The Nuclear Family

Spiritual Smart Aleck

493

December, 1943: Mom and Dad were on their way to Dad’s first duty station in Galveston, Texas, when they took a little detour to Dalhart to have the ceremony performed. After all, there was a war on and if the Army had felt that the happy couple needed a honeymoon one would have been issued to them in boot camp.

The ink was barely dry on Mom and Dad’s marriage certificate when they arrived in Galveston. Dad was promoted to First Lieutenant, issued a parachute, and introduced to the latest hotrod pursuit aircraft in the Army Air Corps inventory: the super-charged, twin-engine, Lockheed P-38 Lightning.

His success rate with the P-38 was in keeping with the skills and abilities he had developed in all of the aircraft he had flown at this point. But now things were different. Now the cocky, self-assured flyboy had a wife to come home to at the end of the day, a woman with whom he wanted to spend more time.

Mom also had a problem brewing. The Ohio farm girl who grew up surrounded by family suddenly found herself in unfamiliar places with her family focus reduced to one person who was absent much of the time.

The Army’s attitude regarding wives was virtually identical to its attitude regarding honeymoons, but over the years it had developed a workable policy that it deemed sufficient. It provided clubs and activities for the wives to participate in as well as social circles and support groups with whom they could interact.

There was a dissatisfaction beginning to form for Mom. She had struck out for independence in July of 1943, embarking on an unknown future that beckoned irresistibly. Now, six months later, she was in Galveston, Texas, newly married, and the U.S. Army was deciding what her future would be. As an Army wife she was learning to soldier on in the midst of a whirlwind which swept away everything before it. The seeds of dissatisfaction were blown into the future, where they would take root and grow.

By May of 1944 Dad was transferred to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Having mastered the skills of flying twin-engine pursuit aircraft he entered into training for the Army Air Corps’ latest hotrod, the Martin B-26 Marauder, a medium bomber with an 8,000 pound payload capacity, enormous twin engines and a quirky personality. It was rushed into service without testing or a break-in period, going straight from the drawing board into the air. Even the construction of the airframe was experimental, the fuselage being formed of cylindrical structures that were bolted together to save weight for the bomb load. The early models had undersized wings which gave it less lift but that was offset by enlarging the engines.

The pilots called it the “flying cigar,” among other things, and proved that given enough power one could fly almost anything. The learning curve was steep and pilot and aircraft casualties climbed. At a training field in Tampa, Florida, the grim phrase became, “A B-26 a day in Tampa Bay.”

Improvements were made in the later models and pilot skills became a source of pride. Once the pilots grew accustomed to its quirky traits some actually came to love the aircraft.

In September of 1944 Dad and Mom finally got some time together that could have been used for a honeymoon but as far as the Army was concerned it was just annual leave. Nothing special. Just regulations.

Years later, Dad revealed that they used the time creatively. Personally I think they may have started playing around creatively a little earlier, but Dad has been known to be creative when telling stories, too.

At any rate, by January 28th, 1945, the writing must have been on the wall. Dad was transferred to Brownsville, Texas, and on April 1st he brought Mom back to her home town of Dover, Ohio, which was soon to become my home town as well. Relatives on both sides of the family must have breathed a huge sigh of relief that their prodigal children had finally returned and life could become normal again.

In Europe the Third Reich collapsed in flames. Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 4th, 1945.

On May 28th I was born. It was a difficult birth. Mom was badly injured inside. For the next two years Mom would be having reconstructive surgeries, while her older sister Doris, my Aunt Dodie, took care of me.

On August 6th, 1945, the nuclear age was unleashed on Hiroshima on the Japanese island of Honshu, and on August 9th, it was unleashed again on Nagasaki on the island of Kyushu. Japan surrendered unconditionally on September 2nd, 1945.

That same month Dad was discharged from the Army. He spent the next six weeks adapting to being a peacetime civilian and father while Mom was recuperating from the first of many surgeries in Dover. In November Dad left for Fort Dodge, Iowa, to begin working in his dad’s tailor shop, and to find a house for us.

He was successful, and for the next year we were setting up for a normal life as a standard, salt-of-the-earth Midwest nuclear family, but the seeds of dissatisfaction were beginning to sprout for Dad, and we would not be in Fort Dodge for long.