Bill Smoot


Photo: Bill tending to his San Augustine grass and flowerbeds. 08/09/2003



My draft board was in Pecos, TX. I had graduated from high school in Monahans, TX, about 35 miles east of Pecos. I left Texas in 1954 and moved to Norwalk, CA, where my folks lived. I worked part-time and attended Long Beach State Teacher's College part-time. In May of 1956 I received my "greetings" from Uncle Sam. Went through basic training in Ft. Lewis, WA. We were the first group of soldiers to use Ft. Lewis since WW II. I scrubbed all the coal soot I ever want to see again. Left Washington in fall of '54 and was reassigned to attend high-speed radio/teletype school in Ft. Gordon, GA. About eight of us graduated three weeks early and we were given a variety of assignments. Originally, I was on orders to be posted on Eniwetok Atoll, where the mock fleet had been set up after WW II and was used to test more atomic devices. The assignment was to be stationed on a high hill on the island where a high-speed radio net served as a relay station for Japan to US military communications. I don't know how I dodged that bullet, but having rations and supplies air-dropped wasn't something I was looking forward to. Two of our guys went to a US Embassy location in a German city that I have long since forgotten. That would have been good duty. But, I was fortunate enough to draw duty in the Commo Section of RCRC. If I remember correctly, the senior NCO over the commo section was SFC Walker. Originally, I worked the downrange switchboard all night with a black guy whose name I have also forgotten. Later, we set up a radio shack adjacent to the switchboard building. The major function I was supposed to fill was to serve as RCRC/Ft. Bliss communications if and when the landlines were out of service. I do not ever remember sending either a Morse code message or a teletype message in place of using the landlines to Bliss.

The last six or eight months at RCRC I had a large wooden building sort of up the hill from the RCRC Hdqs. I had three or four units of communication at that location. The New Mexico MARS net (Military Affiliated Radio System) furnished brand new equipment with the only obligation I had was to check in every Friday when the NM MARS group came on the air. In another corner of the room I had a military receiver/transmitter that again was to serve as emergency communication to Ft. Bliss in the event landlines went down. In another corner of the building I had a ground to air radio setup that allowed communications with the occasional L-19 that came to RCRC. Seems like there was a fourth system, but old timers has blotted out a lot of those memories.

I can truly say that I enjoyed my assignment at RCRC from December of '56 to May of '58, when I was discharged. Didn't stand a single inspection in all of that time. Never wore a Class A uniform. Had a ball exploring the caves close to the Malpais where the old rancher fixed a pot of slumgullion and baked sourdough biscuits for four of us one weekend. He was as lonesome for company as we were excited about doing some cave exploring. I certainly do not remember all of the guys who were there in '57-'58, but I buddied around with Ray Rutherford, Raven Hensley, John Economou and others that I simply cannot recall their names. We spent a lot of time at the Cactus, drinking beer and trying to convince Raven (who we called "Tennessee") that he really couldn't whip everyone in the place. There was another guy there who had served a hitch in the Navy as a Morse code operator. He could literally burn up a Morse code key. He was a good-looking guy who danced a lot with Raye at the Cactus. And there are some stories that I will not repeat, because I don't know when the statute of limitation runs out on some of the escapades we were a part of. I remember someone putting a snake in Frenchie's bed. He had worked all night and everyone was hanging around waiting for him to slip his long lanky body between the sheets, where someone had placed a big old nonpoisonous snake. I vividly remember when his feet hit the snake and he looked under the cover and said: "Aw, give me a break". Didn't scare him at all.

I was mustered out of the Army at Ft. Bliss on May 22nd in 1958. I headed back to west Texas, after staying an extra day to attend a Johnny Cash appearance in El Paso. I went back to Texas Tech in Lubbock and finished my BS Degree in government and history and started teaching in Odessa, TX in 1960. I married in 1963 and attended graduate school at Texas Tech and earned my secondary principal's certification. Stayed in Odessa until summer of 1966 and decided if they weren't going to discover my talent and hire me as an assistant principal, then I would go to the University of Texas at Austin and work on a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction, with minor in history. Graduated from UT Austin in the summer of 1968 and decided to teach at the University level. Moved to Fayetteville, AR, in 1968 and taught at the University of Arkansas. At that time I could back a winner in the Southwest Conference nearly half the time. I had attended Texas and Texas Tech, married a Baylor girl who did her Master's at Texas and had taught at Arkansas.

To be very honest with you, I was bored stiff in the University environment. Most of the professors taught their three or four classes in the mornings and had their little "ranches" where they played farmer/cowboy in the afternoons. I always said that colleges and universities needed a PTA to serve as immediate feedback on how things were going instructionally at the higher education level. So, I accepted a job as director of secondary education in Austin Public schools in the summer of 1973. Talk about "shock", I had nine high schools and eleven junior highs in a large urban school district that was going through the first stages of desegregation. I wasn't bored anymore. My job turned out to be a major effort to "keep half of the canaries in the air at all times", so the half-ton of canaries roosting in the half ton truck wouldn't turn it over. That is an old joke, but it described my job very accurately.

In 1977, I resigned the central office position and became principal of the smallest of the nine high schools and for the next eleven years I had a ball in a high school that was "inner city Austin". I left Austin in July of 1988 and became principal of Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler, TX. Tyler is about 85 miles east of Dallas, just off Interstate 20. I retired in January of 1996, sold textbooks for about two years and since then have done just about as I pleased.

I have three boys, ages 38, 34 and 32 and the good Lord blessed me with a daughter in 1978 when we were in Austin. Went through a divorce in spring of 2000 when my wife of nearly 38 years announced she wanted to pursue an alternative life style. That will cause you to check your hole card two or three times, but time has a way of healing most things. I kept the house and enjoy 3/4 of an acre of San Augustine and beautiful azaleas. Have a large shop where I don't spend as much time as I would like to. Seems like the computer has opened the world of genealogy to me. I subscribe to a service of that allows me to search every Federal Census from 1790 to the latest release of the 1930 US Census.

If any of you ever get close to Tyler, I have a big old house, the latchstring hangs on the outside and the coffeepot is always on.

Warmest personal regards to all you desert rats of RCRC.

Bill Smoot