Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chapter 22

On a Tuesday night the last week of February 1942, I polished my brass, put on my full dress uniform and went to M.I.A. I arrived a bit early, not being sure how long it would take me to find the church in Merced. There were just three other people at the church when I arrived, the Branch President and two beautiful young ladies. After meeting the President, I was introduced to the young ladies. For just a moment, the though raced through my mind, “Which one shall I date?” Then as instantaneously, the decision followed —“the tall one—that’s the girl.”

My romance with The Girl had begun months before, long before I had even considered joining the Air Corps. I had a dream in which I went to California and when there I would meet two girls, both would be tall, and beautiful, but the second girl was the one I fell in love with and who would become my wife. I guess the only one who knew of my dream was my younger brother. The girl was tall and straight with chocolate brown hair and blue eyes, long flowing hair below her shoulders. She had very classically features and just a trace of freckles.

The picture had always remained with me although probably couldn’t remember any other dream I ever had. When I walked into that church and tall doll turned around to meet me, I knew she was the girl. The only problem was she didn’t know it yet. After being introduced, I sat down with the girls and the girl was rehearsing a poem she was to recite in the meeting. She kept rhyming the poetry in a sing-song fashion and I promised if she sang it in Church, I would lead it. I think just to test me, she did and I did. She also lead the music and her friend, “Wuz” played the piano.

Sybil de Saint Jeor was born in Merced, of goodly Mormon pioneer parents. She had lived on the same street, in the same house all of her years. Her mother was a dynamic redhead that was credited with financing the building the church and who had been a long time Relief Society President of the Branch. Her father had been Branch President of the Merced Branch for 17 years, but had been recently released. Sybil had been well schooled in music in school, and through private lessons, and both sang and played the piano. She had sung leads in school operettas and had been featured vocalist on a radio program for a period of time. She was a very poised, confident, and beautiful lady.

A silk painting of Sybil
Of course, when it could be discretely done, I asked her for a date after Mutual, which she promptly turned down. I ended up going to a party with the rest of the Mutual while she and her friend went elsewhere.

Next day, I confided in my next door neighbor and good friend of the beautiful girl I had been introduced to. My friend and I played ball together, hunted together, and ran around together on stag affairs. He was engaged and about to be married so we parted on dates. The following Saturday, my friend, Skinny and I went to the local movie and were ushered to our seats by “the girl.” I told Skinny that was the girl and he went ape. He opined that she was the most beautiful thing that had ever been seen in Merced yet. Still she would not make a date with me.

On the fifth of March, I remembered that I hadn’t sent anything home to my kid brother so I decided a telegraph message would be appropriate. I went to Western Union and there she was again, working as a teletype operator. I’m sure I took longer to write that ten word message than anyone in history, but by the time I had finished, she had accepted a date after she finished work.

I picked her up at 9:00 and we went to a coffee shop for a bite and then for a car ride out to Yosemite Lake. There we walked along the beach and sat and talked for what seemed like only a moment when suddenly she looked at her watch and it was past one o’clock, we rushed home but it was two before we could say goodnight but she had agreed I could have another date the next night.

When I dropped her off that night, I was met by a red-headed buzz-saw and told emphatically that I would not see her daughter again and please leave. Her mother didn’t know either! I very humbly but firmly said I was sorry for being so late and that I would see her daughter again what may. This rather startled Mom and we settled down to discuss the matter. We finally agreed that she could go with me but I would have her home by 10 o’clock.

The more I knew Sybil, the more coincidental was she and the dream. Then after a few more dates, I told her of my dream and told her I was going to marry her. Only she wouldn’t believe me. Over the next couple of months we went out as often as we could. We would go to the Officers’ Club for many events but we also went hunting a lot. And she was an excellent shot.

Sybil became well known to all my fellow officers from the occasions at the Officers’ Club and I guess it became obvious how I felt. I t started with the Base Commander’s wife. We were playing Ping-Pong one night and a bossy Mrs. Bailey said, “Sybil, you should marry Bryson.” I was most embarrassed but I agreed with what she said. My friends in the squadron liked the idea to our obvious embarrassment. So everywhere one of them would meet Sybil, they would call to her, “Sybil, when are you going to marry Bryson?” The idea quickly spread until all the officers on the base were pulling for me the same way.

Near the end of May we were at the base one evening and I had Syl (her new nickname) drive my car. It was planned that I was to fly the following night and didn’t expect to be able to go to town. However, that night, flying was suspended for some reason and I decided to ride into town with one with one of my friends to pick up my car. My friend dropped me off in front of the house as I went up the path, I could see Mrs. St. Jeor was hosting a bridge club that night. When I knocked, Mrs. St. Jeor came to the door and informed me Sybil had gone to a graduation party for Wuz with another guy. I asked if she knew where my keys were and she couldn’t find them, concluding Sybil must have taken them in her purse. There I was, stuck with no way back to the base and my girl with my keys, off with another guy. Without any fuss, I quietly said I’d have to wait for her to get home. I went out to the car parked in the street and sat inside waiting for Sybil. Mother must have become nervous for she telephoned Sybil at the party and informed her I was there eat the house. [Note from Sybil: Mother did not know where Sybil was. Sybil was at a place that had an old wind-up crank-type telephone and called home just to use the old phone.] As I sat there, the temper kept rising like steam in a boiler until when Sybil arrived, I was thoroughly angry.

She and I had a few choice words. When her date wanted to join in, I cocked a fist and invited him into the party, but he promptly declined. Eventually she gave me my keys and my guns which she had been keeping for me because of base security and she went her way, and I went mine, but thoroughly convinced that ended that.

Half way back to the base, the thought struck me like a lightening bolt, “That’s the most wonderful girl you will ever meet and you’ll never find a girl like that.” I stopped the car and thought and prayed a little then swallowed my pride and returned to watch her house until she had again returned from the party. Then I went to her window and asked if she would see me for a few minutes. I apologized and told her how much I loved her and she forgave me.

In the first part of June, things on the war front started to get exciting. We had discovered a large Japanese Naval fleet in the North Pacific headed for our West Coast. There were a large number of aircraft carriers and all the support for a major invasion. We didn’t know if they were coming to the mainland or Alaska, but they were coming. All of the bases went on 24 hour alert and all personnel restricted to the base. They prepared a plan to hang a 500 pound bomb on each of our BT-13 aircraft and briefed all pilots on attack strategy in case the tactical commands couldn’t stop them. It was further planned that all training bases would be immediately moved further inland and we were scheduled to go to Arizona. As the battle of Midway took shape, hasty plans were developed to convert training planes to fighter bombers and to move to training bases. Everyone was going about their business quietly, not knowing when things would break loose.

The first evening of alert, I called Syl to break our date and to talk to her about us and what if I did have to move, and to add a few endearments. As we talked, she suggested I might buy a ring and when things got back to normal, she would come and we would be married. Wow! She said she’d marry me! A wonderful, beautiful, talented girl like Sybil said she’d marry me, a dumb old country kid! How about that. I couldn’t believe it could happen.

The next morning I asked the boss if it would be possible to get a two hour pass at noon to go to town to by Syl a ring. Since this romance had become a public affair, he assured me, he’d go clear to Col. Bailey, if necessary, to get permission. And he did. I drove into town, met Syl at the telegraph office where she was working and we walked across the street to the bank and then to the jewelers and bought a beautiful, but modest, engagement ring. Which I promptly placed on her finger, kissed my fiancĂ©, and returned to the base.

Sybil and Vern shortly after their engagment. They were at Sybil's home.

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