An Angel, or an MP?

Every Christmas my sister and I begged our parents to tell us the story of how they met, fell in love and got married. I, for one, never got tired of hearing it. For me theirs was the ultimate wartime romance.

From a small town in Colorado, my mother joined the Women’s Army Corps (WACS) in March, 1943. After basic training at Camp Atterberry in Edinburg, IN, she was assigned to Camp Campbell, KY (now Fort Campbell, KY) where she remained for the rest of the war attaining the rank of Technical Sergeant 4th Grade. It was there she met a brash, handsome, young sergeant from Staten Island, New York, well known for his wise-guy antics, good humor and love of anything wild and fun. Though it was Mom who usually told us the story, Dad always interjected with “For me, it was love at first sight”. The cocky, self assured big city boy fell head over heels in love with the grace, beauty and charm that was my mother.

Life on a state side base in the middle of the country in 1943 was busy for the women, but slow and boring for the men waiting to be called to go overseas. Despite the fact that women were given assignments which befitted the way society looked at them at that time, they were also given opportunities to learn radio transmission, motor pool maintenance and other jobs traditionally held by non-combatant men in the military. Mom was assigned to barracks commander, clerical office help, dental assistant, assistant librarian and supervising the German POW cleaning crew for the dental office.

Because of the camp’s locale in the interior of the country, POW labor was used. In this day long before the invention of the PC, cell phones or even commercial jet plane travel, if the POWs tried to escape they could not get very far before being recaptured. The regulations regarding the treatment of the POWs were very strict in accordance with the Geneva Convention. In fact, Mom was nearly Court Martialled for handing one of the POWs an orange left over from her lunch as she saw him eyeing it hungrily. The MP guarding the group knocked the orange out of her hand with his rifle tip and reported her. It was against regulations for anyone to touch the POWs in any way, give them anything, or speak with them outside of instructing them on their work duties. She got off with a stiff warning from her Commanding Officer.

With a great deal of time on his hands, Dad managed to spend a lot of time with Mom. Their love blossomed and grew.

Finally, one cold December morning, Dad got up the courage to ask Mom to marry him. My family still has the letter he wrote to his parents (my grandparents) that night after she accepted, That letter is priceless to us.

Dad got some “inside information” that his unit was headed overseas a few weeks hence, so plans were made hastily to get married on January 6, 1945. They were married in the middle of one of the worst blizzards to ever hit Clarksville, TN up to that time. Two feet of snow made them both AWOL getting back to base. 10 days later Dad was shipped out to France. Mom was not to see him again until that magical Christmas Day of 1945.

Although she was kept pretty busy on base, she was never too busy to write some of the most beautiful love letters I’ve ever read. They both kept every letter they wrote to each other and they are beyond priceless to us now.

In August, 1945 when the Japanese surrendered, the American GI was coming home at last!! My Dad was among 1 million plus men to arrive back in the U.S. by the end of September, 1945.

Since all of the paperwork for discharging even one GI was done by manual typewriter and by hand in those days,and since the Army assigned an all civilian processing unit of only a few hundred clerks the gargantuan task of processing the paperwork for 1 million plus discharges of both men and women from all branches of the armed forces, my Mom found herself at the bottom of the discharge list. In reality my father was out of the army 4 months before my mother was.

My Dad did not have money to spare to travel to Kentucky to see my Mom. Rather, he chose to stay in my mother’s small town of Sterling, CO and work to save money for them both to come back to New York City where he had a good job and an apartment lined up for them (that’s where his money went). In the meantime, he worked at the post office in Sterling, CO during the holiday season rush.

Mom was among the last of the women to be discharged from Camp Campbell. She and 6 others were to be discharged on December 26, 1945. Her commanding officer went to the clerks, all civilians who lived near the camp, and asked the exhausted, overworked group to process the papers for the seven women before they went home to enjoy their own family Christmas. After all, she told them, these women hadn’t spent Christmas with their families in several years.

The Day Room was the place on base where information about the activities and transportation off base was posted. With her discharge papers in her hand, Mom literally ran to the Day Room. There was nothing to pack. My Mom’s family was poor and all of her civilian clothing plus most of her salary had been sent home to be used. She only had the uniform she was discharged in and a couple of personal items.

She glanced at the available trains posted on the board and, to her absolute amazement, there was 1 single seat to be had on the Colorado Eagle going to Denver. There was only one train twice a week to Denver. The catch was that this train was leaving in 20 minutes. She said she never ran so fast in all her life as she did that day. She got the only taxi on the stand and it sped to the train station cutting several minutes off of the normal 25 minute trip.

As she got there, the train was just starting to pull out. Her heart racing as the train started to pick up speed, she ran along the platform yelling for the train to stop, . Suddenly a piercing whistle sounded on the platform in 4 short, sharp blasts. Thinking all was lost, Mom’s heart sank and she stopped and covered her face with her hands as great sobs rose.

An MP had seen her running and blown his whistle to stop the train. There were still military police stationed on train station platforms at that time. Mom and Dad said there were threats then of bombing the railroads, the major transportation of their day*. A gentle hand took her elbow.

he MP looked her in the eyes and Mom told me she would never forget what he said to her. “Hey sarge, you okay? Go get your train, its waiting for you. Here beautiful, don’t cry”. He handed her his handkerchief. To the day she died, she thought she had been touched by an angel of God.

She arrived in Denver on Christmas morning, where my Dad came to get her and took her home for the first time in 3 years. After spending time with her family, she and Dad left to start their new life and a new year in New York, and the rest as they say, is history.


My Mother and My Father’s recollections.

· Authors Footnote: According to my mother and father, during and for a short time after WWII, the military MPs on the train platforms were actually required to stop the train if there were military officers trying to board. Although a diligent search has been conducted of online military regulations of the time, I am unable to verify this as factual, so I must take their word for it..

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