The Longest Stay
I arrived at the Army Air Corps overseas replacement depot at Normoyl, Texas, on the outskirts of San Antonio, on the specified day. They began processing me for duty in the South Pacific. The appropriate shot series began. The issuance of tropical uniforms would take place towards the end of my stay.
In the meantime we checked into Pharaoh’s Slave Mart each morning, where we were assigned to one duty roster or another, everyone hoping not to be stuck laying perforated metal landing strip “paving,” a miserable job. Thankfully, I was never assigned to that roster.
One morning, several weeks after I had arrived, I had gotten my assignment and had just arrived at the site. A courier came up and asked for Russell Peters, and as I raised my hand he said I was to report to the orderly room. I hiked to the orderly room and presented myself, wondering what was going on. I was told to pack up my stuff immediately, and report back all ready to ship out. I rushed to the barracks, changed into my uniform, packed all my stiff into my barracks bag, and reported back within a few minutes. I was told that Wright-Patterson Field in Dayton, Ohio, the headquarters of the Army Air Force, had put out a general search order for my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) which was Aeronautical Engineer. They had entered my MOS number into the IBM card reader, and out came my name.
They handed me an envelope with my orders, train tickets, Pullman tickets, and meal tickets in it, and I was taken to the depot where I waited for the departure of my train. Wow, I could hardly believe it. This sounded a lot better than the South Pacific.
As usual I loved the trip, and finally arrived at Dayton, and reported to Wright Field. I was assigned to the Special Projects Branch of the Engineering Department, which was housed in a beautiful, permanent building next to one of many huge hangars. The Special Projects Branch occupied the third floor of the engineering building, with a panoramic view of the airport. I was assigned a drafting table, and issued the necessary equipment. My living quarters were not so elite. The thousands of civilian employees lived in their own homes in Dayton. The Army officers lived in permanent brick barracks on the field. We enlisted men lived in temporary tar paper covered barracks, and had our own mess hall and movie theater of like construction up on a hill, away from the permanent structures.
After a few months I got a telegram from Alva: Congratulations stop You are the father of a baby girl stop Susan Lee Peters and I are fine stop (and then a little mushy stuff) stop Alva stop (the stops are periods)
So we were a family trio. As the custom was (I would never do it now), I bought a box of cigars and passed them out to my fellow engineers, and received their congratulations. I was officially a father.
As I settled into life at Wright Field, I guessed that my start and stop , come and go days in the Army were over, and that I would likely remain in one spot until the end of the war.
It was October,1944, and the war was finally going our way, but would probably last another year. It occurred to me that I might be able to live off post here. I asked Alva if she wanted to come join me if I could get permission or if that would be too difficult with an infant child. She was all for it and told me to apply, which I did.
While waiting for the decision, Alva and Mom were making tentative plans. Mom would accompany her on the trip to help with Susan, and then go right back. Don’t think this was a sacrifice for Mom-she loved to travel, period, wartime or not. We kidded her often about having been born with wheels instead of legs.
My application was approved, so I now had to find a place to rent. It was soon apparent that there were no houses or apartments for rent in Dayton. The only listing in the paper was for a room, which didn’t seem at all suitable. In desperation I called the number to get more info.
A lady answered, I told her I didn’t think her room was suitable for my needs but needed more information. I told her I was a soldier at Wright Field,, and was wanting to move off post with my wife and infant child. She told me to come over, that we could surely work it out. When I got off duty I found her place and knocked on the door. I thought this couldn’t be the place as it was so tiny. The door opened to reveal an attractive ,very young woman who said, “Hi, I’m Jane Root, please come in.” I introduced myself as I followed her in.
The building was a double garage that the owners had converted into an apartment to help meet the acute shortage of housing in the war-swollen city. It had two tiny bedrooms, one tiny bath, and a tiny kitchenette-tiny living room combo. I said we could never fit in, but this vivacious young thing said, “Of course you can! My husband and I will take the smallest bedroom, you and Alva take the other, which will hold an infant size cradle. We will share the kitchen and everything will work out fine.” She and her husband were newly married, his work kept him away except for sleeping time and they would be helped by sharing the rental cost. I didn’t have any choice, and Jane had teetotally impressed me, so we had a deal. I called Alva with the news and in a few days they arrived. After fond greetings at the depot, and seeing our first child for the first time, we kissed Mom, thanked her profusely for her kind escort duty, and off she went on the next train west . What a mother-in-law!
Alva and Jane were instantly bosom buddies, as if they had known each other all their lives! Jane pitched in and became a second mother to Susan. We meshed like well oiled gears in that crowded apartment. Jane was right, everything did work out fine.
