It's an inside joke, this thing about food, but in a way, it really did start with their guts. The Navy. Pearl Harbor. The USO. The billboard. Wal-Mart. For Dick and Doc Nash, poster boys from The Big One, it all came down to a full belly.
"Hell, yeah," says Dick.
"Hell, yeah," says Doc.
"Food is important."
"It all started with food."
Friday morning, not long ago
Dick and Doc sit in the basement of Doc's house in Littleton. Dick (Richard) sits on the couch, and Doc (Ralph) sits on the stool. Dick (the younger one) wears a green chief petty officer's windbreaker and a cap festooned with military medallions and pins. Doc (the older one) wears a blue chief petty officer's windbreaker and a cap also festooned with military medallions and pins. On the wall over Dick's shoulder hang photos, paintings and news clippings from World War II. And over Doc's shoulder hang even more photos, paintings and news clippings from World War II.
"I call this my 'ready room,'" says Dick.
"His 'ready room,'" says Doc.
Dick is 79 years old, and Doc is 79 years old. They're twins, born thirty minutes apart on March 3, 1920. If it weren't for the little brown mole on the left side of Doc's stomach, even their parents might not have been able to tell who was who.
"We're identical," says Dick. "Identical," says Doc.
"Pretty much alike in everything."
"We were womb mates."
When Dick tells a story -- and Dick likes to tell stories -- Doc listens politely and fidgets with his hands. And when Doc tells a story -- and he likes to tell stories, too -- it's Dick's turn to listen politely and fidget with his hands. From time to time, Dick answers for Doc, Doc answers for Dick, their words overlap, and because they sound exactly alike, it's hard to tell who's talking.
"We've always been like that," says Dick.
"If one of us takes too long to answer, the other one will finish," says Doc. "Identical twins are identical."
"When you get twins, strange things happen."
"We even have the same mole now."
On with the story
Dick and Doc grew up in Yankton, South Dakota, the youngest of six children born to a father who worked a cattle ranch and a mother who was a school superintendent. For fun in this quaint town of about 6,000 people, Dick and Doc hopped freight trains, ate corn from the fields and flattened the car tires of the guy across the street, Lawrence Welk.
"One time he came over and said, 'Mrs. Nash, if you don't do something with those twins, I'm going to kill them,'" says Dick.
"We were pretty wild," says Doc.
"Hellions," says Dick.
They were also pretty broke. During the Depression, there wasn't much work for a couple of kids from Yankton with few skills other than hopping freight trains and flattening tires, so in September 1939, after graduating from high school, Doc, who had taken military instruction as a student, decided to join the Coast Guard.
"You couldn't buy a job," says Doc.
"There weren't any jobs," says Dick. "Everyone left Yankton."
Dick left for Omaha, Nebraska, where he worked for 80 cents a day as a grocery store stock boy and for 50 cents a night as a movie theater bouncer.
"Hell, yes, a movie theater bouncer," says Dick. "You had drunks in there every night and kids screwing right there in the theater. It was by the stockyards. And each night after work, after I locked the theater, I had to run out to the street to catch the streetcar, because those bastards would be waiting to beat my ass."
One Saturday night, a week after Doc had joined the service, the bastards nearly succeeded in beating Dick's ass, and he, too, decided to join the Coast Guard.
"I'd had enough of that," says Dick.
"We wanted to see the world," says Doc.
"Hell, we were dry-land people. What the hell else was there to do?"
"We wanted to get room and board. We wanted to eat."
"We had got in the habit of eating."
"We knew if we joined the Navy, we'd always get chow. But if you joined the Army, you could be out there in a field somewhere with a canteen and who knows what else. In the Navy, you got three meals a day and $21 a month. To us, that looked awful good."
"Put it this way: Food is important."
"We went in there because we wanted to eat."
And then they screwed up the ship
As war broke out, the Coast Guard was merged into the Navy, and Dick and Doc found themselves on the same ship, a destroyer stationed off Hawaii named the USCG Taney.
They lasted ten days.
"We drove them nuttier than a fruitcake," says Dick.
"They didn't know who was who," says Doc. "Our name tags both said 'R.C. Nash.'" "The skipper would say, 'I thought I just told you to go clean the galley.' And I would say, 'No. Not me.'"
"It blew their minds."
"Hell, they didn't know what to do."
"It just screwed up the ship."
Finally, the skipper called the twins into his office and gave them the news. Navy regulations prohibited brothers from serving on the same ship. Too many relatives had been killed that way during World War I. So the skipper reached into his pocket and flipped a coin.
"I called it in the air," says Doc.
"And that was that," says Dick.
And then Doc gets lucky
While Dick stayed on the Taney a while longer, Doc was assigned to the USCG Tiger, a submarine chaser patrolling the Hawaiian islands. On the morning of December 7, 1941, the Tiger pulled into Pearl Harbor.
Doc was on duty when the first unidentified blips appeared on sonar and radar. There already had been rumors of an attack, and Doc said to the chief, "This would be a good day for it. All the ships are in the harbor."
Soon after, it began.
