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Memorandum on the Regulation of Alcohol near Naval Training Stations



4 March 1918.      


Regarding Conditions


Newport, R. I.


Vallejo, Cal.

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     1.   For many months the evils resulting from the presence of intoxicating liquor at Newport and Vallejo has been brought repeatedly to the attention of the Department. By various means this liquor finds its way into the possession of enlisted men of the Navy and Marine Corps stationed respectively at the Training Station, Newport, and the Training Camp, Navy Yard, Mare Island. The moral and physical welfare of these men is thus being seriously endangered, and all persuasive efforts on the part of the Department toward a remedy of their own authority, have failed. A so-called “dry zone” of only a half mile in width surrounding the Training Station, Newport, and the Training Camp at Mare Island, would be ineffective inasmuch as, in both cases a considerable area in which the objectionable trade in liquor flourishes, would not be covered, particularly at Newport. It is, therefore, the strong conviction of responsible officers on the spot that the “dry zone” about these places should be the full five miles in width irrespective of the facts that an incorporated city or town lies within such distance. The Department strongly concurs in these views and considers that conditions amply justify the establishment of such zones, which is most earnestly recommended by all that are interested in the efficiency and welfare of the naval service. There are cited below some facts and quotations regarding the situation at the two places mentioned.

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     In the vicinity of the city of Newport are located the Naval Training Station, at which there are at present approximately 6,500 enlisted men, and the Naval Torpedo Station, at which, although there are only about 400 enlisted men, very large quantities of high explosives are stored, the safety of which is seriously jeopardized by the possibility of intoxicated men, either civilians or enlisted force, in its vicinity.

     Representations have been made by the authorities at the training station that, in spite of every effort on their part, and in spite of the detail of numerous naval patrols throughout the city, the liquor menace continues unabated and is constantly undermining the physical and moral welfare of the naval personnel. Practically all of the personnel at the training station are young lads, very recently enlisted, who were receiving their first training in the Navy, and who are of that impressionable age which makes it most necessary that under these new conditions for them, they should not be exposed to insidious temptations.

     On 26 December 1917 the following resolution was passed at a meeting of the Newport War Camp Community Service Committee on Training Camp Activities, the members of which were elected at a town meeting by citizens:

“WHEREAS the presence of liquor in Newport might be a source of disaster to vital Government interests, and WHEREAS the President of the United States has the authority to prohibit intoxicating liquor from being sold from within a specified distance of naval or military posts, be it RESOLVED by the Newport War Camp Community Service Committee on Training Camp Activities that the President of the United States be requested to direct that no liquor be sold in Newport, and that, through the control of the source of the supply of liquor by Internal Revenue Officials, no intoxicating liquor be allowed to be sent to Newport.”

A telegram of about the same affect was sent to the President1 on the same day by the ministers of Newport.

     On 17 December 1917 the Inspector of Ordnance in charge at the Torpedo Station,2 in recommending to the Department that some means be taken to remedy the liquor situation at Newport, and after reciting the very grave effects upon both the national interests and the city of Newport by a possible explosion which would far exceed in severity the recent one at Halifax, states as follows:

     “It is believed that every danger against explosion has been guarded against except one. This one is the presence of many saloons in the City of Newport. Liquor is brought to the torpedo station in spite of efforts to keep it out. Workmen have been discharged and men have been court martialed and punished. The Newport Saloons may pretend to refuse to sell liquor to the men in uniform. There are bottle gangs in the streets that do a thriving business. Men of the bottle gang are occasionally arrested and given a few weeks in jail, but this does not prevent nor deter others from selling liquor. x x x I believe that the ease with which liquor can be obtained by men in uniform is a source of constant and ever-present danger to the torpedo station, to the vital needs of the military situation, and actually inviting a disaster that would be inconceivably terrible. It would paralyze the torpedo station and the ships of the Navy yet to be commissioned. x x x I most urgently recommend that every means be taken by the Navy Department which are necessary to stamp out the selling of liquor in Newport, and to make it impossible for anyone to buy liquor in Newport.”

     Again on December 27th 1917 the same officer in again urging action by the Department on the same subject, states as follows:

     “The safety of this Station, and the tremendous quantities of torpedoes held here for issue imperatively demand that every factor of danger should be remove. At the present time no factor can be considered negligible. The presence of liquor in Newport is a source of danger,x x x

In forwarding this letter the Chief of Bureau of Ordnance3 under date of 29 December stated that he “Trusts that the saloons in Newport will be closed in view of the fact that they endanger the storage of explosives.”

     Under date of 19 February 1918 two reports have been received by the Commission on Training Camp Activities from their representatives at Newport, from which the following are quoted:

     “Bootlegging needs attention. Uniformed men experience little difficulty in obtaining all the liquor they want, judging from observations made and from admissions of the “boys”themselves. Five actual bootlegging instances were seen in which three saloons and one grovery-and-liquor store figured. x x x Liquor is still easily obtainable. Enough human derelicts can be found about the streets who will gladly run whiskey errands. The bootleggers enter the cafes, purchase the liquor, and deliver it to the uniformed men usually at some out of the way spot not far from the saloon. Six such cases were observed. x x x All sailors who were interviewed, admitted that booze is easily obtained/ x x x The liquor situation needs attention.”