We were a family again and enjoying it in spite of the miserable Dayton weather-snow, sleet, ice, melt then repeat same. Once in a while Jane would say to me when I came home, “Take Alva out to dinner tonight, I will take care of Susan,” wanting us to have a little time for ourselves without Susan. That is the kind of gal she was. We would get on the streetcar and go to downtown Dayton to a seafood restaurant we liked. Things were good.
Jane was mischievous, just like Alva. One night I came home to a drama. Jane wasn’t in sight, and Alva was laughing. She explained. Jane had painted with different colors of quick drying paint on the toilet seat, “Life is just a bowl of cherries!” Later she went in to use the facilities and found out the paint wasn’t that quick drying. She got up with a mirror image of her motto emblazoned on her bottom in living colors! She was immediately convulsed with laughter and showed Alva her artwork when she came to investigate. Jane wasn’t in sight because she was in the bathroom trying to remove her artwork from both canvases. Never a dull moment.
Some time later we wished things were a little more dull. Susan became really sick and was hospitalized. It was some complication involving the thynus gland. The doctor tried his best, but without success, and she got worse and worse. He said her only hope was if we could get some penicillin, the newly discovered antibiotic. The trouble was that the military was taking the entire production of the drug and none was available for civilians. He suggested that since Susan was the daughter of an active duty soldier they might release some. He wrote a prescription with explanation and the pharmacist got an OK from the military. Susan quickly responded and was back in the healthy mode again. God was good!
We had another concern arise. Alva was pregnant. Although we didn’t expect it, it was OK. The concern was, should she stay in Dayton and have the baby at the base hospital, or go home to have her same doctor. It was up to her, and she didn’t take long to decide. She said our apartment would be too uncomfortable in the last months of pregnancy, and completely insufficient for four adults and two babies. Besides which she wanted the painless delivery Dr. Danson Tarr had given her with Susan.
She decided to leave in time to begin her pre-natal care at the beginning of month seven. They already had all her history and measurements.
We had a wonderful seven months together, and it was so worth the effort and expense.
To put frosting on the cake, Dad sent airline tickets for her trip home. The aircraft was the new Boeing Stratoliner, pressurized so it could fly above the weather in silky smooth air. Alva and Susan got on a morning flight and flew non-stop to Los Angeles, arriving in time to have dinner with her folks. What a blessing.
The war was winding down. Germany had surrendered and the Allies were really going after Japan. A few months later two atom bombs brought about Japan’s surrender, and World War II was over.
On Thanksgiving Day, November 21, 1945, I was discharged, and was once again a civilian-the best Thanksgiving Day of my life! This completed the longest stay in one place during my service in the Army-thirteen months.
The war was over. We were reunited. I was unscathed because I was never sent into the fighting. We had no car. We were broke because we had spent so much keeping Alva with me whenever possible. From enlistment to discharge was 33 months. We were able to be together for a total of 16 of those months, almost half. It was absolutely worth it! We were still young, Alva 20, I 25; I had my education; we had one and 7/9 children; God would provide; all was well.
I got a job with North American Aviation, which at that time was located on Los Angeles International Airport. We got a place of our own, again near Dad and Mom in Wheatland, 31 miles from work. We wanted to live near Alva’s folks and didn’t want to live in foggy bottom (airport area).
Soon it was time for Alva to have our second child. David Brian Peters arrived in January of 1946. I was there this time, and got to see and hold him while Dr. Tarr was finishing Alva’s post-delivery care. Another smooth delivery for Alva. Dr. Tarr didn’t think women were supposed to suffer so much to deliver a child and dedicated his practice to minimizing the pain of childbirth. His MO was to closely monitor the last 3 months; get the mother into the birth center when contractions were at a certain frequency where his own specially trained nurse would never leave the mother till the birth was over; when the nurse felt that things were ready she called Dr. Tarr who was on alert; Dr. came and stayed; when serious labor started he administered a spinal block and the non-distressed mother quickly delivered the baby. The women loved it, and Alva was no exception.
I enjoyed working at North American and did well, but I hated the commute. I don’t think it was a mistake, but was of the Lord, for Mom was such a great help to Alva with our two infant children. Mom and Alva both had a ball! Better for me to suffer than her!
The pre-school kids in our neighborhood got acquainted with Alva and loved to be around her (cookies, etc.). She soon knew all about them and realized they came from families that had no spiritual ties. So she asked them if they would like to come by for a Saturday afternoon kids club. They were all enthusiastic and their parents liked the idea of a couple hours of peace. Alva simply taught them a Sunday School class getting them involved in the exciting Bible stories, acting out the parts and doing crafts-refreshments at the end! They came back faithfully, often bringing other friends. Who knows how many of them came to Jesus in those outdoor meetings amongst the Eucalyptus trees?
It was a good year, that first one after the war. Our ages were now 26, 21, 2 and 1.