Pfc. Robert Blatchley was serving with the Sixth Howitzer Battery, 27th Field Artillery, U.S. Army at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. It was the middle of May, and like other soldiers earning $87 a month, he had empty pockets, a head full of dreams and belief in a horse he knew couldn't lose.
With the weekend off and only five more days until his discharge date, he was hoping to watch the 1964 Preakness on television. Maybe if he could get a bet down and have a rooting interest it would ease the feeling of loneliness, the void that comes with being away from home and realizing that important things are going on and you can't be there.
But Private First Class Blatchley didn't have enough money for a Preakness wager. With typical GI ingenuity, the young man carried his Army-issue overcoat to a pawn shop in downtown Fort Smith, Ark. Surprisingly, he got $10.
"This let me make an across-the-board bet for $6 and still have $4 to cover a beer and a sandwich. There was a bar called the Hideaway and in the back room was a betting parlor. They had the names and numbers of the horses on a blackboard. I got down on the long shot, 25 to 1."
Private Blatchley was seriously committed to Roman Brother, despite the presence of the favored Hill Rise and the Derby winner, Northern Dancer, who won impressively. Roman Brother was way out of it; never got a call. PFC Blatchley went back to camp. He had made a bad bet.
What happened to the overcoat?
"I don't know," said Blatchley, now a lawyer with the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. "Hot weather was coming on and I was getting out of service. The Army gave you the coat to take home but I left it in Fort Smith, courtesy of Roman Brother."