Dan Tabler was born in 1924 and moved to Centreville, MD when he was 10 years old. He graduated high school in 1941. Dan worked at Camp Lee during the entire war and got the chance to write columns and interview many celebrities of the time.
In his interview, Dan discusses his move to Centreville, his dad sending him to Citadel to go into the army , the history of Centerville, and his interest in public relations which resulted in his dad getting him into public relations working at HQ at Camp Lee. He also speaks about writing a news column for the Record Observer and writing a column called This Army Life. Lastly, he discusses starting his own column called Dots and Dashes by Dan at age 15 and the celebrities he interviewed while working at Camp Lee including Lena Horne.
Well, Camp Lee, Virginia was just east of Petersburg, was the largest Quartermaster camp in the country, 40,000 troops. And I was sent there as a recruit, but I got into the Public Relations Office in headquarters company and was able to do what I wanted to do. [laughs] I wanted to be a newspaper guy so they got me into public relations. We just wrote stories about the camp, about some of the men that showed up, the celebrities that used to come down and give USO shows for the troops. And I was there for two and a half years. In ’46, of course, the war ended, and I was mustered out. When was it? January of ’46. I found my discharge card. That was the end of it so I returned home and walked into the newspaper office, and the editor said, “There’s your desk, sit down.” So I had a job waiting for me.
Interaction with a German POW
My one time that I was walking down a company street, and the prisoner of war squad was digging a big long ditch, and one of the prisoners sneezed, and I said, “Gesundheit.” He turned around, he looked up at me and smiled and said, “Dankeschön!” I’m sure he didn’t think an American GI was going to speak German to him. Otherwise, I had nothing to do with the prisoner of war camp.
Meeting Lena Horne Again
But I just got to interview a couple of them including Lena Horne. She came to Baltimore years later, and I called over to the Morris Mechanic Theater where she was appearing. And I told them who I was and that I’d interviewed her back in 1940-something, and I’d like to see her again. They said, “Sure, come on over” so I took the family over, and she met us backstage, shook everybody’s hand, oh, I had pictures taken. I said, “You don’t remember me or the interview in Camp Lee.” “I remember Camp Lee, certainly do!” Yeah, that was quite exciting, but otherwise I say I don’t, can’t think of any other major celebrities, but I’m sure I had a chance to get to talk to quite a few of them. And we were always taking pictures of them, going around the camp talking to the soldiers and talking to the—of course, we had to talk, had to get a picture of them with the camp commander, General Horkin. General Horkin was our camp commander; he had to get into every picture with the celebrity. Well, yeah, you get to remember some of the things that happened.
Hitchhiking to Wilmington
My wife, she was in nurse’s training at Wilmington, and she entered the Army Nurse Corps as a cadet. I think they called them cadet nurses or something while she was still training to be an RN. So I guess we both served in the war. She didn’t stay in it. Soon as the war was over, they got out, and she continued her nurse’s training in Wilmington and is now an RN. She’s retired though, (laughs) after so many years.
(Interviewer:) Did she actually go over at any point?
(Dan:) No no, she didn’t go. They stayed right there at the hospital as far as I know. I don’t recall her ever going anywhere. I used to hitchhike from Camp Lee to Wilmington when I had—when I got leave to see her. And I don’t recall her ever being anywhere except right there.
(Interviewer:) How was that hike?
(Dan:) Oh, I hitchhiked. You stand out on the highway, the soldiers from Camp Lee would stand out there near the front gate and hitchhike. We could, you could usually get a good ride into Richmond, and then we’d get a ride to the edge of Richmond. Sometimes a police officer or a fireman would haul us out to the end of town, and we’d stand there and hitchhike. And you usually got rides all the way to Washington, not just 10 or 15 miles, they’d take us all the way to Washington. And then I’d hitchhike on from there up to Wilmington because I didn’t have a car, you know—much easier to hitchhike.
(Interviewer:) Sounds like a lot. How often did you do that?
(Dan:) Well, whenever I got a leave. Every two or three weeks, you’d get two or three days leave, and I’d get out there and put my thumb up and start hitchhiking to—well, I didn’t go to Wilmington all the time. I went home, came here to Centreville because Mother was still living. Once in a while Dad would pick me up and bring me. He had his car down at Camp Lee, but I didn’t have a car. But it was just hit and miss whenever your leave time came up.
One of my best friends in class, in school, and I came into the army toge—well, not really together, but about the same time. John Valiant, he was with me in school. They sent me to Camp Lee, they sent him to France, and he was killed eight days before his 20th birthday. Otherwise, I had a lot of friends go over and came, and were able to get back.
Moving to Centreville During the Depression
Yeah, Dad was a state bank examiner in West Virginia, and in the big crash in ’29, the banks all closed, and he didn’t have a job. A friend of his in Baltimore called him one day. I don’t know how long it was, but finally called him and said, “There’s a little bank on the Eastern Shore of Maryland that needs an executive officer to get open,” and that was in 1933. He came over here in Centreville and reopened the Centreville National Bank, and Mother and I followed him, I don’t know, a few months later. Yeah, so I guess—well I’m from West Virginia. I grew up here in Centreville and stayed.