Ex-paperboy recalls hawking Herald, Sun during WWII
Editor’s note: This is one in an occasional series looking back on memories of The Herald-Sun in celebration of the newspaper’s 125th year.
Lonnie Holt can still taste that first banana split he ate 70 years ago.
“It had all this ice cream, whipped cream, nuts, chocolate and cherries,” Holt said.
Holt, a retired Durham firefighter, was 12 at the time.
The year was 1944. The place: Camp Butner, a U.S. Army installation in Granville County during World War II.
Times were so hard for Holt and his family that he had never seen or tasted a banana split – until that day when his pockets were jingling with pennies earned from hawking the Durham Morning Herald and The Durham Sun to soldiers there.
For Holt, now 81, it was a special day during a special time in his life.
He earned a penny for each paper sold, which he said made him feel like a prince in those pauper-like war days.
Holt had been a paperboy in downtown Durham when the newspaper decided to tap the market at Camp Butner, where about 40,000 soldiers were stationed.
After school, Holt would ride his bike from East Durham to the Herald-Sun Papers on Market Street, hop on a truck with other boys and sell papers for two to three hours at the barracks and a military hospital.
“The newspaper acquired a truck that would hold about 20 boys,” he said. “Each boy had a bag and got 40 to 50 papers, and they would drop us off at different corners in Butner.
I’d walk through the barracks hollering: ‘Paper, paper!’ They cost 5 cents – 10 cents on Sunday,” he said.
One day when Holt’s pockets were bulging, he went to the commissary and saw a picture of what looked like a boat, but was actually a banana split.
“I was sitting at the counter and asked the lady who worked there: ‘What in the world is that?’ And she said: ‘It’s a banana split.’ And I said: ‘I’d sure like to have one of those.’ ”
The price was 10 cents, about a quarter of his earnings for the day. He said it was worth every penny.
Holt remembers many other things, like the big turtle he crossed paths with at Camp Butner. Someone had painted on its shell: “Company D, 78th Infantry,” the Army unit at the camp.
Holt also remembers watching soldiers leave for combat in Europe.
“I’d stand there and watch them as they’d get on that long train which was fueled by coal,” Holt said. “The soldiers would march down with their full packs, board the train, and I’d see them wave as they left. A lot of them never came back.”
The next year, on Aug. 14, 1945, Japan surrendered and the war ended. That was one of the biggest days for paper sales.
“When Japan surrendered, I got on my bike and rode to the Herald-Sun office, grabbed my papers and hit Main Street hollering: ‘Japan surrenders!’ ” Holt said. “I can see the headlines now.”
Holt said he was selling papers “left and right” and taking in the atmosphere of a day that made history.
“By 8 o’clock, Main Street was packed with cars blowing horns and people hollering,” he said. “Men were kissing girls, and girls were kissing men, and people were grabbing those papers.”
Holt went on to serve in the National Guard and Korean War. In 1956, he joined the Durham Fire Department, where he worked for 30 years.
But those early days as a paperboy were special.
“You were your own boss,” Holt said. “Once you got your papers, you were the vice president, president and chairman of the board.”