D W J—My Dad—Part Two
After Dad returned to Ottumwa from China in 1946, he decided he would join his dad and uncle in the family business—Johnson Funeral Chapel. He also started dating Phyllis “Phee” Pohlson, my mom, and popped the question on Valentine’s Day in 1948. Dad attended the Cincinnati College of Embalming (now Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science), taking time out in June 1948 to get married before returning to Cincinnati with his bride to finish his schooling. (Like last week, Dad's words below are in italics; [my comments are in brackets.])
In December 1951, I was visited by a Captain in the Marine Corps who wanted to know if I was interested in returning to active duty. We met at the pub at the Hotel Ottumwa and reminisced a bit. I said no; I have a wife and child and another on the way, and I’m involved in the family business. Do you think I will be involuntarily recalled? He said he didn’t think so.
At the end of December 1951, I came home one afternoon and saw the pile of mail on the radiator. In the pile was a thick manila envelope with the return address “9th Marine Corps Reserve District” in Chicago. My heart sank. I just knew what it was: tons of copies of orders to active duty.
[Daughter no. 2—that would be me—was born on December 29, 1951, right in the middle of all this angst. I hope that event gave Dad something to smile about.]
It was two weeks before I told anybody. Dad and I decided to work through our district representative (Karl LeCompte) in Washington, DC. With proper communication, I got a delay in the orders until June. (I was originally supposed to report the first of March or April 1952.) I went to St. Louis for two physicals, hoping to flunk due to my blood pressure problems but no luck with that, unfortunately.
Dad and I got an appointment with a board of “bird colonels” at the Marine Corps headquarters in Washington, DC where we would plead our case for not having to report for active duty. We flew over and got that done. They were pleasant about it. I got another delay until the last of September at which time I reported to Marine Corps Air Station at Seattle for minimal training (about a month) in the SNI airplane. I flew back to Ottumwa for several days, then reported to El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Santa Ana, California after driving out from Iowa with my family [Phee, Julie, Sally]. We first stopped in a suburb of Los Angeles to visit the Borschels. The next day we arrived at El Toro. We lived in military housing just outside the base—big two-story buildings—our unit had two bedrooms.
We left Ottumwa on election day when Eisenhower was elected. I drove a black 1951 DeSoto 4-door. We pulled a one-wheel trailer with what we felt we’d need for us and two little kids. (We got the trailer at Sears.) Mom [Phee] and the two girls stayed with me at El Toro from November 1952 to the end of February 1953. Dad and Mom came out to fly with them back home. (They told me Julie cried “where’s my daddy—where’s my daddy!?”) They flew on a Lockheed Constellation to Kansas City, then switched to an Ozark DC-3 to fly on to Ottumwa.
[Here’s something I should have asked: How’d they get the DeSoto back to Iowa? Maybe they sold it in California.]
I thought I was going to be shipped overseas sooner. While I waited, I stayed in bachelor officer quarters for several weeks. Then I received overseas orders (Marine Corps Transport). I spent one night in Hawaii, then on to Guam, then Tokyo, then to King 3 (military designation for a Marine station).
Prior to leaving El Toro, I had attempted to join MAG-25 [Dad served with this group on Bougainville during WWII] but it didn’t work out. I saw a commanding officer about it, but he apologized and said his compliment was full. I ended up in a non-flying outfit (radar installation) close to King 3 airport. MGIS (Marine Ground Control Intercept—radar squadron) was where I spent nine months. In August 1953, they signed the armistice. I immediately wrote a letter that had to go up through the ranks, trying to get home early. My recall period was supposed to last seventeen months (federal mandate), but I got to go home after fifteen months of duty.
I flew through Hawaii where I stayed a couple of nights before I earned passage to San Francisco. I was inactivated there and returned to civilian life. Phee rode the train out and met me at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. We took a train down to Los Angeles to visit Uncle Cy and Aunt Bea and Cousin Lois and flew home from LAX. We flew to Des Moines and Mom and Dad and Julie and Sally met us at the airport. Dad had a 1953 DeSoto limousine (family/pall bearers’ car) that he eventually turned into an ambulance.
I remained in inactive reserve until 1957. At that time, I received a letter from Marine Corps headquarters with the opportunity to be discharged. I was active/inactive reserves status continuously from November 12, 1942 until this date in 1957. There was no stipend while inactive.
Some potentially notable/pertinent afterthoughts from Dad . . .
When Arlo [Anderson] and I first got to Ames in 1942, we lived in a house near Lake Laverne (we called it “Lake La Germ”). Eventually we were billeted in a girls’ dorm [at Iowa State College, later University]. They kicked the girls out, so some of the guys helped them move. (We took over the entire dorm.) The lieutenant commander in charge (I was in the navy then, remember) knew I had a bugle (can’t remember if it was theirs or mine). Because of my Kemper experience, I was asked to play taps and other bugle calls no one else knew (“to the colors,” for example).
