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Brent's mother, Royce Hilton

THE GULF ORDNANCE PLANT
ESPIONAGE

or THE GULF ORDNANCE LIPSTICK & THE FBI

by Brent Coleman

It is hard to believe it today, but in those booming war years Main Street in Prairie was crowded with people, and its businesses were thriving and busy. One of those thriving, busy businesses was a small cafe owned by my mother. This intriguing story of a nefarious plot hatched in a small cafe in Prairie was told to me by my mother long after it happened, long after World War II was over.

This is a story of an incident in which that security was almost compromised. My mother and her business happened to play a role in this unfolding drama that may have prevented what could have led to sabotage leading to bloodshed and loss of life among the workers at the Gulf Ordnance.

One night at closing time a customer came in and sat at one of the tables. The only people left in the cafe were the cook who was cleaning the kitchen and a waitress clearing the tables before closing.

The "customer" asked to speak to the owner and when my mother came out, he introduced himself and showed his FBI credentials. He asked if they could speak in private and when the cook and waitress left, she sat at the table across from him, puzzling over what the FBI could possibly want with her.

As he explained, he showed her a napkin which he said came from a napkin holder from her cafe, like the one that stood between them on the table.

It seemed that someone, a customer in the cafe earlier that day, had used one of the napkins, but used it, not for its purpose, but for an ill-purpose, a plot against the munitions plant. It was just luck that a later customer at the same table had also used some of the napkins. The later customer, an employee in office management at the plant, had by chance chosen to eat at that table and upon leaving had taken a handful of the napkins and put them in her purse to use later to blot the lipstick from her lips. Later when she took the napkins out to use one, she noticed what appeared to be a diagram on one napkin detailing a section of the plant. The employee reported the drawing on the napkin, and only a few hours after the employee had taken some of the napkins, the FBI man sat at her table questioning about the incident.

He questioned Mom as to who had sat at the table prior to the employee and she said she answered his questions as best she could remember. Upon leaving he cautioned her to say nothing about the napkin incident, or the fact that he had even talked to her.

The FBI man seemed satisfied with her answers, but she was left completely in the dark, always wondering what it all meant.

Was Gulf Ordnance Ammunition Plant saved from sabotage and destruction by lipstick? We will never know for certain, nor will we ever know what we might owe to a pair of lips - or to that woman who knew how to use them.

-- from The Gulf Ordnance Plant 1942 - 45, Brent Coleman, A TomBigbee Country magazine Special Edition, 2002

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