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Prom Queen


The Legend of the Prom Queen

By Louis J. Barbier (BHS 57)



It had all started many years ago. The year was 1939. Joe Palumbo was a young Marine attached to the Marine Barracks at U. S. Naval Station Rodman. The Marines in Panama provided security to the US Embassy downtown Panama City and the various naval bases in the Canal Zone. Joe had been in the corps now for 18 months and in Panama for 6 months. Joe had been dating a nice girl who was in her last year at Cristobal High School. Joe was taking her home to Margarita after watching the Bulldogs of Balboa High School Football team trounce the Tigers of Cristobal High School 34 to 14. It was late. They had caught the last train leaving Balboa Station for the other side at 10PM.


The Conductor had gone around lighting the Kerosene Lamps and punching the tickets. Joe and Trudi were traveling in the last coach. They had known each other for 5 months. She was a Cheer Leader and an A Student. She plans to become a nurse and work for the Panama Canal Company at Gorgas Hospital. Joe Palumbo was from Baltimore, Maryland and planned to make the corps a career of a lifetime. It was in the middle of the rainy season and the train started slowing down as it approached Frijoles. The engine was number # 299.


They were snuggling under a blanket kind of dozing when the train screeched to a stop. The sudden stop awaken them from their slumber and they started to neck and Joe whispered eternal love in Trudis ear. The conductor came through the car saying, Well, folks the tracks are washed out ahead and a PCC repair crew is on the scene. Not to worry. We should be out of here in about 45 minutes. So, relax, folks. Please keep the windows closed. We dont want any wild pigs getting into the car. Joe whispered, Trudi, dont worry Ill call your mother when we pull into the station. Meanwhile, to keep warm they snuggled closer. It can get pretty cool on the other side near the witching hour during the rainy season. One thing let to another and they went all the way. After they had calmed down, Joe told Trudi not to worry, that they would get married as soon as she graduated. She had only 8 more months to graduation and the Senior Prom. Since, the car had few people and most were up front in the other coaches, nobody really had heard the animal screams and those that did later thought it was some monkeys hanging out in the near bush.


With the new year 1940 came and Lance Corporal Joe Palumbo got orders to Pearl Harbor. Trudi and Joe were secretly married downtown Colon by a local medicine man who prepared some strong medicine. He told Trudi and Joe that they would always be together. Joe gave Trudi a Silver spoon shaped into a ring and Trudi gave Joe a religious Saint Patrick medal.


At the brow of the USS Arizona Trudi and Joe kissed long. Joe said, Ill really miss you pumpkin. Wait for me Ill be back. Trudi through her tears said softly, I love you Joe. Take care of yourself. They kissed again. Then he smartly hoisted his brown sea bag onto his shoulder and when up the gangway. At the brow he saluted the Ensign. Then he saluted the Officer of the deck and asked, Request permission to come aboard, Sir. The Officer of the Deck answered, Permission granted. Joe, then turn before going below and waved at Trudi and blew her a last kiss.


The Year is now 1957. The place is an office on the second floor of the Diablo Clubhouse. It is 0730 and Chief Inspector Leprechaun Willie and Doctor Chico Snurf, a forensic medical examiner, are enjoying their second cup of the best coffee in the world.... Cafe Duran. Chief Inspector Willie first name is Leopold but since his days as linebacker with the Bulldogs BHS Class of 1949 he acquired the nickname Leprechaun. It seems a practical joke was played on him with some green dye in some shampoo after a big win over the Tigers of Cristobal. He had natural blonde hair but after he shampooed his hair that night after the game it remained green. It was green for many months. The chlorine in Balboa Pool kept it green too. His green eyes also added to his moniker. Well, Chico, what do you make of this Legend of the Prom Queen? Chico replied, Well, the way I see it there has been lots of talk over the years. Remember Tulie Vieja de Chitre? Then over on the West Bank in the town site of Cocoli there was suppose to have been sightings of lights and strange flying objects. Then soon after that Old Navy Road became known as Bruja Road.


Yea, Chico. When I was attending BHS in the late 40s there was talk of strange sightings in the building after dark. Some say it has to do with BHS being built on a landfill. All that fill came out of during the construction of the Panama Canal. The Administration Building sits on one of the highest fills in the Balboa area. The Canal Builders said, Yes, Mon, we had to put it all somewhere. Lep continued with his explanation, And all this fill has organism that are decaying. Take a look around Galliard Highway. Sometimes you can see a mist rise out of the mangrove swamp early in the morning. Yes, deep in the ground there are trap gases that come to the surface as the atmosphere cools. These gases then cause strange sights as passing lights are reflected through this gaseous medium. These reflections cause many people to observe strange phenomena, they literally see things that are not really there or appear to float above Tierra firma. Eyes can play tricks on a person in low light. No, Lep, I dont buy that. Look we got a filing cabinet almost filled with supposed sightings.


