I’ve suggested Whitey is not really from Southie. His parents were not from there. He spent his first eight years of his life outside of there. These were critical years for a youngster to be bred into its culture. It seemed he wasn’t. He didn’t seem to participate in athletics when everyone else was, he never stepped into a boxing ring, and no one tells of him being in any one-on-one fist fights which were common. Any story about his fights seem to involve Whitey taking on another person when he was armed and backed up by hoodlums, and the other person was unarmed. There is nothing Southie-like about that.
John Connolly was born in Southie. His parents lived in Southie most of their lives. He lived in Old Harbor Village until he was twelve when his family moved to the classy area of Southie, City Point. He didn’t go to Southie High but headed into the North End, the Italian sector, to go to Columbus High School, a Catholic boys high school and then on to BC. It seemed he was Southie to the core. But something is missing.
One thing Southie is proud of is the number of young men who join our nation’s armed forces during war time.
If you’re connected with Southie you know the Southie boys won WWI single-handedly — “and the boys from South Boston mopped up Germany” along with “good old Mickey Perkins”, who has a grammar school named after him.
Southie bled patriotism. It created tough kids ready to serve the nation.
I read somewhere that it had one of the highest percentage of youth of any area in the country who joined our military, or perhaps it was the highest casualty rate. I lost a Southie uncle in WWII, Jimmy “Little Axe” Rogers.
Southie had one of the first Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the US for the 25 young men from there killed in Vietnam, 15 being Marines. One is Johnny Jacobs, a tough kid, who often visited his uncles, the Lundbohms, on Saxton Street in Savin Hill, a hundred or so feet from where I lived after moving from Southie. I have a memory of getting in fight with him even though he was younger but probably tougher so it was somewhat even. When I’m in DC I visit his name on the Vietnam Wall along with Jimmy Carroll from Miami who I went through Basic School with.
Checking out the Southie death rate I came across this: “Highest State Death Rate: West Virginia – 84.1; national average 58.9 for every 100,000 males in 1970”.
I figured Southie had about 36,000 people during the Vietnam years with about half of them being female. Therefore of the 18,000 males there were 25 who died, This is a rate of 138 for every 100,000, well above the highest state death rate and more than double the national average.
Even the all-about-me Whitey went into the Air Force.
John Connolly had the very un-Southie-like trait of never having served in the military. In 1968 when Vietnam was exploding (the Tet Offensive was in January 1968) Connolly was not sleepless in Southie. I’m sure he’d have heard the words in a song the Korean War vets sang (“there’s a North Korean coming down the path playing a tom tom boogie on a GI’s ass, I’m moving on, I’ll soon be gone, you can take that parallel back ’cause I’m moving on”) and figured war’s no picnic. But whatever the reason, he had no plans of going to go to Vietnam to join the over 500,000 serving there.
Instead, he did a very un-Southie thing. In 1968 he joined the FBI avoiding military service. Another John also used the FBI to avoid serving. He was J(ohn) Edgar Hoover.
So even John Connolly born and bred in Southie seemed a little out of step in that respect. Perhaps because both men were pretenders to the Southie culture.
John “Red” Shea a Southie tough guy who wrote Rat Bastards noted “there was one cardinal rule that you learned and followed in Southie before you even knew what it was: You never ratted on anyone.”
With Whitey and Connolly things spun out of control and the Southie ethic of not being a rat or becoming friends with rats did not hold.