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A Wartime Romance

Spiritual Smart Aleck
Mark and Dawn Tuel, December, 1944
Mark and Dawn Tuel, December, 1944

This week’s column is by my husband, Rick Tuel, who, now that he’s retired, has time to record a little family history. He writes: My dad, Mark Tuel, was born in Lehigh, Iowa, in 1921, the elder of two brothers. Two years later Mom was born on Sugar Creek Road in Dover, Ohio, the younger of two sisters.
 
Dad was raised in Lehigh and Ford Dodge, Iowa. He was a small town boy who grew up swimming and fishing in the Des Moines River. His dad was a tailor and sign painter.
 
My mom, Dawn Kennedy, grew up on her parents’ farm on Sugar Creek Road, essentially being raised by her older sister Doris. In those Depression years the farm couldn’t support itself and like most farmers in the area her dad worked at the Reeves Steel Mill to help make ends meet.
 
The tradition in rural Ohio farming communities was for the children to grow up and take their places within the social fabric of their forebears, preserving and strengthening it for the succeeding generation. When Mom complete the 12th grade, her parents asked her what she wanted for a graduation present and were shocked to the roots of the family tree when she instantly answered, "Luggage."
 
They complied reluctantly and in July of 1943 she shook the dust of Sugar Creek Road from her feet and boarded a train for Los Angeles.
 
It was not a random decision. Some months earlier two of Mom’s acquaintances from Dover High School made a break for it and landed in Los Angeles. Gladys and Hilda found jobs there and a nice house close to the beach and apparently the Great Depression was finally ending as the wartime economy began to rev up. It was freedom, excitement, and a whole new life out on the West Coast.
 
The early years of World War II shook an entire generation of kids out of their nests, some to return, some not. One of the first casualties of the war was tradition itself as the new generation took wing, leaving its parents wondering what the world was coming to.
 
By that time Dad had literally taken wing. He had enlisted in the Army in April of 1942 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. He was deep into flight training starting with the Stearman Biplane, a forgiving aircraft that allowed the cadets to learn the basic skills of flight control, takeoffs and landings. It was like flying a box kite with a 12-cylinder radial engine.
 
The next step up the ladder was the BT-13-A, a fixed single wing trainer that the cadets called "the Vultee Vibrator." A day in the trainer was the equivalent of taking a laxative.
 
Dad was in training throughout the war, advancing to pursuit fighter aircraft and light bombers. As his skills increased he was shifted through a variety of duties from towing airborne targets for aerial gunnery training to flight controller duty on the ground. Here the miraculous begins to unfold.
 
While working the Flight Control Center in L.A. he met Gladdy and Hilda. Off duty Gladdy and Hilda would go out night-clubbing with the flyboys and would invite homesick young men to their house for meals and socializing.
 
At about this point, another train filled with Midwest-American refugees pulled into Union Station and in the fullness of time, Hilda invited Mark to come over to the house. There was someone staying with her and Gladdy who she wanted him to meet.
 
And so Mom and Dad’s separate paths finally crossed and their meeting was…tepid.
"Mom didn’t like me much at first," Dad said years later. "She thought I was too cocky."
Likewise, years later, Mom added her own thoughts. "I had only been on my own for a few months," she said. "I wanted more of that."
 
But there was a war on; there was no time for more of that. Dad didn’t know when he’d be shipped out and didn’t want her to be "the girl I left behind" to be snapped up by some other guy. When he received orders for further flight training in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he popped the big question right away. Mom went back to Ohio to think it over while Dad changed duty stations.
 
Mom’s family tree got its roots shaken once again when she abruptly flew the coop and caught a train for Dalhart, Texas. Fears of shame and scandal back in Dover finally were put to rest when Dad and mom were united in marriage on Christmas Day, 1943.