Sunday, April 14, 2013

Remembering Lawton

Artillerymen from all over the globe have trained at Fort Sill and most have vivid memories (good and bad) of adjacent Lawton south of the post. Lawton was once Oklahoma's third largest city behind Oklahoma City and Tulsa; but now it is fifth - surpassed by Norman and Broken Arrow. In the 1960s when our 2nd Battalion 94th Artillery was re-formed and trained at Fort Sill for service in Vietnam, Lawton was a $1 cab ride from anywhere on Fort Sill. Here are a few iconic symbols of Lawton from the 1960s ...

Bianco's Demolished - End of an Era
Dinner options in 1960s Lawton were mostly limited to Bianco's Italian Restaurant on 2nd Street or Wright's Steakhouse on Cache Road. Rose Bianco, herself, was a Lawton institution. She died a few years ago and worked at the family restaurant well into her 90s. When Kaye and I were married at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in 1966, our reception moved from the church to Bianco's and then to the Officers' Club on post. There were failed attempts to preserve Bianco's as an Oklahoma historic landmark. Rose's family was unable (or unwilling) to keep it going. The sign was auctioned off and there is an attempt to sell jars of spaghetti sauce from her recipe online. Here's a photo of the wreckers taking it down.

Holy City of the Wichitas
In the 1930s, the federal WPA financed various construction projects around Lawton including the road to the top of Mt. Scott and a replica of old Jerusalem on land north of Fort Sill's west range in the National Wildlife Refuge. (Good luck trying to get the federal government to finance a Holy City these days.) Structures and scenes for each of the 14 Stations of the Cross were erected using locally quarried stone. The Passion was portrayed over several hours starting around 3 a.m. and ending with the Resurrection at sunrise on Easter morning. Its popularity peaked in the 1940s with over 150,000 visitors in observance on the surrounding hills and thousands of radio stations from all over the country broadcasting the services. During the mid-60s when we were there, it still attracted over 40,000 worshipers.

Muscle cars and drive-ins were ubiquitous in the 1960s and an army town like Lawton had more than its fair share of each.

Old Downtown Lawton
Downtown Lawton - especially at night - was a wild, tempestuous place. Known as the "impact zone" to artillerymen, C and D streets were loud and often unruly with bars, pawn shops and brothels. But the good old days were gone forever when the city completely leveled the old impact zone and replaced it with an indoor mall. Here is a view in the 1960s before the mall.

Last - but not least - is the old restaurant and store in the abandoned mining town of Meers in the mountains west of Mount Scott. Home of the "Meersburger," this shack is still an attraction and many generations of artillerymen have walked those those doors just so they could go home at talk about it.

“An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted” -- Arthur Miller


Gary L Stanley said...

My name is Gary Stuanley

I was at Ft Sill going through basic training in Feb,1966. We were the first troops to go through basic training at Ft Sill My than wife Pat worked at that restaurant to make a few bucks. She also got one meal a day. I ate on post so as to have enough money to rent a little room where we shared a bath room with two other people.
Right after basic I received orders for Vietnam. I went over with the 2nd battalion / 94th Artillery, 175 guns. I came back from Nam as a SGT E 5. Finished my 2 years as head quarters motor pool SGT. Proud to have served my country. Not proud of the way my country is treating all veterans.

Unknown said...

I do recall the Lawton Downtown Impact Zone back in 1970-1971, with all those night clubs. It was the only exciting area in that city. There was nothing more for the troops to do there in that completely un-exciting place. I wonder where the troops go now !!! Now Lawton looks like a Ghost Town, I am not going back too see it again.

I served with the 17th Ordnance Company (Feb 1970 to May 1971). I did make and post videos on You Tube about Fort Sill and the 17th Ordnance.
W. Morales

Anonymous said...

I was at Ft. Sill in 1970, artillery training At that time Lawton was an awesome place for a young guy. Memories are still in my mind.