Finally - although I would not have used that word in May, 1951, my tours had ended and I was ready to leave Japan with hundreds of memories stored up and tears in my eyes as I prepared to go. My Japanese Colonel friend had asked me to spend a couple of days with him and surprised me by taking me to his wife's home where they had prepared a feast for me. Oh my! They came from miles away to thank me - once again, for the food and other items we had brought to them, The highlight of the meal was a huge bowl on Sukiyachi and it was delicious. But there was a problem. When I looked around to say my goodbyes, I looked for their cat. Suddenly, the room became very quite, I was about to learn the important role the cat had played in my farewell. Had I known what they planned to have a celebration, I would have made certain my buddies would have been there. However, on base, you leave alone. No good byes, no parties, no nothing. All debts and friendships are cancelled.
This time was departure was on a civilian plane with 50-60 other guys, heading home. We laid over in Hawaii and with a guy I had met on the plane, we decided to go into town and get drunk as we shared stories of our adventures in Japan. I decided to talk about the thrill I had in climbing Mount Fuji. A friend of a friend had introduced me to an Army nurse in Tokyo and she was looking for a partner to go with her. What fun, half way up. Then we began to tire and were amazed at the numbers of the much older Japanese men and women passing us by. We struggled up to the last station and decided to head home. Then, this 90 year old man sat down beside us and told us not to worry, he would be the guide to the top, We looked at each other as we had set a goal of making love as we got to the top. Ha! The air was so thin and we even had trouble breathing while we were standing up. Our goal had faded, so we moved on and made it. As we parted, we made a vow that if we ever met on the mainland, we would - finally, complete the task.
As it was in Hawaii, we slept past the hour we were supposed to leave and had to check in with the Operations office to see when we could get another flight. That gave us two more days in Hawaii and this time, we were scheduled on an Air Force cargo plane, no seats, no hostesses, no drinks, so we decided to start a poker game. As fate might have it, the Colonel who had been my Base commander for a couple of months was on board with us and he had lots of money. By the time we got to the U.S. he was broke and my friend and I had plenty with which to celebrate in San Francisco. We ate at the restaurant at the top of the Mark Hopkins hotel and I recall paying our waitress $20 to get a quart of milk because there was none available in the kitchen She returned with a half gallon. Not having real sweet milk for years, you might understand. Fun part was the fact that as they left, the people at the next table included my $20 on their bill.
When I got home to Detroit, I would learn that my Mother had moved to Atlanta, GA. Apparently, her letter telling me of the move never got to me. Fortunately, my Aunt and Uncle answered the phone and came to pick me up and on the way to their home, we stopped so I could see my Sister and I also met the guy who would become my Brother-in-law. My Aunt would take me to the farm to see my family up there and after a week or so, I was headed for Atlanta. It was good to see my Mother and spent some time with her, the first I had really spent time with her since I was little more than a baby boy.
Now, I was on a train to my new duty station, Eglin AFB on the Gulf coast of Florida. I got there on the 4th of July and it was hot, but not nearly as hot as it would be as I was taken to the transient quarters, barracks made of metal and by the time the sun hit the roof, it was immediately 25 degrees hotter than it was in the sun. I learned I was assigned to the Armament Test Center and given a room in an air conditioned barracks. We were only a few miles off of the beach at Fort Walton and we started work at 6AM so that we could be at the beach and in the water by 3PM. The only problem was transportation, so I still had money from the poker game on the flight back to the U.S., so I bought a car and immediately had "buddies" who needed a ride into town every time I headed there.
It was a good duty station as I was put to work revising the Armament skills section for airmen assigned to such work and had a good boss and a great secretary, a first for me, even though I shared her with the Commander of our organization. It wasn't long before I noticed the bathing beauties who were everywhere on the beaches. One in particular came from Iowa, the daughter of a farmer family and it wasn't long before we were in love. She had to go home with the girl friend she came with, but it wasn't long before she was back. She wanted to get married and so did I.
Unfortunately, it would never be. She was staying in a motel and after she had lunch, we would go out on the beach area to take in some rays, waiting for me. One day, however, we had visiting "brass" from the Pentagon and I had to stay for them. There was no way for me to call her to let her know of the delay. Finally, after 6PM, I headed for the beach only to find an ambulance, lights flashing, as I drove up. She had had a sun stroke and when they couldn't revive her, they headed for the hospital. She didn't make it. By the time I got in to see her, they were wheeling her to the morgue. The hospital administration was on the phone with her parents when I got to them. I was almost scared to pick up the phone as - to me, at the moment, I was responsible for her death. Her parents would have not have any of that. She had called them every day, told them of our plans and they were delighted. They had six girls, no boys and were ready to welcome me into their family. They even sent me air fare so I could fly "home" with her body and they welcomed me into a family I had never had