Torpedoes on the Beach! Torpedoes on the Beach:

Boyhood Adventures in Galveston in the Midst of World War II

By Donna Gable Hutch
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Author Thomas Wolfe lamented in his titular 1940 novel, “you can’t go home again,” and in the strictest sense, that’s true: memories often present a distorted depiction of a place or time in one’s life. Yet, somehow, author Louis James Frey has managed to return to his 1940s childhood on Galveston Island and invited readers to share that wonderful journey through time.

The result is a charming and often-poignant time capsule told through the voice of Otis Kramer (aka Frey), whose experiences from 1941-47 paint an accurate portrait of what life was like on the island of yesteryear. The author has chosen to use pseudonyms in the telling of his young life in the Oleander City, but, make no mistake: It’s all real, and it’s all a great romp through a simpler, less jarring time, albeit during the height of World War II.

“All the vignettes are, indeed, based on true happenings and are in chronological order, as best that I could remember,” said Frey, 88, who wrote “Torpedoes on the Beach! Torpedoes on the Beach: Boyhood Adventures in Galveston in the Midst of World War II” at the behest of his family. “The names of my family and dear childhood friends were changed to protect the guilty,” he added.

The memoir explores a time when people flocked to the island to enjoy the then-new Galveston Pleasure Pier and the Great American Racing Derby—a more “grown up” version of a carousel. The famed Balinese Room was the “it” place to be, both to indulge in illegal gambling in the back room and to rub elbows with the likes of A-listers like Frank Sinatra, The Marx Brothers, Sophie Tucker, and Howard Hughes. During this time the island also played an important role in the largest and deadliest war in history.

“I have been thrilled with the feedback I have gotten from both young and older readers of the book… each chapter is a separate adventure of a rambunctious and curious young boy with his faithful companion and childhood friends,” the author said.

“It is an easy and fun read…Most readers have commented on the war activities on the island mentioned in the book…that they were unaware that German soldiers and submarines were so close and in the United States.”

The title of his book points directly to the uncomfortably close presence of the German U-boats to Galveston’s shores.

“They were the first words I heard when I answered the phone one summer day in 1942: ‘Louis, there’s a torpedo on the beach, a torpedo on the beach, man, you got to get down here right away to Gaido’s’,” Frey said.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, it was “all hands on deck” throughout the U.S., and Galveston was no exception. The island’s municipal airport was expanded to accommodate army aircraft and renamed Galveston Army Airfield. The military installation served as headquarters for a fighter-gunnery base of the Second Army Air Force, boasted 2,000 troops and employed some 2,500 people.

Fort Crockett was expanded with an additional large gun battery and served as a camp for German prisoners of war.

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When the United States entered World War II, the island’s air base served as a final briefing location for B-17 pilots before leaving for the Pacific, and the historic Hotel Galvez was commandeered by the United States Coast Guard and used as barracks during World War II. Unbeknownst to most island residents, including young Otis Kramer, German U-boats lurked in the waters, patrolling the southeast Texas Coast.

The author said he wanted to put his first-hand account of those war days to paper because “I didn’t want that unique piece of Gulf coast history to vanish just yet. The time frame of the childhood vignettes start in March of 1941 and end with the Texas City Disaster in April 1947, and that May moving on from the eighth grade into Kirwin High School and new adventures.”

His long surviving childhood pal from those days is Vince, “a retired cardiologist who has practiced in Austin, Texas. We are in touch to this day. Of the half dozen or so of my classmates that I did see frequently, the pandemic notwithstanding, Vince is the only one still above ground.”

It was Vince who introduced Frey to his best friend, a dog named Buckshot featured prominently in the book and who joins young Otis and his pals on their adventures.

“Chapter 2 is close to the way I acquired Buckshot. Bubbles, Buckshot’s mother, was Vince’s dog, and his mother was dead-set on giving away all the puppies, much to my mother’s displeasure. Buckshot was a clever dog, nevertheless, I could beat him two out of three in checkers, and he never really learned Latin,” he joked.

Revisiting his childhood was a gift, but the author said he’s happy to embrace the present and is looking forward the future.

“The joy and happiness of the here and now prevents me of even contemplating trying to relive or return to childhood days. I do visit with my Galveston friends often but only rarely speak of those days, other than to comment on our good fortune for having been in Galveston at the precise time in history to have been taught by those Ursuline nuns and Christian Brothers,” he said.

“One would have to have been blind and numb not to be greatly affected and influenced by their presence. Standing in front of us day in and day out, dedicating their lives to ensure our education and to teach us kids the love of God. How lucky can a kid get?”

Torpedoes on the Beach! Torpedoes on the Beach: Boyhood Adventures in Galveston in the Midst of World War II is available locally at Galveston Bookshop, 317 23rd Street and the 1892 Bishop's Palace gift shop, 1402 Broadway. The book is also available online at, $3.99 for Kindle version and $15.99 for paperback.

About the Author
Louis James Frey left Galveston after graduating from Kirwin High School, one of Galveston Island’s Catholic high schools, to attend the University of Houston, graduating in 1957. Along the way, he married his high school sweetheart Rose Marie, whom he’d met in third grade.

For the next twenty years, he worked in and out of the Middle East and lived in Saudi Arabia for nearly a decade, where he learned to read and write Arabic.

“Learning the language was hugely beneficial when I was assigned my biggest project, a $500 million hospital complex in Jeddah, Saudi,” he said. “That twenty-year period of my career took me to Algeria, Greece, Azerbaijan, and Saudi Arabia. This enabled me to visit and travel in over twenty-five different countries."

In 1995, Frey opened an office as an architect consultant and worked until 2015. He and Rose Marie, to whom he was married for 54 years, have seven children, fifteen grandchildren and seventeen great-grandchildren. She succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease in 2012.

Frey found love again at St. Anne Catholic Church’s annual Ladies Guild Christmas party in December 2016.

“Connie and I have been parishioners at St. Anne Catholic Church for over two decades and had never met,” he said. “We married two years later in 2018, in a beautiful wedding ceremony in St. Anne’s Church and just celebrated our third wedding anniversary. All my kids and Connie’s grandkids matriculated through St. Anne Elementary School before going off to high school and college.”