Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chapter 23

Well, fate, and the blessings of the Lord, stepped into the battle. The Japanese fleet was intercepted by what naval forces where available and augmented by B-17’s flying from Hawaii. The armada turned north toward Alaska. Their aircraft began pounding our base at Dutch Harbor [Aleutian Islands, Alaska] and they appeared to be headed for the Alaskan mainland. The battle was now joined by all available aircraft in Alaska. There was a B-26 squadron there and they picked up the battle until there was none left. Severe damage had been done by the B-26’s and B-17’s sinking and damaging many of the Japanese ships. But there remained two aircraft carriers from which the planes were daily attacking Dutch Harbor. One night the Air Force flew a squadron of P-38s from Port Angeles, Washington into Dutch Harbor late in the evening. They were loaded with bombs and took off before the Japanese bombers’ arrived at Dutch Harbor. The next morning, the P-38’s flew under the cloud cover and caught the remaining fleet completely by surprise. They attacked and sank both carriers. When the Japanese pilots returned to their armada, there was no place to land and they were forced to ditch in the ocean, ending the air threat to our Alaskan bases. Without air support, the fleet was powerless to defend itself and retreated. As they left, a large group of Japanese army troops were put ashore at Adak Island where they remained until near the end of the war. Never again could the Japanese fleet venture into Alaskan waters to rescue the troops and they were no threat to us.

After the battle was over, the base operations returned to normal and, of course, it was not necessary to move the training bases so we remained at Merced. This made it convenient for Syl and I and we continued to plan our marriage, which she had set for 14 October 1942.

The summer went fast. We dated most every night. Some times at the club on Saturday nights, or whenever something interesting was going on. Sometimes to a show, but often just hunting. The surrounding area abounded in ground squirrels and rabbits and often we would go hunting in the evening. We often went hunting at night for rabbits. Jack lighting has since become illegal, but then the farmers were happy to get rid of the rabbits and the law didn’t care as long as we stayed away from town or houses. Sometimes we even ended out jack lighting even after a formal dance.

One weekend a group of the married folks from the Church were going to Yosemite National Park and we went up there with them. Another weekend we drove to Visalia where my cousin, Keith Johnson, was in training and went to Sequoia National Park. Another weekend we went to San Francisco to see Aunt Mary and Uncle Bill. They took us across the Bay to the top of the Mark Hotel for dinner. I was in a summer sun-tan uniform with short sleeves and I thought I’d freeze before we got started home. As soon as I started to drive home, I got conjunctivitis [Pink Eye] from the smoke in the dining room and could not see so Syl had to drive home and she had never driven in the big city before. But we made it safely home.
Vern & Sybil at Sequoia National Park, September 1942
Vern & Sybil feeding deer at Sequoia National Park, September 1942

Vern & Sybil on their trip to Sequoia National Park, September 1942

During the late summer I was underfoot so much that Mom St. Jeor decided to put me to work. I volunteered to paint the kitchen for them. I had completed the walls and about half the ceiling, being very conscious and not spilling a drop. Saturday morning, I was painting and Dad St. Jeor came home for the weekend. He was the boss of the Yosemite Valley Railroad construction crew and came home only on weekends. I was about half way across the ceiling when he came in, looked at what I was doing and stated, “That’s not the way to do that.” Whereupon he seized a can of turpentine, dumped it into the paint can, stirred it up a bit and started swinging a brush like he was painting a railroad bridge. To the last time I was in that house, there was still a line dividing the ceiling and paint spots on one half of the kitchen walls. For a time I debated whether Sybil was going to lose a husband and a father, but then reconsidered both alternatives.
Vern, Mabel & William (Sybil's parents), September 1942
In September, a group of instructors were selected to transfer to Marano, Arizona to start a new basic training school and my name came up on the list. The following Saturday night were at the dance and had just traded a dance with Capt. Hollaman and his wife. The subject of the transfer came up. Both Syl and I were negative about it so Don asked, “Don’t you want to go to Marana?” To which I answered, “No, not till the wedding, anyway.” Next Monday, my name was off the list and a classmates name was substituted for mine.

As our marriage date approached, we combined our checking accounts and started house hunting and started the procedures for Temple recommends. But I still couldn’t believe she would marry me. It just seemed too much to be true.

About a week before we planned to leave for Salt Lake city to be married in the Temple, a friend of mine came to me and asked if we were looking for a house. I assured him we surely were and he rented me his home because he had just been transferred from Merced. He had been a local bank president before the war, and had received a direct commission. The house was a beautiful three bedroom home finished in knotty pine paneling and in a very nice neighborhood, just a couple of blocks from the church. So, one big newlywed problem solved.

We had to receive recommends before going to the Temple. Since my membership was still in Utah, I had to write to my Bishop and Syl had to visit the Merced Branch President. After her interview, President Johnson made the statement that I seemed to be a pretty good egg and that I was marrying the salt of the earth. How right he was. When we got to Payson, my home, I had an interview and received my recommend, also.

A big problem in our wedding was getting to Salt Lake City, both transportation-wise and leave-wise. We had the car, but gasoline rationing was being planned. But we were able to get enough gas to make the trip. The leave was something else. Whereas, instructors were generally give a week off between classes, no instructor had ever been given leave during the class training period. Even the base commander was on my side and after talking to me on my reasons for going clear to Salt Lake City to be married, he signed my leave, but only for seven days.

Finally we were ready to go on our trip to be married. Syl, her parents, and I left Merced on Saturday and drove through to Salt Lake City where her folks stayed with her mother’s sister and she and I drove on to Payson to meet my folks.

When I introduced Syl to my folks, my dad asked, “Your dad isn’t Bill de St. Jeor is he?” An affirmative answer brought a loud exclamation. “Bill de St. Jeor, the cowboy, from Lyman?” Syl answered, “Well, Dad was from Lyman, but I don’t think he was any cowboy.” It turns out that her Dad, in his younger days, had been a world champion class cowboy and had at one time set a world records for the calf roping event. He had traveled all over with the Buffalo Bill Wild West show and had never mentioned it to his family. My dad had been a gun fighter, cowboy, and rancher in the same area and knew all about her dad. My dad was raised in Woodruff, only about 50 miles from Lyman where her dad was raised.

We were married on Wednesday, 14 October 1942, in the beautiful Salt Lake City Temple ceremony. We entered the temple about 8:00am and finally finished at 2:00pm [they also received their endowments that same day]. Syl and I cut out from the rest of the family, visited about Salt Lake City and finally had dinner and stayed our wedding night in the Newhouse Hotel in Salt Lake City. It really had happened. She really married me. How lucky can a man get?

Vern & Sybil, October 15, 1942, Payson, Utah. The day after they were married.

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