH) designated hitter in those days, I would have been on the same team with Berra. Before the cut from the Browns, the St. Louis Post Dispatch had a little write-up, Four professionals living within one block of each other, Garagiola, Berra, Pucci and volo.

Now a little humor, When Garagiola was signed by the Cardinals, Branch Rickey, then Cardinal's owner, told Berra, quote "If you intend on making a living playing baseball, you better find another line of work." Unquote! Now it's on to play semi-pro ball. After about five months, the best thing that ever happened to me began to unfold. I met my beautiful wife, Alice. After going together a couple of months, we are engaged and then onto marriage on May 3, 1947. We now have 55 wonderful years together. We have a daughter, a son, and 4 grandchildren.

I went to work for the St. Louis Post Dispatch in August, 1947 as a paper handler. Later Larry became foreman worked with a crew for 37 years. I started coaching sports at grade school level in 1954. In 1969, Lindenwood College went coed with 16 boyes enrolled. After interviews with the Lindenwood Committee, I'm hired to coach and to start an athletic program including soccer, baseball and basketball. I submit to the College, the Lindenwood Lions, black and gold for colors. After a few meetings with the Dean of Lindenwood, we agree on the name and colors I submitted to the College. The soccer program ends in November. I'm hired at Duchesne High School to coach Varsity soccer, which ends in March and back to Lindenwood to start baseball in April. In 1975, the St. Louis Football Cardinals are scheduled to start summer camp at Lindenwood. A new field is built for them and also used for our soccer programs. Don Coryell is head coach and after a few meetings with and Bidwell, I get to start as assistant special teams coach, 1976-1983. All these years of coaching ties up my weekends and made it impossible to compete in horseshoe tournaments; 15-years of grade school sports, 14-years with Lindenwood, including eight years with the Cardinals and four years with Duchesne. I retire from coaching and working at the Post Dispatch in 1987. Wasn't easy.

Editor's Note: Larry began pitching in horseshoe leagues at Ellisville as early as 1963 and pitching in tournaments at Baldwin and Dutzow. He ran into Joe Faron and Joe was trying to get a horseshoe league going in New Melle, so Larry transferred on to the New Melle scene in the last eighties. He pitched in his first State Tournament in 1990. At the State level, Larry has recorded two championship titles in his class and five 2nd place titles. From the looks of Larry's trophies, you can tell he is indeed a competitor on the courts with at least 45 trophies showing a 1st place winner. Larry has competed in St. Louis Senior Olympics and placed in tweleve of those events. He had raised his average up to 49.5% and then his knees started giving out on him. After several knee replacements, Larry is back on the courts and the average is starting to come back. His present average is 41.8%. Larry is an active member of the NMHC and has served on many committees taht add up to a many hours of volunteer work. I remember when I first met Larry in the early, early nineties when Joe Faron invited myself and Mary Ann Ell to come to a club meeting, which at that time consisted of men only. We could sorta tell we were outnumbered. I could tell right away that Larry wasn't too happy about the coming situation. We have always teased him, "Larry wants to play with the girls, he just doesn't want to pitch with them." Well, times have changed and we have been accepted. Through the years of pitching together we have reached an understanding. We get along fine, just as long as he wins! Larry is a delight. What would NMHC do without him? Larry enjoys the camaraderie he shares with his fellow horseshoe pitchers and that includes the women. He looks forward to many more years of pitching.

Larry: One more thought... When I was playing semi-pro ball, we were playing a team from the Creve Coeur area. One time at bat, I hit a 450' homer off a pitcher named "Faron." I didn't know his first name back then. Does this name ring a bell around the state of Missouri???