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Thursday, 10 April 2008

The Silver Dollar Scheme

By Nancy Leitz

Most of the time, a small town simply tolerates a large military base that dominates the area. That was the case at the United States Air Force Base where we were living in 1962. There was no love lost between the airmen stationed at the base and the home-town folks.

It got to the point that the commander of the base issued an order for all military personnel to wear civilian clothing while off duty. That lessened their presence in the town. The townsfolk didn't notice the Air Force people so much out of uniform, so it made it difficult for them to blame everything that went wrong on the Air Force members.

That worked for awhile and then things heated up again. The townspeople resented the young fellows looking at their daughters and asking them for dates. Something had to be done to settle this animosity once and for all. The business people in town had to be made to realize how much of their business came from these people that they were so critical of.

The commanding officer called in his comptroller/ paymaster and proposed a scheme that he hoped would put an end to the trouble between the two factions. Here is what he did.

He ordered that all personnel from himself on down to the newest airman (about 3,000 people) be paid in silver dollars on the next payday. There was no such thing as direct deposit in those days so everyone was used to getting a pay envelope - but not a pay envelope that he could hardly pick up. The silver dollars were very heavy and each person got an average of $200.00, so they were carrying around 200 silver dollars.

The scheme really hit that town like a ton of bricks (or dollars). Those dollars were deposited in the local bank, they were used at the gas station, the dry cleaners, the movies, the drive ins. They were put in collection baskets at every denomination's church. They had to hire extra people to count the money at the various businesses and get huge bags to carry the dollars to the bank.

It worked!!! The town council invited the commanding officer to the next meeting and implored him to go back to paper checks in the pay envelopes. The business people had only to look around their businesses and see the silver dollars stacked up EVERYWHERE to realize how much of their livelihood they owed to the Air Force personnel who patronized their shops and restaurants and movie houses and car dealerships.

Things were never the same in that little town again. They were better.

[As a point of interest, this is story No. 300. If you would like to contribute to The Elder Storytelling Place, the guidelines are here. We would all be pleased to read your stories.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Hi Nancy,
Great story. I love to see examples of creativity that solve community problems without a fight. What a clever commander.


Another great story Nancy and well told as usual.

300 stories to date, well done Ronni and to you Nancy for helping to reach todays target.

Nancy, that commanding officer was a genius!!!

What a clever man, but I'm glad I didnt have to carry 200 silver dollars.

I'm a tad late in commenting, but I want to compliment you, Nancy, on a neat story well told. That C. O. was ingenious.

In 1966 I was stationed in Biloxi,Miss. I from Ohio and my friend from Virginia, would go to a snack bar on the air base. One cute Miss caught his eye and he would always get her to wait on us. She had to be used to guys flirting with her, but we were gentlemen and she grew to be very friendly with us.

He talked me into going into town for a real haircut at a shop he heard about. I was skeptical because the locals didn't much like seeing us in town. You understand. Off the bus and walking the block to the shop, I was set back on my heels to see the way people lived.

Walking to the bus stop across the street was our cute little Miss. My friend called to her. She looked over and froze in her tracks, then went her way at a quickened pace.

From that day, she never spoke or waited on us again.

I recall this event when my father was stationed at Smokey Hill AFB in Salina, KS in the late 50's and early 60's. The name was changed to Shilling AFB and it closed in the 70's. I always wondered whether the Base Commander was the one who dreamed the idea up on his own or learned the trick from someone else. When the base was closed there was much weeping and knashing of teeth at the income loss to the community.

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