I spent some time in Philadelphia helping train reservists for the Fourth Marine Corps District back in the day. It was good duty, with a lot more time for partying than I was used to.
We had a party one night. A few Marines, our girl friends and a few other friends. It was on the second floor of a row house in Philly. The place was somewhere near the University, in an area where lots of university students lived, and some lived on the first floor of that row house. The second floor was Joe and Riley's place. Joe was a full blooded Cherokee Indian from South Carolina, and about the toughest guy I ever saw to this day. He stood about 6'-4", and looked about four feet wide. I swear, his fingers were at least an inch wide across at the tips, the biggest hands I ever saw on any man. I once saw Joe hit a guy, a big guy, so hard he did a complete somersault and land several feet away. Joe told me one time if he ever got a clean hit on someone who didn't go down, he always took a walk around back of the guy to see what had him propped up.
I remember one time we got called out for ceremonial duty to a huge American Legion club somewhere in the western part of the city. We were the rifle and color guard for the funeral of a Marine killed someplace. It was volunteer duty and we did lots of those kinds of duties in Philly because we knew if the guy was Irish or Polish American, you could always count on a big party afterwards, a 'wake' they called it. The Irish and Polish Catholics were famous for that around Philly, and there were a lot of them in that region. This was one of those deals, and after the graveside ceremony we Marines were invited inside the club, taken to a couple of booths and asked what we wanted to drink. Whatever you asked for, they brought out a full fifth each and sat it in front of each man, and brought us delicious roast beef sandwiches on rye and pickles too. Beer flowed freely everywhere as well. There were maybe 200 to 300 people in this club at the time, with eight of us Marines in full dress blue uniforms camped,out in a couple booths against the wall.
It wasn't long after that when the party really got going. There were folks of all ages, including some children. Some younger folks got to dancing and raising hell on the dance floor. Joe was this big handsome guy, with his dark swarthy complexion, sardonic grin, and this big hooked beak nose like a fierce eagle's beak. The girls always swarmed him. So Joe's out there on the dance floor innocently boogying with this attractive girl when some guy sneaked up behind him with a full pitcher of beer and smashed it down on the back of his head. Turned out it was the girl's boyfriend who she was trying to make jealous and it had worked. Joe just looked sort of surprised, then turned around and clobbered the guy, knocking him unconscious.
At that the fight was on, as it usually was when Marines, booze, partying and a fight got all mixed up together. All the Marines piled out of the booths and started knocking hell out of anyone handy. In seconds it was a general melee, with the entire place in a brawl, women screaming, children running and crying and lots of folks running and falling down and some even joining in the fun punching each other. Chairs were thrown and the adrenalin was flowing everywhere so hard it made your ears pop. In the midst of all this, this short, chubby Irish looking guy ran up behind Joe and tried to pin his arms from behind. It looked almost like Joe was peeling off his undershirt when he reached over his head behind him and grabbed the guy by the scruff of his neck. I remember seeing that poor guy flipping through the air, even though I had some guy by the throat while I was pounding his head myself at the time. I bet that poor guy flipped at least three somersaults before landing flat on his back screaming and with the ceiling tiles crashing down all around him.
The club was soon pretty well cleaned out with people scrambling out all the exits running for their lives and screaming. That left just us Marines, one chubby Irish-looking guy sobbing on the floor and a few tentative legionnaires in their cute little caps. Turned out the poor guy Joe flipped was the visiting Congressman from that district and we Marines were all in hot water indeed. To this day I still think that damned Congressman was one complete and utter damned fool for believing he could make himself the hero by stopping that big, bad-assed Marine. On the other hand, aren't most Congressmen kind of narcissistic and stupid that way? Anyway, the rescue squad came and collected the Congressman while we Marines all left as quietly as possible. We all had to face the music the next day, but that's another story entirely.
Joe was later killed in Vietnam - in a whorehouse I heard, which the Charlies blew up with everyone in it. They had mined the place earlier I think, knowing Americans favored the place. The VC had no qualms about blowing up the girls along with the Americans. I guess poor old Joe went out in his own style. We were great friends and I loved that guy. Still do too.
