McNiece, who died aged 93 in 2013, was a member of The Filthy Thirteen, a WWII demolition unit which inspired The Dirty Dozen. The book is a highly entertainingly, rambunctious read. As they depart the stage of life, the Greatest Generation tend to get a stultifingly reverent press, so this is a necessary corrective.
In this extract – which gives a flavour of the book – there’s an expression for extreme drunkenness – “drunker than 900 dollars” – which was new on me:
I had a total exemption from the draft because I was a fireman but I began to feel uneasy about not offering my services, whatever they might be. So I went back to Ponca City, Oklahoma, to visit my mom and dad for a few days.
Then I got into some problems down there at the Blue Moon Tavern on South Avenue. I was out carousing around one Saturday night doing the town up in good shape and fashion. Of course, I was drunker than nine hundred dollars and looking for trouble.
There was one particular individual that I wanted to put the ugly on. Thad Tucker and I had always had lots of difficulties. Well, I wanted to whip him real good one more time, but I knew the minute that I stepped inside his joint he would call the cops.
So I got a friend of mine to go down with me in his good clothes. He owed Thad quite a bit of money. Well he went in with a cock-and-bull story that he had just married an Osage squaw and wanted to pay him off.
He asked Thad to come on out to the car a bit. He would give him a big shot of whiskey then pay him. Well, when Thad came clear out into the driveway, I walked up and went to work on him. I knocked him down and was putting the boots to him in that gravel driveway. I was so drunk that I lost my balance. When I lifted my foot to kick him, I kind of staggered back. He then jumped up and made a run for the front door of his joint.
When he did, I scooped up a big rock about the size of a baseball and threw it at him. I was still in good shape and could throw pretty straight. I hit him right in the back of the head and it just peeled his skin. It nearly scalped him. He went down but by then I could already hear sirens blowing all over the place. Squad cars were coming in from every direction. So I thought, “I’ve got to get out of here.” Then I took off and ran across the street.
This was back in 1942 and there were not many dwelling places on the north side of South Avenue. That was where the Hearst brothers had a big corral. So I made it over into that horse lot and tore out across the field. It had been raining. The mud and horse manure were just like soup, about ankle deep all over the place. In the dark I could just see the light-colored horses. While I ran I could miss the bays and the whites and the grays but I hit one of the black ones and tumbled down in that crap. I finally escaped out of there and went on home.
McNiece uses nine hundred dollars as an index of extreme drunkenness a few other times in the book. I can’t find other online usages. Any leads?