Meet Your Neighbor: Kingman resident recalls life in Liberia in 1942

The African nation of Liberia seen almost daily in the news today bears little resemblance to the country John Sloan visited in 1942 when he was in the United States Navy.

"Monrovia was just a small community with no paved roads," he said.

"There was one white house there that served as their state capitol.

"The only running water was troughs beside the streets that people would dip into to get water for cooking.

The people used the beach as their bathroom and covered it over with sand as there were no toilets that I knew of."

Nigerian and American forces arrived in Liberia last week to serve as peacekeepers in a country wracked by 14 years of fighting that have marred the presidency of former warlord Charles Taylor.

Taylor has made past promises to step down and then reneged.

His latest promise is to cede power and leave the country today (Aug.


That may happen as Taylor resigned Thursday and named his vice president, Moses Blah, to succeed him with that handover of power to take place today.

Slaves from America, seeking to form their own country, founded the capital city of Monrovia in 1822, Sloan said.

Sloan was in Liberia for one week during his Navy tour of 1941-43.

He was a signalman attached to a Liberty-type cargo ship that was manned largely by merchant marine members and which was under the regulations of the seldom heard of Naval Armed Guard Service.

Monrovia had no dock in 1942, so ships anchored in the bay.

Barges made regular trips with natives to unload cargo, which during Sloan's visit consisted of train engine parts.

"I didn't smoke, but we were allowed one carton of cigarettes per week," he said.

"I saved mine, so whenever I went somewhere I could trade them.

"A native took me upriver one day for four packs and I visited three villages.

They consisted of primitive huts made of straw, wood and mud.

All of those I entered had fires burning in the middle of the room, probably for cooking, so the huts were smoky and smelly."

Sloan, who was born in Cisco, Texas, stuck to eating military food.

The daily lunch "special" of locals was enough to convince him not to sample their cuisine.

"Whenever we brought natives out on barges to unload cargo one or two would put a line over the side and catch fish," he said.

"They'd build a fire on deck and have rice and fish for lunch.

But they cooked the whole fish, head, bones and all, and ate with their hands since they had no utensils."

Americans were made welcome, especially those with cigarettes.

They were treated like kings, Sloan said.

Sloan was able to trade cigarettes for numerous souvenirs as shown in the accompanying photo.

"They don't show much of the country on TV now, just the people," he said.

"But there were a couple of times when I saw something in the background that looked familiar, like huts joined together."

While he has not been in Liberia since that one World War II visit, Sloan said he would like to return there some day.

Sloan said he was a merchandiser for department store chains such as Allied for 25 years before retiring in 1990.

A merchandiser guides store buyers in what they purchase for their companies.

His work took him to California, Michigan, Indiana, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Oregon and Hawaii.

Sloan and his wife, Freda, have been married 54 years.

They considered New Mexico as a place to retire, but several pre-retirement trips brought them through Kingman on Interstate 40 and they liked what they found here.

They made the move from Van Nuys, Calif., in April 1990.

Sloan does volunteer work for several organizations today.

He has been a volunteer for the last 12 years for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and chairman the past two years of its Arizona Community Service Network.

He also is a past acting state president of AARP.

Sloan also is a past state delegate to the White House Conference on Aging.

Neighbors is a feature that appears Monday in the Kingman Daily Miner.

If you have an interesting story you'd like to share, contact Terry Organ at 753-6397 ext.