Pool legend Wimpy Lassiter spent most of his World War II days on one of three Coast Guard cutters operating from Norfolk, Virginia. By then the Navy had subsumed the Coast Guard for the war effort and Lassiter’s cutters — designated CG 83511, CG 74307, CG 74306 respectively — were charged with rescuing men from the ocean after German u-boat attacks. By all accounts Lassiter made for a terrible sailor. Eyewitnesses tell us he was dreadfully sick most of the time and Lassiter himself told a friend he wanted to crawl off and die when he was out at sea.
Some of these details ended up in my 2003 book Hustler Days. While researching it I retrieved a half-inch-thick stack of military records from the National Archies, poured through them, and picked out the material I found most interesting. The military records also provided some details of Lassiter’s pre-military years. For instance, according to notations in Lassiter’s recruitment documents he attended high school from September 1934 through December 1937, but dropped out to attend work. He was employed until 1940 by grocer J.C. Connery and was known to occasionally drink “intoxicating liquors.”
I recently came across all this material on my laptop plus a World War II timeline that I put together to help me write the book. It is that timeline that I have reproduced below. It includes a few typos and other bits of random weirdness because it appears here pretty much as it appeared in my raw, unedited notes.
I find the entry for May 8, 1943 particularly instructive. The record for that day indicates that Lassiter did not desire a job, nor did he want to attend a service school. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about Lassiter’s early life. By then the pool hustler already was said to have amassed tens of thousands of dollars in Norfolk poolrooms. Why in the world would he want to attend service school?
Lassiter would go on to win eight major 14.1 titles during the 1960s, another four straight pool titles at Johnston City, five nine ball championships in Johnston City, a Johnston City one-pocket title and he also won the Johnston City all-around championship five times.
His total time of service in the Coast Guard was three years, 10 months and 7 days — having enlisted on April 2, 1941 and having received his discharge on Oct. 12, 1945.
Here’s what happened in between.
Luther Lassiter’s Coast Guard Records: A Timeline
April 2, 1941 — Walks into recruiting station, Norfolk, to sign up. Signs special temporary enlistment contract. Employment was shown as clerk; enlisted or three years; described as 22 years old, 5’10’’, weighing 136.5, with blue eyes, black hair, fair complexion.
April 22, 1941 — Receives physical examination that reports: 20-20 vision, not color blind, hearing normal, height 70 inches, weight 136.5 pounds, chest (exhale) 34; (inhale) 31 pulse before exercise 84, after exercise 100, after three minutes 84. Tonsillectomy, 1931. Age 22 years, 6 months.
April 25, 1941 — A form he fills out shows no experience in any trade.
May 1, 1941 — Accepted for service in Norfolk, VA. Receives clothing bounty pay of $112.75. Immediately transferred (at 2:30 p.m. that day) to Curtis Bay, Maryland for training.
May 1, 1941 — In designation of Beneficiaries for Death Gratuity, names mom, Florence L. Lassiter as beneficiary. No mention of dad. Signed by recruiting officer.
Aug. 12, 1941 — Requests transfer to Elizabeth City, where Wimpy understands vacancies exist in Seaman branch.
Aug. 27, 1941 — Transfer denied.
Sept. 1, 1941 — Advance from rating from Seaman to Seaman second class.
Dec. 2, 1941 (1730) — Depart for temporary duty, course of instruction at the Internal Combustion Engine School, Norfolk, upon completion report to the senior Coast Guard officer, Fifth Naval District, for assignment.
Dec. 3, 1941-Feb. 14, 1942 — Class assembles. Names of classmates listed in records. Special qualifications record shows: “Norfolk training station, 2-14-42, completed operators’ course in Internal Combustion Engines, with a final mark of 76.3 or 3.1, 43rd in a class of 45 men.”
Dec. 6, 1941 — World War II begins.
Feb. 21, 1942 — Transfer to CG-140 (there is some uncertainty on this entry).
Nov. 17, 1942 — Also shows him aboard CG 73406.
March 21, 1942-Nov. 20, 1944 — Transfer to CG 74306.
June 8, 1942 — Raises in rank to Ffc (something first class — uncertainty on this entry).
March 15, 1942 — Landing party boat training, New River, N.C..
Nov. 17, 1942 — Promoted to machinist mate second class.
May 31, 1943 — Becomes machinist mate first class.
July 31 1943 — Trains on Camp Glen Rifle Range, receives expert rifleman’s medal on 14 Aug. 1943.
April 30, 1944 — Enlistment involuntarily extended for the duration of war, plus six months. Vessel Designation: CG 74307, at CG base: 05-013.
May 1, 1944 — Enlistment involuntarily extended for duration of war, plus six months.
May 8, 1943 — Coast Guard Enlisted Qualification Card Shows: 7 years grammar school, ending in 1931; three years High School, ending in 1934 (which means six years of playing pool before the service), And Grades of 80 in social studies, 66 in Arithmetic, and 79 in Mechanical aptitude. Shows no service schools qualified for, and no service schools desired. Weight then: 158 pounds. Main occupation: no jobs. Says: “No jobs, no service schools desired.”
Nov. 7, 1944 (1145) -Nov. 24, 1944 — Received inpatient treatment for Pyelonephritis. Vessel designation CG-74306.
Nov. 20, 1944-Nov. 29, 44 — Aboard CG 74306.
Nov. 29, 1944 through Sept. 12, 1945 — Stationed aboard CG 74307.
Sept. 12, 1945 — On leave, from vessel CG 74307.
Sept 16, 1945 — Transferred to CG 83511 for duty, CG Patrol Base, Municipal Pier, Norfolk, VA; apparently from CG 74307.
Oct. 1, 1945 — Letter from J.I. Crews states: “Lassiter … has completed a continuous period of three years’ active service on 4 April, 1944, with no mark in conduct of less than 4.0. Accordingly, appropriate entry has been made of the service record and above named man has been authorized to wear appropriate (ribbon) in lieu of issue of actual award at this time.“
Oct. 10, 1945 — 1300 hours, letter addressed to Wimpy in Norfolk, Virginia says, “Proceed to: Portsmouth, Virginia, CO.CG Personnel Separation Center, No. 5, Crawford Street. Discharge from the Coast Guard on Draft No. Nornor-56.”
October 11, 1945 — Discharge papers show that he weighs 161 pounds. Apparently gained 25 pounds in the service (up from 136.5 pounds).
October 12, 1945 — Discharged from service.