Riley was this fiery red-headed guy from Kentucky and tough as an oak burl. He was much smaller than Joe, but they were great friends too. He would fight a buzz saw at the drop of a hat, and you could count on him to win too. I stole Riley's girl one time and figured I'd have to fight the little bastard over that, but he just laughed and shrugged his shoulders about it. I later paid $600 for that girl to get an abortion and nobody knew who was the papa, as if it mattered. This was in the days before Rowe-Wade too, but abortions were available if you knew the right people. And $600 was a pile of money back in the mid-sixties too, let me tell you. You could buy a brand-new car back then for less than $2000. As I remember, I think Riley may have kicked in a couple hundred too - maybe he had a guilty conscience, and he was an upright guy in any case. I don't know whatever happened to Riley, and maybe he's still surviving somewhere today.
And boy, that gal was a good-looking thing too, a leggy blonde, and good German Catholic girl who lived to party. You have to remember that confession absolves a lot of sins for Catholics. I have no idea what the penance was for all her sins, but I'll bet it was pretty harsh for her. Maybe she had to sleep with the priest or something, who knows? She was about 22, and loved country music, which was pretty odd in Philly in those days. We used to love to rock out to 'Proud Mary' at the clubs. Go figure. Hell, she used to make a regular road trip with her girl friends from Philly to Memphis about every two months to take in the Grand Ol' Opry!
Actually, that's probably where she got knocked up, on one of those road trips, come to think of it. Ah, well.
But, back to Joe and Riley's party. It was a good party, and everyone got well boozed and loosened up. The HiFi was going, there was loud talking and laughing, you know the drill. People drifted in and out and no one paid much attention until Joe's girl came in and said something to him. She was this lovely nurse from one of the local hospitals. For some reason I was paying attention and I saw his face go dark, if a full-blooded Indian's face can get any darker. But I knew the look as I had seen it before. He jumped out of his chair and headed for the door. A couple other Marines saw it too and we followed him down the stairs. Turned out the students on the first floor were having their own party and many had been drifting up and down the stairs and crashing our party too, but no one seemed to mind or had said anything.
But one of them had said something pretty gross or insulting to Joe's girlfriend, and he really ought not to have done that, especially if he had known whose girlfriend he was messing with. There were about thirty people in the downstairs flat, all partying and laughing too. About two thirds of them were guys, and Joe charged right into the midst of them headed for this one guy who started back peddling to get away. But, he got trapped in the kitchen and Joe hit him so hard he went through the back window and fell to the ground. Those old row houses are built over a raised basement, so the distance from the window to the ground is something like ten feet. And, I don't know what it is, and I have always been puzzled by this phenomenon which has no logic to it at all. But, as soon as one your own guys smacks someone in another group, there is an instant explosion of action. Just ask anyone who has been in a brawl and they will tell you the same thing. It is involuntary and you will instantly knock hell out of the nearest guy in the other group yourself. I think it is the prime instigator and motivator of any so-called brawl.
It also shocks the hell out of anyone who it hasn't happened to before.
And that's exactly what happened that night. Four Marines descended like a tornado on twenty or so bewildered and terrified young students and beat the living hell out of them. The fight didn't last long because they were either huddled on the floor covering their heads in the foetal position or running for their lives out the door and down the street. It was both funny and sad at the same time. After this first burst of violence the four of us looked at each other a little chagrined and embarrassed, and then began helping the remaining poor terrified guys up from the floor, brushing them off and apologizing. After a bit we convinced them we meant no real harm, and before long we were all having drinks together. All except for Joe and the guy he knocked out through the window. Joe had to go hide out at my place for a few days and rescue squad came for his victim lying on the ground outside moaning. Joe had a way of providing more than his fair share of business for the rescue squad. But, like I said, I still loved the guy.
The police came, looked around for a little bit, asked for Joe, and since no one knew where he was they left. They had been through this kind of stuff before.