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     In the vicinity of Vallejo, Cal. is the Navy Yard, Mare Island, including a large training camp. At present there are at Mare Island about 6,590 enlisted men, of which the great majority are young lads, recently enlisted, who are of the same character as those at Newport, previously described. There are also at the Navy Yard, Mare Island, usually quite a number of ships of the Navy, whose crews are likewise injuriously affected by surrounding conditions.

     A determined effort has been made, both by the Department and the Commandant at Mare Island,4 to cause an improvement in the liquor situation at Vallejo, by action of the local authorities, by the wishes of the Department have been stubbornly opposed by those interested in the continuation of this evil, and no remedial results of any significance have been realized.

     As early as last August this matter was a subject of grave consideration, and under date of 8 September 1917, in a letter reciting the wretched conditions with regard to liquor in Vallejo, the Commandant state as follows:

     “Pending the cleaning up of Vallejo and the establishment of improved conditions by the municipal authorities the Commandant is limiting liberty to the city to men who have families there or are residing in the city with commutation of quarters.”

     Again under date of 6 February 1918, the Commandant writes as follows:

     “Vallejo today has not a representative government. The Mayor and a Commissioner, who under the form of government may decide on all measures, are dominated by a German brewer who is reputed to practically control the saloon element of Vallejo, and practically (through a supine Mayor and Commissioner) the municipal government. I have hea<r>d on good authority, and, in fact, the State Law Enforceemnt League have formed an affidavit to that effect, that this German brewer in addition to controlling the saloons has had interest in houses of prostitution, and in fact that premises owned by him have been used for immoral purposes.

     That the conditions in Vallejo have improved, as claimed by the City government, is arrant nonsense. A night or two ago I arrested in the back room of a disreputable resort known as the “Liberty Inn”, in the very heart of Vallejo’s business section, an enlisted man who had a special Vallejo pass and was found drunk on these premises. This “Liberty Inn”, formerly the “Heidelberg Inn”, has changed its name but not its business. It is kept by a German who is a henchman of the aforesaid brewer, and I have had these premises under suspicion for a long time and have reported my observations to the Bureau of Investigation, federal Department of Justice, San Francisco.

     It would seem that the finding of drunken men in uniform in a saloon should be a sufficient warrant for closing the premises, but unfortunately this is not the case. In order that Vallejo might take action I should have to present an affidavit showing, first, that the man drank a liquid on the premises; secondly that this liquid was whiskey or some other intoxicant; and thirdly, that a consideration passed from the drinker to the bartender or proprietor. Short of this, conviction from the Vallejo point of view would be out of the question.

     The police of Vallejo are singularly inefficient and as far as I am aware, have never made an arrest for illicit liquor selling by saloon keepers, bootlegging or prostitution, although these evasions of the law are of frequent occurrence. Under the present administration, as I see it, the City is absolutely without hope.

     If I were called upon to give a brief description of Vallejo, a short business street with twenty-three saloons would admirably describe the place.

     It is galling to me as your representative to see the desires of the Navy Department flatly ignored. What the City needs is drastic intervention by the Federal authorities and the establishment of a “bone-dry” region within a radious of five miles.”

     Numerous telegrams dating from 14 February to 25 February 1918 have been received from pastors of churches and other representative citizens from various parts of California, protesting to the Department against the liquor situation at Vallejo and earnestly urging that the saloons there be closed in order to protect the boys from their locality, who are under training at Mare Island.

     A telegram dated 2 March 1918 has been received by the Commission on Training Camp Activities from its representative for California, Lieutenant French,5 stating in general terms the conditions now existing at Vallejo and recommending in substance that a five mile “dry zone” about Mare Island should be created immediately. The Director of the Law Enforcement Division, in a letter dated 4 March 1918, states as follows:

     “I desire at this time to add my own to Mr.French’s recommendation, and to express hope that it will be possible to establish absolutely a five mile dry zone around Mare x I sincerely hope the program as originally adopted will go through, and believe that it will immensely stimulate respect for the program of the War and Navy Department throughout the entire country.”

Source Note: DTS, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Subject File, Roll 5. Document reference: “L/McD.” Document is on, “OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY/DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY/WASHINGTON,” stationary.

Footnote 1: Woodrow Wilson.

Footnote 2: Capt. Edward L. Beach.

Footnote 3: RAdm. Ralph Earle, Chief of Bureau of Ordnance.

Footnote 4: Capt. Harry George, Commandant, Mare Island.

Footnote 5: Lt. Edward J. French, U. S. N. R. F.

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