Uncle Smoke's Story- Hubert B. Harmon

August 9, 2015

 

I was born Hubert B. Harmon on August 31, 1922 in Branch County, Michigan. My parents, Henry and Pearl, sent me to St. Charles School in Coldwater, Michigan.

 

I was the middle son of three boys and one girl. During the height of the Great Depression, I left home to ease the stress of feeding four kids. I was sixteen years old as I hopped freight trains south through Missouri, to Texas and eventually on to California.

 

The family called me "Smokey" because I started smoking when I was eight years old and didn't stop until I got cancer in my 70s. A hobo friend of mine called me "Down the Road Doc" and the moniker stuck for the rest of my life.

I spent two years working as a "hoe boy" a term later shortened to "hobo" to feed myself on my journey west. One of my "hoe boy" jobs paid three dollars a week. Come Friday, the farmer tried to cheat me out of my money and told me to hit the road. I hid in the woods and waited until his family left for town on Saturday morning. I stole three chickens out of the hen house and sold them on the road to recoup the three dollars the farmer owed me.

 

I traveled on to Texas where I arrived starving, my clothes in rags and my shoe soles flapping and tied to my feet with string. I went to the undertaker and got outfitted with new duds. I left town in a new suit, shoes, and bowler hat and looking like a million bucks. I was still starving, but I looked good.

 

I eventually arrived in California and worked for North American Aviation in Southern California. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I tried to enlist but my employer had classified my position as essential to the war effort and would not release me to go to war.

 

So, I showed up to work everyday dressed in a suit and tie and sat on a stool and refused to work. After two weeks they agreed to release me if I'd train two other men to do my job before I left. My second day at boot camp I questioned my sanity for making such a choice.

 

I enlisted in the United States Navy, and I served in an amphibious unit in the Pacific Theater. I served honorably and with courage in the battles of Guadalcanal and Okinawa. My most memorable war experience was when I tried to pull the dead man out of his grave in the middle of a dark night on Guadalcanal.

 

I was pulling guard duty on a night dark as coal, and I was just a scared kid. You couldn't see your hand in front of your face. As I walked back and forth on the perimeter, I tripped each time I passed a certain place. I knew I couldn't be tripping all night because it was distracting me from listening for any approaching enemy.

 

So, finally I put down my rifle and tried to pull whatever I was tripping on out of the ground so I could move it out of the way. It was too dark to see what I was doing. I finally struck a match and saw that I was pulling on a man's foot. His unit had buried him in such a hurry as they retreated they'd left his feet sticking out of the ground. I'm not pulling your leg either. I was pulling his leg though.

 

After fighting in the battle of Guadalcanal, my unit moved on to the invasion of Okinawa on Easter Sunday, 1945. After fighting in the bloodiest battle of the Pacific and after the Japanese surrendered, my buddy and I cleared tunnels and caves where the Japanese enemy hid from the G.I.s. It was dangerous duty.

 

Along with enemy forces, we found Japanese-Americans who had been stranded on Okinawa while visiting relatives when the war broke out. They couldn't get back to the U.S. when the war started and hid in the caves for protection from the occupying Japanese forces.

 

In one cave, my navy partner and I found a young Japanese-American woman. My buddy fell in love with her. She had destroyed her passport to hide her American identity, and it took two years to eventually get her pack to Los Angeles where I was best man at their wedding.

 

As owner of Doc Manhattan Bar and Grill, I met and married a beautiful young stewardess, Joyce and had twin boys, Michael and Paul. Later we had another son, Tim. I owned Clingan's Junction Restaurant in Squaw Valley and retired to the foothills of Kings Canyon.

 

When I was 75 years old, I put a credit card in my shoe and jumped a freight train out of the Fresno rail yard. I took one last trip to Britt, Iowa, the home of the National Hobo Convention. When a brakeman found me in a boxcar, he took me to the engine, and I rode up front with him and the engineer the rest of the way. It was the first time in all my train trips I saw the scenery from the front instead of from the side.

 

I was honored to be able to attend the dedication of the WWII Memorial in Washington, DC during the summer of 2004 with my niece, Deborah, her husband and my grandniece. During the summer of 2005, illness intruded. I could no longer hit the road so they came to me. Their visit rallied my spirit and and I told jokes told through labored breath and with that old twinkle in my eye. I was suffering from congestive heart failure.

 

My M1 Garrand rifle, the one I carried during the war, stood in the corner of my living room as I relieved many stories with friends and family those last days. My poetry was inspired by my "hobo" days, my military service and my satirical view of life. Mixing wit and humor, I became a masterful poet and enjoyed regaling friends and family. I was published in several magazines and newspapers. They especially liked to print my poems that pointed out the absurdity of political figures.

 

I have no doubt the next generation will tell my jokes and stories. I am the family legend. Legends don't die. They're passed down by word of mouth and tradition. By any name, "Doc", "H.B.", "Unkie" or Uncle Smoke, my legend lives in those who loved me.

 

LIFE IS LIKE A POKER GAMEYOU PLAY IT LIKE A MANYOU PLAY TI HAND THAT YOU WERE DEALTAN DO TI BEST YOU CAN

MY LIFE IS SLOWLY WINDING DOWNI'LL SOON CASH IN MY CHIPSWITH NOTHING LEFT BUT MEMORIESOF ALL LIFES WANDERING TRIPS

 

I'VE BEEN MOST EVERY PLACE A MAN CAN GOSEEN MOST EVERYTHING A MAN CAN SEEI'VE RIDDIN EVERY RAILROAD LINEFROM TI B&O TO TI SANTA FE

 

TI DAY OF RECKONING IS DRAWING NEART'WILL BE NO MORE RIDING TI RAILSOR SITTIN AROUND A JUNGLE FIREOR SLEEPING IN SMALL TOWN JAILS

 

BUT AFTER ALL WHAT IS LIFEAS WE LIVE IT DAY BY DAYIT'S MADE UP OF DEEDS YOU DOAN THOSE YOU MEET ALONG TI WAY

 

LIFE IS MADE UP OF MEMORIESTHINK ABOUT THAT MY FRIENDTHAT'S TI ONLY THING YOU'LL TAKE WITH YOUWIN YOUR LIFE COMES TO AN END.

 

H.B. "Doc" Harmon died on August 26, 2005 just a few days short of his 83rd birthday.

 

Revised and written in the first person by Rachel B. Frauenholz caretaker of Doc Harmon during his last few months of life.

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