When he wasn’t keeping the Navy afloat Joe Medina was tending bar in Key West

Joe Medina of Port Charlotte was just getting out of boot camp at Bainbridge, Md. in 1946. Photo provided

Joe Medina of Port Charlotte, Fla. was just getting out of boot camp at Bainbridge, Md. in 1946. Photo provided

Joe Medina and a buddy were shooting pool in a Tampa, Fla. pool hall in 1946 when the two of them got the idea to join the Navy. Both were 18.

“We went down to the recruiter’s office and got some information about the Navy and were given a date to come back and sign up,” the 84-year-old former Navy man said. “I came back and was sworn in, but my buddy didn’t return with me.

“I went to boot camp at Bainbridge, Md. After that I was sent aboard the light carrier USS Wright (CVL-49) to work in the engine-room. I spent the next three years aboard the carrier that was training young aviators to land on its flight deck off the coast at Pensacola, Fla.

“When I wasn’t in the engine-room I spent a lot of time on the bridge watching the planes land. Sometimes they’d have trouble landing and end up in the water. There was always a destroyer close by to pick them up,” he said.

“Since I grew up in Key West I wanted to get back there while still in the Navy. I lucked out and got a job working as a mechanic aboard a sub tender at Key West,” Medina said. “I worked in the boat shop overhauling small boat engines. Some times I would be sent to work on submarines that would pull up along side our tender.

 Medina is on the left with two of his buddies aboard the light carrier USS Wright shortly after graduating from boot camp shortly after World War II. Photo provided

Medina is on the left with two of his buddies aboard the light carrier USS Wright after graduating from boot camp shortly after World War II. Photo provided

“When I wasn’t working for the Navy I was tending bar or waiting tables at the Bamboo Room in Key West. The bar was on Bahama Street near the Strand Theatre around the corner from Sloppy Joe’s that was on Duval Street (the main drag in Key West),” he explained.

“I’d get off my Navy job about 4:30 p.m. and show up at the Bamboo Room. I’d put on my civilian clothes, work there until 2 a.m. when it closed, go home and sleep a couple of hours and go back to work for the Navy the next morning,” he said. “I was 18 and could do it then, but I couldn’t do it now.

“Working at the Bamboo Room was interesting because we had people like Ernest Hemingway come in for a drink. Occasionally I’d greet the famous author and shake hands with him as he walked into the bar with his party,” Medina recalled.

“Bogart was a regular at the Bamboo Room. He owned a house nearby. Rita Hayworth would come in from time-to-time.” After that tour, Medina was sent to Boston to board a new destroyer being built up there–the USS Henley (DD-762).

Medina inspects the sailors who worked with him in the small engine shop the Navy ran in Key West. By this time he had spent 20 years in the Navy and was retiring.

Medina inspects the sailors who worked with him in the small engine shop the Navy ran in Key West. By this time he had spent 20 years in the Navy and was retiring.

“She was commissioned in Charleston, S.C. and after a shakedown cruise I went aboard the Henley for a world cruise in 1951,” he said. “We sailed from Norfolk to Japan. While there we visited Nagasaki, where we dropped the atomic bomb. They were still rebuilding the city from the bomb attack during World War II.”

Medina recalls: “The people we met in Japan during our cruise couldn’t have been nicer.” The Henley sailed on to Iraq, Egypt, the Suez Canal, Naples, Italy and back to Bermuda, the Panama Canal Zone and the U.S.

Because he spoke Spanish, Medina was one of the destroyer’s two Spanish-speaking interpreters aboard ship. When the captain needed an interpreter he or another sailor aboard the Henley was called to the bridge to interpret.

After serving three years aboard the Henley, he returned to Key West and shore duty.

“I was in charge of the small boat shop for the Navy in Key West. In addition to keeping the Navy’s small boat fleet afloat I was also in charge of collecting the dummy torpedoes shot by our subs in Key West,” he said. “We had a 50-foot boat with four racks on the stern we used to pick up the dummy torpedoes and bring them back to the sub tender.”

Medina went right back to tending bar after he wrapped up his duties with the Navy in the evening. After this hitch he retired from the Navy with 20 years service. He joined the Navy Reserve and spent another decade as a reservist.

Medina's retirement picture. He was 37 and a Navy Chief when he got out of the service in 1966. Photo provided

Medina’s retirement picture. He was 37 and a Navy Chief when he got out of the service in 1966. Photo provided

He retired from the navy as a Chief Petty Officer in 1966.

“My wife, Gloria, was a hair dresser at that time. I decided to go to hair dressing school and establish a beauty salon with her. We opened ‘The Fountain of Beauty Salon’ in St. Petersburg about 1970,” Medina said.”The women loved a man doing their hair. I wore a fancy shirt with ruffles. They loved it,” he recalled with a smile.

Three years in the beauty salon business was enough for the old sailor. He and Gloria eventually retired to Port Charlotte in 2000. They have three sons: Joseph, Frank and Johnny.


Medina’s File

 Median today at 84. Sun photo by Don MooreName: Jesus Arnius Medina
D.O.B: 31 Oct. 1928
Hometown: Tampa, Fla.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 1946
Discharged: Dec. 1976
Rank: Chief Petty Officer


This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013 and is republished with permission.

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Comments

  1. First ship was Saufley (DD-465) out of Key West in 1964. Wondering if your Bamboo Room was the same one I frequented where a saxophonist named “Coffee” played most of the night, once in a while calling on all the patrons to get into a Conga Line which threaded thru the room….? Would look forward to your response.

      • Thanks for responding. I only remember “Coffee” as the entertainer. Matter of fact my wife and I and friends are headed to a Key West today for a one day outing. Will try to find the old place. Holy cow! Fifty-one years have surely whizzed by!

        J

    • I spent many an evening in the Bamboo Room during my time in Key West…63-67 serving on the USS Chopper ( SS 342 )…. Also “Gate” bar….. Brown Derby”….”Tomato Patch”…”Boat Bar”…”Two Friends”…”Boca Chica Bar”…. And others were favorites…..Sub Sailors drank a lot….. Lololol……and yes… We did go to Sloppy Joes some also….

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