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Nov-22-2007 05:14printcomments

Thanksgiving Day Oddities

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(SALEM, Ore.) - Here are a few strange stories from Thanksgivings in history. Each involves an event with a military connection. My most memorable Thanksgiving is recorded here, as is a story about the Thanksgiving Day 1942 Riot in Phoenix, Arizona, and something everyone needs to know about; the details behind Arlo Guthrie song "Alice's Restaurant" which was written in Thanksgiving Day, 1965.

A holiday should be just that, but as we all know you can never truly predict exactly what will happen on any day, holiday or otherwise. Add to the mix alcohol, tension, even the Vietnam War, and you have a holiday that many will remember but not necessarily for the good cheer.

Bad Vodka, who knew?

My first Thanksgiving away from home was spent with Marine Corps buddies in Riverside, California. We were four 18-year olds and a 19-year old. Each of us had all been in less than six months, privates and PFC's, and we were all spending our first holiday away from home. We were in the 3rd Marine Air Wing, stationed at an Air Base called El Toro in Orange County which is closed today.

I was the one with the wheels, so I had the task of tracking down the alcoholic entertainment for the evening, which wasn't the easiest thing to do at 18. It ended up being a bottle of cheap Popov Vodka from the local Von's market in Riverside.

We had turkey and some of the regular fare, the day started well. But that vodka was just not right, it wasn't sitting well with my stomach. I don't think I was the only one at that point feeling a little queasy either, and then the craziest announcement came on TV. The very, exact stuff we had purchased was being recalled. It was bad vodka!

The rest of that Thanksgiving in 1981 was spent talking to the porcelain God as we used to jokingly say. We were horribly sick and it made the homesickness surge. I asked a buddy who was there what they said about the recall, I don't remember the wording, and the only word recalled was "rancid" though we aren't sure. At any rate, it was just one more good reason why kids, even Marines, should steer clear from alcohol, it can be the biggest buzz kill in the world.

Phoenix's Thanksgiving Day Riot, 1942

On Thanksgiving 1942, an off-duty black soldier struck a black woman with a bottle following an argument in a Phoenix café. An MP attempted to arrest the soldier, but he resisted with a knife. When the MP shot and wounded the soldier, black servicemen protested. MPs soon rounded up about 150 black soldiers at random, most of whom had nothing to do with the incident, to transfer them to the nearby Papago Park Military installation.

Before the soldiers could be moved they became inflamed and broke ranks when a jeep full of armed blacks appeared. A shot was fired and the riot was underway. Soldiers disbursed as handguns, rifles, and high caliber automatic weapons furiously “snapped and barked.” A “hunt” for everyone involved in inciting the riot ensued.

Story continues below

All available Phoenix police officers joined MPs in apprehending suspects. Twenty-eight blocks were cordoned off and searched. Several black soldiers hid in the homes of friends. To “flush them out,” MPs mounted armored personnel carriers. One observer later recalled that “they’d roll up in front of these homes with the loudspeaker they had on these vehicles, they’d call on him to surrender. If he didn’t come out, they’d start potting the house with these fifty-caliber machine guns that just made a hole you could stick your fist through.” Three men died and eleven were wounded in the riot. Most of the 180 men arrested and jailed were released, but some were court-martialed and sent to military prison.

Sources: Bradford Luckingham, Minorities in Phoenix: A Profile of Mexican American, Chinese American, and African American Communities, 1860-1992. (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1994); Matthew C. Whitaker, Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005).

Alice's Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie

"Alice's Restaurant Massacree" (commonly referred to simply as "Alice's Restaurant") is one of singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie's most prominent works, a musical monologue based on a true story that began on Thanksgiving Day 1965, and which inspired a 1969 movie of the same name.

Arlo Guthrie's talk-song, a satirical, deadpan protest against the Vietnam War draft and widespread anti-hippie prejudice, recounts a true but comically exaggerated Thanksgiving adventure. "Alice" was restaurant-owner Alice M. Brock, who in 1964, using $2,000 supplied by her mother, bought a deconsecrated church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where Alice and her husband Ray would live. It was here rather than at the restaurant, which came later, where the song's Thanksgiving dinners were actually held.

On that Thanksgiving, November 25, 1965, the 18-year-old Guthrie and his friend Richard Robbins, 19, were arrested for illegally dumping some of Alice's garbage after discovering that the dump was closed for the holiday. Two days later they pleaded guilty in court before a blind judge, James E. Hannon; the song describes to ironic effect the arresting officer's frustration at the judge being unable to see the "27 8-by-10 color glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us". In the end, Guthrie and Robbins were fined $50 and told to pick up their garbage. The song goes on to describe Guthrie's being called up for the draft, and the surreal bureaucracy at the New York City induction center on Whitehall Street. The punchline of the story's denouement is that because of Guthrie's criminal record for littering, he is first sent to the Group W Bench (where convicts wait) then outright rejected as unfit for military service.

The final part of the song is where Arlo tells the audience that should they find themselves facing the draft they should walk into the military psychiatrist's office and sing, "Shrink, You can get anything you want, at Alice's restaurant," and walk out. Thus is born, "the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement, and all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar."

"Alice's Restaurant" is regularly played on Thanksgiving by many radio stations, especially in the New York City area. It is not often otherwise aired, due to its length. The original album rose to #17 on the Billboard chart.

Sources: to Alice's Restaurant, Guthrie Center, Reprise Album Discography Volume 3,
Feel free to add your own Thanksgiving Day holiday story in the comment section!

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