The O'Neill "home place" was on state U.S. Route 23, about three miles west of Norton. In the spring of 1916, the Virginia Coal and Iron Company opened the No. 8 Josephine mine just a short distance from our house.
I took a job with them that spring, digging coal.

    Haunted by the tragic events of the past two years, I could no longer put my heart into coal mining. I dreaded the trip down into the mine every morning, and
prayed secretly but earnestly as the car jostled down through the dark tunnel that the good Lord would deliver me safely and in one piece to the topsoil again. At night, I often had nightmares in which I saw Cot Stuart and Elmer Boles and the others who had been killed, and I imagined myself and other friends being mangled by runaway cars or entombed by cave-ins.

    Then one day, after a few months in the Josephine mine, I decided that I had run my luck far enough. I was going to quit the coal mines, by God, even if the
only alternative to mining was starvation--as it damn near was, in that country. With that thought in mind I worked hard all afternoon, and did an especially thorough job of cleaning up my workplace at the end of my shift.

    It was customary in a single-shift mine for a man to leave his tools at his work station. But when the last car came by that day, I loaded my tools aboard.
    My friend Roger Farmer, ready to ride the same car
out, looked at me quizzically.

    "Where you going, Dave?"
    "I'm going to join the United States Navy, if they'll take me."
    "Wait just a minute," Roger said, "I'll go with you."

    Joining the Navy wasn't as easy in 1916 as it is today. There is a Navy recruiter in every town in the country nowadays, trying to sell every clown and punk
who'll listen on the idea of a Navy career.

    It didn't used to be like that, Bud.
    In July of 1916 I said goodbye to a lot of good friends in leaving home to join the Navy.
    Pop (to whom you'll notice that I may refer from time to time as "the Old Man" or "Cap'n Billy") took me to the train. I saw in his eye that day the first and only tear I ever saw him shed.
    Accompanying us to the station were my friends Frank Kelly (later killed at the Dorchester coal camp) , Bill Kelly (now retired, and a neighbor of mine in Florida), Carl Prader (who was to die of gunshot wounds after killing two men), and a host of other boys whose names I can't recall at this time. Roger Farmer, of course, went with me to the Naval Training Station at Norfolk.
    Let me point out here that Roger and I traveled the 460 miles to Norfolk at our own expense, on the chance that we would be accepted by the Navy once we got there. Roger was accepted right off, but I was three lonely weeks getting in.
    When I was finally accepted by the Navy, I was put aboard an old wooden ship that was out of commission but being used as general court martial brig. I was mess cook on her for three months and about one thousand hypodermic shots. There was no such thing as formal organized basic training in those days.

    After three months as mess cook at Norfolk, I was transferred to the battleship USS Connecticut in Philadelphia. Roger Farmer was assigned to her sister ship,
the USS Vermont. I was seldom to see him during the next few years.

    At the time of my transfer, I was given a 10-day furlough to go home. Let me tell you, I was really Norton's Boy About Town for those few days! That uniform
was really the stuff. War was brewing with Kaiser Bill, who was threatening to kick hell out of England and France, and feeling was running high.

    One day while I was home there was a flag-raising ceremony in Norton, at which time all eligible young men were registered for the draft. They called for all servicemen and ex-servicemen to please stand up--so there were Uncle Billy and me standing side by side along with several old vets, saluting
the Flag pretty proudly. Then they asked for all men in service to please fall in line. well, I was it--the only active serviceman present. And I'm sure that ninety per cent of the people there had never seen a sailor in uniform before !

    I'm sorry that so many of my friends who were present that day will never read this book. We are in our fourth war since that time, and many a fine Navy man has walked the streets of Norton since then.
    I was ever so proud to be an American fighting man--but oh, Lord! What was in store for me in those next four years!


    When I got off the train at Norton, home from the war, one of the first people I saw was my brother Sam.
    Sam had an automobile, so you know he was stepping high. Owning a car at that time was roughly equivalent to owning your own airplane today. Besides giving you mobility, it was one hell of a status symbol.
    The joy that brothers in a close-knit family feel on such a reunion is something that demands a spot of good whiskey, even when Prohibition is the law of the
land. It didn't take Sam and me long to find a bootlegger on Norton's South Side, and we had a pretty good "glow" on by the time we reached home that evening .

    As we neared the house, Sam came up with a suggestion for having a little fun with the Old Man:
    All of Wise County was worked up right at that time over a race for sheriff. The Republican candidate was a fellow named Johnson, from Big Stone Gap, and he was waging such a hell of an aggressive campaign that he was beginning to look like a good bet to unseat the Democratic incumbent. Knowing the extreme animosity the Old Man felt toward any and all Republicans, Sam suggested that I go up to the house and try to pass myself off as Johnson.
    I was an inch or two taller and twenty pounds heavier than when I had last seen the home folks in 1917. My voice had deepened considerably, and I was wearing a heavy mustache--so I was pretty sure I could pull off
the ruse.

    "How do you do, Mr. O'Neill, " I said, when Uncle Billy came to the door. "My name is Johnson, and I'm running for sheriff of Wise County."
    "There's not a damn thing I can do for you, sir," the Old Man said, very curtly.     "You'll find no votes in this house."
    "But you don't understand, Mr. O'Neill. I have a little proposition to make.
    "One of your boys got a little boisterous in town today, and got himself locked up. Now, if I know I can count on your and your wife's votes in the election that's coming up, I'll see to it that the boy is released and the charges against him dropped..."
    Old Man Billy's eyes narrowed.
    "You son of a bitch!" he said. "Do you aim to walk off this porch right now, or do you want me to blow you off?"
    Never taking his eyes off me, he yelled back into the house. "Katie, bring my pistol! "
    That cracked me up. Unable to keep a straight face any longer, I leaned over the porch rail and started laughing, and when Sam came out of hiding and joined in, Pop knew he'd been had.
    Only then did he recognize his grown-up son.
    We pulled the same trick on "Old Grandma"--my maternal grandmother, Clara Beverley Nickels. I introduced myself to her as an official of the Stonega Coal & Coke Company, a firm with which she had long been at odds in a property dispute.
    After getting the old lady all riled up over deeds and property lines, I dropped the act and told her to give her favorite grandson a welcome-home kiss. She refused.
    When old mountain people get a notion in their head, it's hard to reason with them. Granny wouldn't concede for several days that I was really Dave. She thought I was an impostor, sent there by those arch-villains, the Stonega Coal & Coke company.
"The face is not there, " she said. "And the voice is not there,
and I know it ain't our Dave! "

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