Monday, June 5, 1944, 10:40 pm, England’s southern coast:
Thirty-three-year-old Red Dickson was lying in his bunk, just thinking…and wondering…and reminiscing. For there was nothing else to do.
“It has been about a month since we got here” he thought. “I don’t mind fighting, but the waiting is killing me! It’s terrifying! I’m just a kid from lil’ ole Pensacola. I have never done anything like this before – whatever ‘this’ is.”
The weather in England was always raining. At first, he thought that it would rain some and then slack off – like it does back home. Then everything would dry out. But it didn’t. It kept raining and kept raining. It wouldn’t stop. The guys could usually find a football or a baseball and gloves and Americanize the place! But not here. The only ones comfortable here were ducks!
Red wondered what he was going to face in a few hours, days, weeks, months – whatever. Would it be easy? Would he be hurt? Shot? Killed? He also wondered how his family back home in Pensacola was doing? Were they worried? He hoped not, but, at the same time, he hoped so. He wondered how his comrades at the Pensacola Police Department were doing? He had only been an officer five months when he was caught up in the draft. Just over a year ago, on January 7, 1943, he and Officer Earl Doll left home together on the train. Red thought that he at least had a friend he would be with. But that only lasted until they arrived at Camp Blanding, where they were split up. They were sent to different brigades, divisions, armies, regiments – whatever. Since then, there have been only strangers around – none have been familiar. Yes, you could say he was homesick.
As he thought about his short time with the police department before he was drafted, he realized something…he was made for the job. Even before he was a police officer, he spent time as the county building superintendent and a jailor for Sheriff Gandy. It prepared him for his job as a policeman. He couldn’t wait, he thought, to get back to that position…if he makes it.
“Dickson, didn’t you hear me? Let’s go! The colonel wants us, now! This might be it.”
“Coming, Sarge.” Red jumped up and headed for the door. Yes, he was excited. But felt his heart drop into his stomach. Here we go, he thought to himself.
* * *
Tuesday, June 6, 1944, 7:05 am, Normandy, France:
So, this is what scared to death feels like! Red couldn’t make up his mind if he was tired, or nervous, or excited, or hungry, or…nothing. Parts of him felt all of those emotions – at the same time. But he also felt – numb. He was still in the boat, but he was headed for the shoreline, fast. As he got closer, a new sound came to his ears – gunshots. He thought to himself, “Those are gunshots. They’re shooting at us!”
Well, at least he could answer how he felt – total fear. But he didn’t have time to fear. As soon as that gate came down, he had to move!
As he was considering it, the boat came to a jarring halt – it struck land. Simultaneously, the gate let down, and the bullets began raining in. Red jumped to the right as soon as possible. While he wasn’t hit by gunfire, he went into the water – five feet in! He was weighted down with about 80 pounds of gear. Getting to shore among the hail of bullets was bad enough but wading through water carrying all that gear made it harder. Red couldn’t see how he was going to get through the day alive.
As much as a man can duck and cover in five feet of water, Red did. As he got closer, he began running to a nearby small sand dune on the shore. He felt his pack get struck under one of the beach obstacles, but he made it, unscathed. He couldn’t believe it! Here he was at last, in relative safety. Or as safe as a person can be in the middle of a war. The order was given to find cover, hold in place and they would be told what to do. So, he could stay put for now. Others were moving to cover, and three other American soldiers came running toward him. They dove in behind him. Suddenly his hiding place was very crowded!
“Move over, Buddy, will ya?” said the guy next to him. “I don’t want to get shot, either, you know.”
Red scooted to his left as far as he could. Then he…stopped. He froze, slowly looking at the guy next to him, who had his head down.
“Earl?” he asked looking at the guy’s helmet. He was sure he recognized that voice. The helmet lifted slowly. He saw in front of him, in the midst of gunfire, a flash from his past life, a piece of Pensacola.
“Red! Wow, you pick the worst times to meet up with your buddy, you know!”
There wasn’t time for an old southern hug. A handshake had to do.
Over the next fifteen minutes, the time flew by. There was a lot of catching up to do. An order was given to reposition, which they did, and continued their conversation.
“I wonder how Chief O’Connell is doing?” Red asked.
“I guarantee that he is two things: short-handed from men in the war, and cool as a cucumber” Earl answered. “He’s always got it under control. He will handle things.”
Soon, the two friends were again split up. Earl’s group went one way and Red’s went another.
* * *
Monday, October 1, 1945, 1025 am, Pensacola, Florida
Like an announcer proclaiming a mighty victory, the train whistle blew through the autumn air, letting everyone know of its arrival with its special cargo!
As the train rolled into town, like a little boy, Earl Doll had his head hanging out the window, taking in every sight. It was good to finally be home! He wasn’t the only one, though. Young soldiers from Pensacola were catching everything that passed by the windows. Almost every window in the train was occupied with an excited face!
“Smell that?” Earl said to no one in particular. “Pine trees! I never thought I would miss those pines, but it is good to see and to smell them again!”
“And the humidity! As uncomfortable as it is…it’s home!”
Earl had already looked among the passengers, but he looked again, hoping to find his old buddy Red. He finally accepted that Red wasn’t on the train. He didn’t want to think about what might have happened to him.
“No…he will come home” Earl said out loud to himself. “Who knows, maybe he’s already here.”
When the train reached the station, hoards of people were waiting to greet their loved ones, and to see the heroes coming home.