The Sunday I soloed for the first time was in early April. It was a small dirt field, a relatively short runway with humps. We learned stalls and how to recover from spins. We were taught to fly around a square mile when you could tell which way the wind was blowing. If the wind was from the right, it would blow you to the left. To make a straight path, you’d put the nose to the right.
I learned to fly at night at Livermore Primary Naval Air Station in California. If you were lucky, there was a full moon. But it was dark as pitch when I did it. There were flares along the runway. You flew by the seat of your pants. If you got up and around and landed some way, you passed. Instructors weren’t excited about going up on those flights.
At St. Mary’s College [near Oakland, California], we spent a lot of time marching and sweating. We also had athletics: boxing, wrestling, swimming, football, basketball, soccer, running. And marching—always marching. And we had a step-test to determine our condition—up and down on a box for 3 minutes (maybe 5). At the end, I just barely made it, struggling for breath. They’d take your pulse to check how long it would take to return to normal. At the end of 3 months, we did the same test. I didn’t dread it at all because I knew I was in good shape. The last test was a 4 (8?)-mile run around a lake. I only recall one Saturday or Sunday we were allowed to go into Oakland. They were having a dance. It’s the only time in my life I wore my navy whites. We were issued everything navy at St. Mary’s, from underwear to whites to blues. I think I was wearing jockey shorts prior to being issued boxers. Never went back. (I was a “free swinger.” Ha!)
I remember one night lying in bed awake about an hour after taps. Over the PA system came this announcement: “Duty plumber, report to the Waves barracks.” You can imagine the hoots and hollers from the guys’ barracks!
At El Centro (California), I went to church there, met a nice family. The father had a car he sold to me and a friend for $100.00, a ’37 Ford—60 horsepower—just enough to get us around. He bought it back from us when we shipped out. I became acquainted with a family with horses, so I got to ride those. I also rode a motorcycle and sang in a church choir (not Lutheran).
When we left San Diego on the ship (May 1945—the USS General H. L. Scott), we had a pretty good idea where we were going. (We weren’t supposed to know.) I told Mom if I used a certain term [in his letters], they’d know where we were. I don’t remember the code. It was quite an experience aboard that ship. Junior officers were down in the hold. It was so hot we’d go up on top to sleep. I got pneumonia and an ear infection during that sailing and felt like hell when we got to Bougainville. In all my experience in the military, I never once went to the hospital—sick bay, yes, for the flu or an ear infection. At Rodd Field in Texas I broke my collarbone playing softball. I was off duty for a week—they taped me up.
I was smoking then [WWII]. Started out on Lucky Strikes. At the beginning of the war, they were in a green package. Because of some ingredient in that green color, they switched to white. “Lucky Strike Green has gone to war.” I smoked everything. When the filters came out, I switched to those.
[Dad quit smoking cold turkey in 1970, not long before I graduated from high school.]
Food: the worst was as a cadet in the main station. It was a bird of some kind—seagull?—not recognizable. Breakfasts were best. In Livermore we had “sh*t on a shingle.” [“SOS”—my mom would sometimes make that for us—chipped beef in a white sauce on toast—we liked it, at least I did—it was probably the first time I heard the word “sh*t.”] All in all, nobody went hungry. On holidays, they’d go out of their way to have traditional stuff.
On the islands, there would be mosquito netting around our cots. We also had mosquito bombs where they’d drive by and spray this fog. At Bougainville, they had movie night every night, bench seats, out in the open. It was very humid there. We had to powder envelopes so they wouldn’t seal themselves.
Philippines: They were still fighting in the northern end of the Philippines even when I was there [at the end of WWII]. Filipinos would give anything for American cigarettes. Just before they closed the base at Bougainville, I bought a case. (Don’t remember how many cartons.) The plan was to take them up to the Philippines and sell them for $1.00 a pack after buying them at 5 cents a pack. Mine were moldy so I didn’t get as much as I could have. It was just something to do.
My commanding officer in Korea replaced a guy we liked. This new C.O. was an academy guy and wanted to get the place shaped up (more military). The first guy was more fun to be with. Eventually, the new guy turned out to be pretty good because he got us a softball field, so that was a good thing.
Of the two of them, Mom was really the letter writer. But after he retired in 1990, Dad had time to sit at his typewriter (and later computer) to pen some pretty interesting, sometimes silly, often clever letters to all of his kids. He even had special stationary printed up (“Dateline: Dad”). I saved a few letters—here are some excerpts.
For a time (and I totally forgot he did this), Dad walked in the church (First Lutheran) fellowship hall early in the morning, usually between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. On 11 Feb 1991 he told us “I hook up my cassette player and will sometimes walk to Wagner, stride to Sousa, mosey to Mozart, canter to the Canadian Brass, gallop to Grainger, and I have even sauntered to Sally’s senior recital.”
Dad was a voracious reader. It was usually biographies or historical fiction or non-fiction. Here’s a quote from 18 Feb 1991: “Out of the clear blue sky last week, Ron T. brought two books to our door as a gift for me. One was, I believe, the latest ‘The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbs’ and Colleen McCullough’s ‘The First Man in Rome.’ What a contrast. Anyway, he said that I had always been so kind to Billie [Ron’s wife] and he wanted to thank me.”
