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Episode 139 John's Departure

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

Links to the past continue to be broken as we age. We learn to value what we have. Retirement has it's challenges and dealing with the death of old friends is one. Dick Smith shares his thoughts concerning his friend John.

            

           Friends have been dying off at an accelerated pace lately. Audrey, Jim, Peter and Ralph have recently departed. A few days ago,  John died on April 16, 2009 in Pittsburgh. I miss him. We were good friends since we met in 1943, in the Navy. He was a link to the past that is now broken.

           The memorial note from his wife was a little song. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away. This week I sang to him rather than with him. Next week, I will sing with him in my heart 

           On August 3, 1945, we were stationed at Kingsville Air Field near Corpus Christi, Texas. We had just passed our instrument checks and expected to begin gunnery training in the next few weeks. The end of our training was approaching when we would get our commissions and our Navy Wings of Gold, hot stuff for a nineteen year old. Three days later, on August 6, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. On the 9th a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Emperor Hirohito surrendered on August 15. The formal surrender was on September 2, 1945.

            All training was cancelled and we were free to play cards or volleyball while the officers met to decide our future. Most of us began to discuss what we would do as the war ended. We learned about the GI Bill and I learned about Penn State from John and Sam who had both completed a semester there before entering flight training. A week later we were called together and told that we would be discharged within a month unless we continued training in a four year enlistment.

           John lived in Phillipsburg, only 30 miles from the college and he invited Sam, Joe and I to meet at his home after discharge and then enroll together for the fall. Housing was critical as hundreds and then thousands of veterans flocked to the campuses. The four of us found an attic room with three beds. John and Sam shared one. John often went home to see his girlfriend and they were married later that year. He joined the college Glee Club together.

           We went our separate ways after a semester. Joe transferred to another college. John commuted from Philipsburg and Sam and I joined an Independent Men’s House. I saw John only rarely but three years later he was graduating and had a job prospect near Washington D.C. I drove him there for the interview and to see the sights. He got the job and found an apartment and we drove back. We stayed in touch with Christmas cards until 1957 when my choral group was invited to sing at the National Academy of Art in D.C.

           I wrote John I was coming and he met me at the train station and later attended the concert. Another dozen years passed. John and I had both remarried and my new wife and I travelled East to see my family and to the University of Maryland, her old school near D.C. John invited us to his house in Rock Creek and we were all startled to find that he and my wife had been colleagues in a teacher training program a few years earlier.

           In later years we telephoned occasionally and he reported on some of our old comrades from Navy days. In 1983 he called and said, ”Let’s get the old gang together.” My reaction was, “What old Gang?” A dozen former Aviation Cadets met that summer at Penn State for our forty-year reunion and we had a great time. Sam had become a big supporter of the University and showed us a building with his name on it. Bill’s wife sang and entertained us at a nightclub. John was our platoon leader arranging the festivities.

           There were two more reunions, one at New Hope on the Delaware River and the last one again at Penn State ten years ago. At New Hope, we all flew gliders that were towed aloft and released at 3,000 feet to soar slowly back to the field. In an airplane you can “touch and go” land and take off immediately but a glider landing is final awaiting the next tow plane. It was a fitting end to my piloting days.

           I’ve been a rolling stone and have lost track of many old friends. I grew up in Pennsylvania. In the Navy, we were stationed in Kansas, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Texas. After college, I moved to Connecticut, Hawaii, Ohio and Washington State. I have three sons and a handful of friends in Hawaii but there is no “Old Gang” except for current friends in Bellingham and they are becoming scarcer as we all age. Old friends are best. We get too soon old and too late smart. I am learning to value more those who remain but they will never replace John who was with me through so many vital experiences. So long friend. See you soon.

 

My guest has been Dick Smith.

 

This is Retirement Talk.