Earl was no different. Dressed in his uniform and carrying his duffle bag, he stepped off onto the ever-familiar Pensacola ground. He stopped for just a moment to take it in. It felt good! Seconds later, he was swarmed by friends and family. It was a great homecoming. Earl kept trying to look over the crowd of people. He was looking for the special lady that had been in his mind since he left. When he finally saw Emma, his wife, she had already spotted him. She looked like a dream! He had been playing this moment in his head for the last few years. Now it was a reality. He gave her a kiss and told her he was glad he was home. He looked around, but still no Red Dickson. Had he been killed that day in Normandy! Earl hoped not. Still, he couldn’t be sure.
Earl was taken by Emma and friends for a homecoming celebration. They headed west on Garden Street to his home on “I” Street – just like he remembered!
“Earl,” his wife said when the last friend finally left, “It’s so good to have you home! More than once, I was convinced I would never see you again.”
“I thought so too, more than once. Sometimes it’s hard to believe I’m actually here!”
“Just to let you know” Emma added, “I have already been contacted by Chief O’Connell. He wants to know when you are coming back. I told him that I wanted you to take some time first and relax. Is that okay?”
“Yes,” he answered. That is fine with me! I would like to get used to being back home, take some time and visit with the y’all and the rest of the family, and spend some time with my friends before I go back to work.”
“I like that” she said.
* * *
The next morning, the telephone rang.
“Hello?” Earl said.
“Earl? Will O’Connell. It is sure good to hear your voice again, Son! Glad you are back!”
“Yes Sir, it is!” Earl answered. “There were several times when I didn’t know if I would come back. It seemed like eternity. But here I am, and I am glad!”
“Good! Well, listen. We have had a real shortage of officers while y’all were off defending our freedom. We have had our own little war here. We actually were down 60% of our force – SIXTY PERCENT! Thirty men from the department left to fight in the war. And those of us who were there were old guys. We are sure glad to see you boys home. I hope you are still interested in working for the Police Department…”
“Yes Sir, I am!” Earl answered assuredly. “Do you need me today?”
“I needed you two years ago!” the chief said. “When do you feel like coming back. I understand if you want to take a little time…”
“That sounds great, Chief. I would like to take a few days, if you don’t think it will put you in a bind.”
“Naw, that’s okay. We’ve been working in a bind for a while now. We can do with another few days. Let’s see…how about the sixteenth? That gives you a couple of weeks. You can come back on the evening shift. How does that sound?”
“That sounds great. I’m looking forward to it” said Earl.
“Okay, See you then!” The chief hung up.
* * *
Tuesday, October 16, 1945, 3:30 pm, Police Headquarters, 407 S. Jefferson St.
Sgt. Fillingim was working at the desk as usual. What had begun as a quiet day was beginning to pick up. By the afternoon, the place was buzzing with officers, visitors, complainants and prisoners. Fillingim could have done with two more arms!
As Earl walked through the front door and approached the desk, the crabby and busy desk sergeant, without looking up, began in a less-than-enthusiastic manner.
“Yeah, can I help you?”
“Reporting for work, Sarge!”
“Huh?” said Fillingim as he looked up. It took him a minute, but finally he said “Doll! Good to see you!” As soon as he realized that he was actually smiling, he put his salty face back on and said “Well, it’s about time. Now get in here and get to work!”
Earl Doll smiled to himself. It was good to be back.
* * *
December 25, 1945, 6:30 pm, Baylen and Zarragossa Street, Pensacola, Florida
Walking a beat felt right to Earl Doll. He felt at home. This is what he was supposed to be doing. Since he came back, Captain Hall wanted Earl to work the red-light district as much as possible. He felt that Earl could handle drunk soldiers and sailors because of his time in the military. And tonight – Christmas night, things were pretty quiet. Of course, there had been some family arguments that he was called to – always happens at Christmas. But the weather was in the mid 40s and clear. Overall, it was a good night.
As Earl was walking and reminiscing, he heard an automobile driving up behind him on Zarragossa Street. When he turned to look, he saw it was Captain Hall.
“Doll, get in. We have to go to the station. You’ve got a visitor at Headquarters.”
“Me?” Earl said without thought. “But who…?”
“Yes, you! Let’s go!”
They drove the two blocks to the station where Captain Hall stopped and let Earl out, then drove away. Warily, Earl went up the stairs and though the front door. When he entered the lobby, he found it to be full and loud! The lobby of Police Headquarters is usually full and loud, but this was different. The officers seemed to be talkative and excited, like a party! Almost immediately, an officer noticed Earl coming through the door.
“Hey guys, he’s here! Earl’s here!” The crowd parted and Earl got a glimpse of the center of the celebration – Red Dickson!
As southern men do, the two comrades shook hands and gave each other a brief hug. Suddenly Earl realized that his relationship with Red was different than it had been when they left Pensacola. These two men had been in combat together. It was more than a friendship – they had faced death together. They both would encounter this camaraderie many more times with fellow officers as they gathered years under their belts at the police department.
After the homecoming, the men found themselves spending more time together. Within a couple of years, they both had been reassigned to the traffic unit, driving three-wheeler downtown. They loved it!
Both men continued working at the police department and decided to make careers out of the position. Red retired as a sergeant in 1967 and Earl, a captain, followed with his retirement a year later. Earl and his wife lived at 204 N. “I” Street.
On May 31, 1972, Captain Earl Doll passed away at the hospital. His funeral was held on June 2 at the Waters and Hibbert Funeral home located at Spring and Gregory Streets. He was buried with full military honors at St. John’s Cemetery, ½ block from his house. Members of the police department, along with family and friends, acted as pall bearers.
After his old comrade’s passing, Red lived another 18 years. At age 79, he died on March 6, 1990. His funeral took place on Friday, March 9 at Harper-Morris Chapel. The burial took place at Barrrancas National Cemetery with members of the Pensacola Police Department serving as pall bearers.
Long-time friends and officers…Comrades.