Monroe Bryant, 1901-1953, Would-be Soldier

First of two three parts

I’ve written in the past about my great-uncle, Monroe Bryant, born in Rockport, Texas, in 1901.  Monroe was an alcoholic drifter, who traveled around the United States, taking odd jobs here and there, occasionally returning to Rockport with tales of his adventures.  One day, my father asked, almost rhetorically, “I wonder whatever happened to Monroe?”

I, of course, had to look into Monroe’s fate.  I was surprised to discover that he had died here in Sacramento County and is buried not for from where I live.  In a  2006 post called “Messy Memorial,” I describe my rather naive trip to view his grave.

I ended that post with a statement  that we would get a headstone for Monroe’s unmarked grave. My first thought was that Monroe probably had served in one of the World Wars and would be eligible for a free headstone from the VA.  My father was skeptical about that theory, and with good reason.

Monroe Bryant was, to say the least, an unlikely candidate for military service, even in a general mobilization.  In addition to his alcoholism, he was a petty criminal.   In 1931, he narrowly escaped death by shotgun when he was caught apparently breaking into a neighbor’s house.  Laredo Times, February 26, 1931, p.1, col. 8, “Negro Takes Shot at Another Black.”

In 1938, Monroe was sent to the county jail in Harlingen, Texas, upon his failure to pay a fine after his conviction on two charges of “swindling.” The Brownsville Herald, September 30, 1938, p.1, col. 2, “Two Are Fined.”  (Other front page headlines in the paper that day were “Czechs Bow to Will of Powers” and “Hitler Realizes Dream of Former German Kaiser.”)

Monroe was well known to the Texas judiciary.  In sentencing Monroe for gamblinfg with an associate called Willie “Four-Dice” Henry, a San Antonio judge noted that he, the judge, frequently had sampled Monroe’s cooking in Rockport and that Monroe could have had a good career as a cook and fishing guide. San Antonio Light, p. 7-A, col. 5, “Cooks his Goose.” (The Light said the judge pronounced sentence “remorsefully.”)

But what really affected Monroe’s ability to serve in the military arose out of his attempt to enlist voluntarily during World War I.  According to reports obtained from the FBI, on March 25, 1917, Monroe Bryant went to the Federal Building in in downtown Corpus Christi, Texas, intending to enlist in the Navy.   The recruiting officer summarily rejected him for reasons not described in the reports.  The recruiter then left the office for a moment while Monroe was still present. Monroe took the opportunity to relieve the recruiter of six dollars cash, which had been left in a pair of pants hanging in the office.  Monroe then left.

Later in the day, Monroe apparently figuired that if the Navy wouldn’t have hime, perhaaps the Army would. So he wengt to see the Army recruiter.   The Army recruiting offce was in the same building, and indeed, the same floror,  as the Navy recruiter.  Monroe was spoptted and arrested by a deputy U.S. Marshal.  Monroe eventually pled guilty to theft and spent sixty days in the Nueces County jail.

As I continued to research Monroe Bryant’s background, I discovered a bizarre situation in which he seemed to have been two places at the same time and a possible link to a most shameful episode in American history.

Tomorrow: A mystery resolved; an ugly wound exposed.

Craig


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