The Tiger was at the entrance of the harbor, chasing a small Japanese sub. It was among the first U.S. ships to receive fire -- sixteen near-hits from a larger Japanese sub farther out at sea. The Tiger also was among the first U.S. ships to return fire, with Doc handling the fifty-caliber machine guns.
"You were pretty busy," says Doc.
"You were trying to save your ass," says Dick.
Actually, Dick's ass was quite safe where it was. Before Pearl Harbor, he had been transferred off the Taney and was assigned to patrol waters off San Francisco.
But Doc, he saw it all.
"There was a hell of a lot of activity," he says. "A war is a pretty active thing, you know. They were really beating the hell out of us. There wasn't a place in that whole island that wasn't fired on. You could just hear the bullets pinging off the hull and off the deck. They were trying to kill us, you know. That's the thing about war. If you make it, you consider yourself lucky. But no one got hit on our ship. They were firing all around us, but no one got hit. It kept you dancing, though, I'll tell you that. We were lucky. Damned lucky."
And then they become "slobrities"
After Pearl Harbor, and simultaneously rising to the rank of boatswain mates first class, Dick and Doc took liberty in San Francisco and decided to shoot eight-ball at a USO club. Back then, in 1943, practically every serviceman went to the USO clubs, which featured movie stars, free games and pretty dance partners.
"And free food," says Dick.
"Coffee and doughnuts," says Doc.
Before they entered the club, Dick looked over at Doc and said, "Pretend we don't know each other." So Dick went one way, Doc went the other, and the welcome girl, Fay Chevalier, niece of movie star Maurice Chevalier, said, "You're brothers, right?"
"No," says Dick. "Never met him before in my life."
"But you're twins, right?"
"No," says Doc. "Never seen him before."
Before they could let her in on the gag, Fay Chevalier called the Associated Press and United Press International and told them to send photographers. Which they did. And the next day, Dick and Doc appeared on the front pages of the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner, Dick holding a telephone receiver over Fay's left shoulder and Doc holding a telephone receiver over her right shoulder, pretending to call home.
"They made a big thing out of it," says Dick.
"A real big thing," says Doc.
The photo was sent over the news wires and appeared in newspapers around the country. It also made the Army Times, the Navy Times, Stars and Stripes and the USO's newsletter.
"Christ, every magazine had it," says Dick.
"Hell, that picture went around the world," says Doc.
It also went to the advertising department of the City of Paris department store in San Francisco, where an advertising executive asked the Navy and USO for permission to use the photo as a publicity shot for Fay Chevalier, who modeled for the store. The Navy gave its approval, and the store raised a billboard of Dick, Doc and Fay overlooking Union Square.
One day Doc and his wife took a cable car downtown, looked up at the City of Paris and practically fainted.
"We were just bowled over," recalls Doc.
"We had no idea," recalls Dick.
"After they put the billboard up, we couldn't walk downtown without people coming up to us and saying, 'Hey, it's the twins!'"
"If you got us on a streetcar, we were mobbed. And if we went into a bar, we couldn't buy a drink."
"We had a good time with it."
"We were celebrities, all right."
And then (many years later), Dick walks into Wal-Mart
After the war, Dick and Doc moved to Denver, bought houses, raised families and completed successful careers. Dick was a mechanical engineer who worked on nuclear bombs, among other things. Doc was a construction engineer who worked on Rocky Flats, among other things. Dick became a lifelong member of the DAV, and Doc became the PR man for the Pearl Harbor Survivor's club. Meanwhile, the USO photo made its way into Navy training manuals, World War II museums and military bases all over the world.
"And bars," says Dick.
"Lots of bars," says Doc.
Still, few people other than their family members and friends knew Dick and Doc as the celebrity twins of yesteryear. Despite international exposure, their star had quietly faded away.
Then, in October, Dick walked into a Wal-Mart.
He was wearing his usual Navy baseball cap and green chief petty officer's windbreaker, when an employee took him aside and said, "We need you."
Wal-Mart was knee-deep in a nationwide campaign to raise money for a $100 million World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. Movie director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks, who had made Saving Private Ryan, both had signed on. So had veterans' groups from around the country. The man asked Dick for help, and Dick said yes. The man then snapped Dick's photo and asked if he had any wartime memorabilia or old stories he'd like to share.
"Oh, jeez," Dick thought. "Here we go again."
Dick showed the man the USO photo, and the man got all excited and called the home office in Arkansas. Then the home office got all excited, one thing led to another, and Dick and Doc became poster boys anew.
"It was just like it was during World War II," says Dick.
"It got popular all over again," says Doc.
Their photos were displayed in the store, and during the recent Veteran's Day weekend, they helped raise more than $12,000. If their schedules allow, they'll be back in action on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, working the crowd like they did in 1943.
"We've become slobrities all over again," says Dick.
"That picture will live on after we're dead," says Doc. "This thing will never die."
Epilogue: And then comes dinner
For their help raising money for the World War II memorial, Wal-Mart has promised to treat Dick and Doc to some quality chow.
"Oh, yeah," says Dick.
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"Oh, yeah," says Doc. "Wal-Mart is taking us and our wives to dinner."
"So we're back to eating again."
"Food is still important, you know."
"Oh, yeah. Everything goes back to the stomach."