SUBTITLE: When, where and how I first met my wife
The following statement was excerpted from the website of the Georgia Peach Commission:
“Nothing else tastes like a Georgia peach. Its deliciously juicy, sweet flavor is unique, but, at the same time, incredibly versatile.”
That statement is true—a Georgia peach is all that and more. The peach is the official state fruit, and each year between mid-May and mid-August, Georgia produces more than 40 species and more than 130 million pounds of peaches.
Historically, the beauty of Georgia peaches also refers to the beauty, versatility and sweetness of Georgia’s women. That is also true. I should know—I met and married a Georgia peach in 1952.
Every year of my life has been spectacular, but some years shine brighter than others—the year of my marriage, for example, and 1954, 1960 and 1964, the birth years of my three daughters, and several overseas tours and assignments including combat tours in Korea and Viet Nam (and my return therefrom) over a period of 48 years in the the United States government, including 22 years in the military and 26 years in federal law enforcement.
All shine brightly, but one year in particular stands out from all the others—1952, the year I met and married Janie, the mother of my children—Janie, my wife and my life.
In January of 1952 a Navy troop transport ship docked in San Francisco, two weeks after departing Japan. Among the military personnel debarking was a 19-year-old Air Force sergeant, six-feet tall (minus five inches), with a soaking-wet weight of 110 pounds. That young man was my mother’s youngest son, returning after 22 months with the Fifth Air Force in Japan and Korea.
I arrived in Japan in April 1950, two months before the start of the Korean conflict in June of that year—I spent seven months at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo and Itazuke Air Base near Fukuoka, a city on the southern island of Kyushu. The next 15 months were spent in Korea at the height of the war, with assignments to airfields at Taegu in the south and Kimpo in the north, near Seoul, the capital of South Korea. I had intermittent stays at Nagoya and Brady Field in Japan (Brady Field is a strong candidate for a future post). My time in Nagoya became necessary when the Chinese army overran Teagu in the winter of 1950—my outfit left the air base in considerable haste—at least as fast as we could in a heavily loaded transport plane, a vintage Gooney Bird (C-47). We drew fire from advancing Chinese communist troops on takeoff, but managed to remain airborne and completed the flight to Brady Field in Japan.
This “squad” pictured below in the fall of 1951 had just returned from a combat assignment well beyond the outer perimeter of Kimpo Air Base. A group of Chinese soldiers had been spotted “advancing on the airfield,” and we, along with other similar groups of freedom fighters, were dispatched to counter their advance (I kid you not!). Ours was a 10-man squad, but only four responded to the call to arms. Although we were undermanned, we were heavily armed and ready for any encounter—we each had a carbine, each loaded with 15 rounds of .30 caliber ammunition (once again, I kid you not!).
I’m the tall, handsome Gregory Peck look-alike on the right (I never did get the straps on my backpack straightened out). The Ted Danson look-alike on my right is not Ted Danson, and the man on the left, Chief Many-Stripes, is our squad leader, a retread who was called out of retirement to help win the war. He was also our tent chief until one night in the winter of 1951 when, to avoid going out into the snow he peed in our water bucket. He had an affinity for strong drink which he daily demonstrated, and he claimed that was what made him do it—we tossed the drunk and the peed-in bucket into a snowbank and relieved him of his tent-chief duties. The fourth member of our squad (second from left) was called Swede, a garrulous sort who owned and played—relentlessly and poorly—an accordion with several missing keys. He also accompanied himself with song and never refused my request to play and sing “Danny Boy,” my favorite refrain, rendered softly in an Irish brogue. Go figure!
EPILOGUE: During the battle we were safely ensconced in trenches on the side of a hill, facing north with another hill between us and the enemy. We couldn’t see the action on the ground, but we could see the fighter planes going in, unloading bombs and napalm and strafing with fire from .50 caliber cannons. We passed the time by reading and passing around pages removed from a paperback copy of Mickey Spillane’s “My Gun is Quick.” In that manner we could all read the salacious novel at the same time. We eventually concluded that the enemy had been effectively neutralized, and in the absence of orders to the contrary we returned to our duties in the interior of Kimpo Air Base.
But I digress—on to Georgia and its peaches.
In 1952 television was in its infancy—there were no cameras on the dock in San Francisco, not so much as a box-Brownie, nor were there any cute and curvaceous blonds (neither male nor female) with microphones waiting to congratulate us on our return to “the land of round doorknobs and big PXs” (doors in Japan were fitted with handles rather than knobs, and Post Exchanges were small).
We were met at the end of the gangplank by a Red Cross Welcome Wagon, a vehicle-drawn wooden affair fitted with flip-up sides, staffed by two ladies who would have been far more comfortable in a rest-home, knitting and cross-stitching items for their great-grandchildren. Instead they volunteered, on a normal day in San Francisco (foggy and drizzling rain), to greet and welcome American GIs returning from combat tours in Korea, and to offer and dispense lukewarm coffee and soggy donuts.
