The one-eyed war hero embodied the rough, tough American male image and dazzled the public with his syndicated stories in newspapers, radio and on television, which stem from his role as a war correspondent for the Chicago Tribune; he even wrote one of the earliest biographies of the infamous Red Baron. He's basically the prototype for the badass John Wayne persona everyone knows today.
But by 1938, he had settled into a life as a radio narrator, reading stories sent in from readers about their tales of wild adventure as part of the "Your True Adventure" series that later became an ongoing series of short films. Whether the story we've come across this week from the August 19, 1937 Aspen Daily Times is true can certainly be debated, as Gibbons loved to pass on tall tales of manly-men doing manly men things in far-flung places around the globe. It was like the Penthouse Forum for would-be adventurers ("You'll never believe this, but I swear it really happened...).
This time, Gibbons offers the story of Emil Berg of Brooklyn, New York and his time down on the U.S.-Mexico border in Laredo, Texas for the U.S. Army. Like a lot of soldiers out for a night away from base, Berg and his companions liked to go for a drink. Only, with prohibition in effect in the states at the time, the only way they could get some booze was to cross the border into Mexico. Which they did. Often. Or at least often enough that it wasn't too big of a deal for them to skip the country and illegally booze it up.
On the night of November 1, while on his way back from a night on the ciudad of Nuevo Laredo (the other side of the border from Laredo), Berg was approached by by a "ominous looking individual" who stepped out of the bushes just before the international bridge over the Rio Grande. The guy asked Berg for his name, which didn't seem odd at first, because Berg had become moderately well-known as a boxer in the area after taking it up in the Army.
But as Berg responded, the Mexican apparently "reached for his hip and Emil found himself looking into the business end of a forty-five". Berg says he started to put up his hands, but as he did so, the Mexican turned to make sure nobody was coming -- so Berg "put his whole hundred and fifty-eight pounds behind a well-timed haymaker."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
The punch knocked the man out cold. Berg, happy to be done with the situation, threw the guy's gun in the bushes and headed back towards the bridge. But the cocky Berg apparently took a "leisurely" stroll back, and by the time he had made it to the bridge, the Mexican had awakened and found a shortcut, cutting Berg off at the pass. When Berg approached the bridge, Mexican soldiers arrested him for knocking out the would-be Mexican robber. Berg apparently tried to tell his side of the story, but nobody believed him and he was thrown in jail, where he languished for the next three days -- until the American consulate figured out where he was. By this time, Berg had already been tried and sentenced to two years of hard labor in a salt mine, though, and there wasn't much the consul could do.
So for the next few days, Berg sat in a Mexican jail dealing with, among other people, marijuana addicts!
That part of the story pretty much ends there -- but it's hardly the final word.
Another American, a "colored man," gets shot and killed trying to escape during a ten-day sentence for being drunk, but that doesn't seem to get either Berg or Gibbons all that upset. After a few more days, Berg is released to the consulate, who took Berg home, gave him a meal and then drove him back to base.