What about the theory that these are unfulfilled dreams of Zonians who went to war and never came back? Remember the story of Joe Palumbo the young Marine who got orders to Pearl Harbor. He left on the Arizona. That was the last transit of that mighty dreadnaughts through the Canal. Yes, and Trudi OBrien still waits for him. continued Chico. And he be 40 or 41 today. Trudi is now head nurse at Gorgas Hospital. Reflected Leprechaun. The Prom for the Class of 1957 is scheduled next week at the Tivoli Guest House.


This years theme was the War Years with music from the swing era. There would be Boogie-Woogie music, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and also some Lucho Azcarraga. Both BHS and CHS had combined their Prom Dance on this side. The Washington Hotel was undergoing repairs. It is going to be a major happening in the Canal Zone. All the kids are going. The queens of all the years will be present. Trudi OBrien had been the Queen for CHS Prom Class of 1940.


She had never given up hope that someday somehow Joe would show up. He had promise he would. Trudi believed in miracles. Her little girl Carla now 17 would be this year Prom Queen for BHS. Yes, it would be a mother and daughter show. Trudi and Carla attended ST. Mary's Catholic Church almost every Sunday. Trudi had never remarried after the Navy Department had sent her a telegram saying Lance Corporal Joe Palumbo was missing-in-action after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Naval Forces of the Japanese. The years had passed but nothing was heard.


Then five years ago she had hired Inspector Leprechaun Willie to investigate. His office had done some extensive research. Yes, a Marine fitting the description had survived the bombing at Pearl Harbor. Yes, he had been on the USS Arizona BB-39. Medical records showed he had been transferred badly burned to the Naval Hospital at Pearl. Later he was transferred to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. The Marine in question was also suffering from amnesia. The Plastic reconstructive surgery had taken years to accomplish. His experiences at Pearl Harbor had been deeply repressed. Over 2,200 sailors and marines had died on the USS Arizona serving as flagship for Battleship One. Admiral Isaac Kidd had gone down with the ship with the crew fighting gallantly at General Quarters. The ship had died at 0806, Sunday morning, 7 December 1941.


At that very moment Trudi OBrien had gone into labor. The birth had been fast and Patrolman Tony Smith of the Canal Zone Police Department Balboa Station made the delivery on the way to Gorgas. The news in the Spillway later stated, Mother and baby girl doing fine. Of course the headlines in all newspapers was Hawaii Attacked. Pearl Bombed


But it was now the evening of May 5, 1957 and all the kids were getting ready for the Big Prom Dance at the Tivoli. The Panama Canal Train from the other side was running extra coaches. It was going to really be a gala affair. But for the class of 1957...all were wondering if the talk of the Legend of the Prom Queen of 1940 would come true. Would Joe make the dance? Would all those years of waiting finally be over for Trudi? Would Carla see her father for the first time? Chief Inspector Leprechaun Willie and Doctor Chico Snurf with steady police work had solved the enigma. Lep and Chico had picked up Joe on incoming Pan American Flight 977 from Miami just hours ago. He had gotten a room at the Tivoli. Lep and Chico would go by at 8 PM to take him to the dance. The presentation of the queen and her court was scheduled for 9PM with dancing until one in the morning. All the kids could feel the air was electrically charged. Something big was going to happen tonight!


About 7:45 PM on the way to Joe's room, Chico asked Lep, Do you think that after all these years theyll remember? Well, Chico, my friend we have come a long way now to turn back. Lets do it. When Lep and Chico entered the room.... there stood Joe, in his dressed uniform, his chest full of medals. He stood talk and his stride was that of a person who knew he was a Marine and it still showed with every step he took. How are you Joe? Just fine, but Ive got butterflies in my stomach. What if Trudi doesnt remember me or worst what if I dont remember her! Lep then answered with authority, Joe, that is the least of your worries, are you prepared to dance all night? Queen Trudi and your daughter Queen Carla are waiting. As they headed toward the ballroom the band was playing, Boogie-Woogie Bugler Boy of Company B ............. The rest is history.


Well, I hope you enjoyed it. Take care. God Bless.

Best regards,


BHS Class 1957