From 28 Feb 1991, describing a walk at church when Mom was along for the ride: “Mom had been walking clockwise, but I have converted her to counterclockwise. She makes square corners and I round mine out. She counts her laps and I simply walk for 45 to 50 minutes. Being larger, faster, and with prettier plumage, I pass her on the port side two or three times each morning. In so doing I pat her on the po-po a couple of times. O, what joy! I love it, I love it! (a la Zippermouth) [Jim Zabel, a Des Moines radio and television sports broadcaster]. As the patee, I think she likes it too. It is just God and Martin Luther there to observe us. I know God would approve and I understand Luther was somewhat of a rake and probably would enjoy such antics.”
19 Mar 1991: “I continue to mail in my Reader’s Digest 5 million dollar giveaway contest. I was pleased to learn that the odds are only 197,000,000 to one and hope springs eternal.”
4 Sep 1991: “As you all remember, one year ago on Sept. 1 I started retirement. It has been one of the most interesting, challenging, and quickest years of my life, I do believe. I truly am enjoying retirement in every way, and I think this is remarkable for one who had made absolutely no plans to do so.”
16 Sep 1991: “I had distressing news on Saturday as the mail brought news of the death of Bill McReynolds in San Jose. I have lost two closest service buddies in a seven-month period. He and I stood side by side at our graduation and commissioning on Aug. 9, 1944 in Corpus Christi Tex. Time marches on.”
11 Nov 1991: “Today is Veterans Day. When I was a kid it was known as Armistice Day. The high school band marched in the parade and for a while we had our traditional game with Oskaloosa. I am also reminded that 49 years ago tomorrow I enlisted as a Naval Aviation Cadet in Kansas City. Mercy. I was 20 and Pearl Harbor had occurred just 11 months earlier while I was attending Kemper Military School. I remember being thrilled that I had been accepted by the Navy and somewhere have a telegram that I sent to Dad and Mom advising them of the fact.”
14 Jan 1992: “Not much to report today. Went to church men’s weekly breakfast this morning. Mostly just burp and belch club where we talk about the [U of Iowa] Hawkeyes and of things past. … I quote from Dave Barry’s Jan. 13th column in which he describes a couple of women as having 'Blitherer’s Disease which occurs when there is no filter between the brain and the mouth.' I believe I know the women, but men are not immune. … Vell, dollinks, it is time for roast beast samwitches made with Dad’s home baked bread. Time to boogie. Love you lots.”
28 Apr 1992: “Last nite, alone, I attended the high school spring band concert and enjoyed it very much. For you former band members, the old school music dept. is still putting out a pretty good sound. I was surprised though that neither band had a tuba on stage. Marlin W. said they have one coming up in the 8th grade. In my day, if they needed a tuba, they took a pee poor cornet player like me and draped a sousaphone around him. I hope to go to the Vocal Pops concert on the 5th of May.”
19 Sep 1993 (writing after visiting Joe and me in Virginia): “Our visit with old Marine Corps buddy Don Reed near Jackson [Michigan] was a delightful time and we talked and talked. He remembered things I had forgotten and vice versa. We had last seen them in 1951 and prior to that 1946 when I was inactivated after WW2. He and I had a few beers at that time and bought herringbone suits in downtown Chicago. I think I wore mine maybe twice. … I am currently listening to KSUI Iowa City (FM) classical. If anyone is interested the Hawks [Iowa Hawkeyes] lost their hind end to Penn State Saturday and it looks like an extremely long season. … It was nice, for me at least, to get home. I think The Mom would wash her skivvies and be off the next day.”
This is the last picture I have of Dad and me. It was taken about a month before he died on December 8, 2007. The cause of death was listed as “Cardiopulmonary arrest due to hypertension and diabetes (type II).” They had to call it something. He just plumb wore out. He was 85 and he missed Mom. It was time.
Joe and I flew to Des Moines for the funeral, just as we did ten months earlier for Mom’s. There was ice everywhere, but everyone who needed to be in Ottumwa that week made it somehow. (Above: Dad’s kids Julie, Sally, Peter, Nancy, Chris, and his niece Polly and nephews John and Joe)
Dad lived a full life, sometimes troubled, but always with a heart bursting with love for his family. He was a patriot to his core. He loved dogs and pulling his kids on water skis behind his boats, the Nancy Anne and later the Nancy Anne Too. He was proud of his Swedish heritage. (He wore a tie bearing little Swedish flags to his grave.) I believe he would be pleased and proud that I’ve written a novel that takes place during World War II. I sure hope so, anyway.
Thanks for reading these two blogs about my dad. It's been a joy, spending all this time with him again. Sally’s Soliloquies will be on hiatus once again for a few weeks. I will miss you, but I will be back—promise.
Many blessings to all.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her first novel. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.