The coffee was lukewarm and the doughnuts were soggy, but the ladies’ smiles and their welcoming words were real. I hope God blessed them for that —I know I did.
My original enlistment was for three years, but that enlistment was extended by one year, courtesy of Harry S Truman, our president at the time. On my return from Korea I began that final year at Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Georgia, an advanced pilot training installation with Lockheed T-33 single-engine jet aircraft, a tandem two-seat version of Lockeed’s famous F-80 Shooting Star. I lived in enlisted quarters on base with a hodge-podge group of hooch-mates, including one who had found the love of his life in Douglas, Georgia, a small town located a considerable distance from the air base.
We’ll call him George, because that was his name.
Love-smitten George drove a 1947 Cadillac convertible which unfortunately was badly damaged when its driver, returning from visiting his girlfriend, traveling late at night and at high-speed on a narrow two-lane highway in an area which had no fences and in which cows, hogs, horses, sheep and other assorted domestic animals (and wild animals, or course) were allowed to roam free, attempted to have his Cadillac, with the top down, occupy a cow’s space when the cow started across the road. The two moving objects met in the center of the road and the results were predictable. The car was badly damaged and required extensive repairs. The cow was damaged beyond repair and died, expiring in the rear seat with all four feet in the air, having landed there on her back after flipping up and over the windshield following contact with the Cadillac’s grill.
At this point the reader may feel that, in the words of Hillary Clinton concerning General Petraeus’ report on the war in Iraq, suspension of disbelief is required, but the story is true. If one concedes that something is possible, one should therefore concede that it may have happened. Since George and the cow are not available to support or deny it (both now graze in greener pastures), the story should be allowed to stand and be accepted on its own merits—such as they are.
While the Cadillac was undergoing renovation, George negotiated a weekend date with his sweetheart, a girl who lived some 60 miles from the base and who would eventually become his wife. He begged and pleaded with me, on bended knees (yes, literally) to let him borrow my car. Not wishing to thwart his plans and spoil his weekend, I reluctantly let him use it, warning him to check the engine oil level. He did, but managed to leave the hood unlatched and, apparently at high speed, the hood flew up and was badly crumpled near its hinges at the windshield. I managed, with my aircraft mechanic’s tools, to make the car drivable and told George that he had seriously undermined our friendship, and that under no circumstances would he ever again use my car or anything else I owned.
With his Cadillac still in the hospital, George came to me a couple of weeks later with a highly unlikely tale about a lovely girl, a cousin and roommate of his sweetheart. He said that he had told her about a friend (me), and that she was interested and would commit to a blind date if I agreed, and therefore I should go with him, in my car of course, to meet her and keep that date. I tried mightily to refuse, but because the girl was described as a real “Georgia peach” in such glowing terms, I agreed to the blind date.
I took this photo in Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C. in 1983, our 31st year of marriage. The girl was everything George said she was, but our blind date was a disaster, a calamity comparable to the Titanic sinking and to every hurricane that ever hit the Gulf coast. She was not expecting me, and considered me nothing more than George’s friend, acting as his chauffeur. There was never a blind-date. The story was a ruse designed to move George the 60 miles needed to be with his sweetheart. The adage says “all’s fair in love and war,” but this was not fair—for George, perhaps, but not for me and not for my “date.”
She agreed, rather reluctantly it seemed, to go out with us for a movie and burgers, so the four of us spent several hours in my car that evening, hours which included “dragging Main” (very few of us remain who remember that pastime) and a drive-in movie, and later Cokes and burgers at a drive-in restaurant. At both drive-in locations my date stayed glued to her door with a firm grasp on the handle, rejecting any moves or suggestions on my part. I, of course, was pretty well ostracized and stranded in my position at the steering wheel. Meanwhile George and his girlfriend, at both drive-in locations, made out effectively and noisily in the back seat. The carhop at the drive-in placed her tray on my door, and I managed to take out some of my frustration by refusing to pass items to the couple in the back—they had to reach over the front seat for burgers, fries and drinks. In retrospect I realized that my actions, or lack thereof, did not endear me to anyone, neither to my “date” nor to the couple in the back seat.
We parted that night with both of us resolved never to darken our respective doorways again, and that any future interaction, dates or otherwise, was out of the question. The resolutions were unspoken but we both acknowledged them at a later time. However, my resolve faded as my memories of the girl I had met grew stronger. After a few very long days I managed to arrange a rematch, and eventually I won the championship.
That’s it—that’s when, where and how I met a girl, the Georgia peach who became my wife in a union forged at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 13, 1952—a union which is well on its way to 57 years and one which will last forever.
I’ll get back to you later with more details.