Last night with all the excitement about the Olympics and the latest from Beijing, I began reminiscing about the 1964 Olympics in Japan and I wrote about my kids, their Dad and the excitement of his winning the silver medal there. Then suddenly today I began thinking about a time during my own childhood – I guess once the memory takes a backward glance, it gets curious about what else it can root out to look at and this is what it found today.
My family moved to Monahans, Texas in the winter of 1942 when I was not quite nine years old. We rented a very small house for a few months until my father could get a job. Once he did we moved to the other side of town – which meant the other side of the railroad tracks – and into a very nice, little two bedroom house with a lovely yard and a nice big garage. I got to have my first real pet, a black mixed breed dog named Moe.
I skipped the third grade when we moved to Monahans because I was pretty far ahead of the kids in that class and the teachers decided I should move up to the fourth grade. It wasn’t the best move because while I had no trouble doing the work, socially I simply didn’t fit in with fourth graders and felt pretty isolated. On top of that I was an only child with parents who were far too busy to spend a lot of time with me and I found myself feeling very lonely and rejected.
During this same period a huge new air base was being built in a tiny community about twenty miles from Monahans on Highway 80, about 230 miles east of El Paso. The little town was called Pyote and the air base was nicknamed "Rattlesnake Bomber Base" for the numerous rattlesnake dens that were uncovered during its construction.
For many men in the Air Force at that time it was their last station in the states before heading overseas. The first troops were assigned within a month, well before the base was completed. Troops and civilian technicians poured in, and the population of the base grew steadily to a peak of over 6,500 in October 1944.
Within four months of its opening, the base had become the largest bomber installation in the country. Despite morale problems caused by isolation and the shortage of off-base recreation and of dependents' housing, Pyote achieved a distinguished record in molding inexperienced individuals into effective bomber crews.
And it was this lack of recreation and dependents’ housing that brought about an enormous change in my life. My parents rented out my bedroom to one couple from the base, then they put three beds and some simple furniture into our garage, made curtains for the windows and the wives of three additional pilots/bomber crew members moved in. The men themselves were required to stay on the base, but when they got off in the evenings they would come into town and spend as many hours as possible with their wives. I can still hear them singing and laughing as a bunch of them would take off down the street, on foot, to search for a cafe, a bar -- there weren't many.
But suddenly, I had brothers and sisters! These guys and their wives were, for the most part, a long way from home, it was isolated, it was barren, it was windy with vicious sandstorms, cold, cold in the winter and hotter than hell in the summer. But instead of complaining, they all made the most of their time there – primarily because of being able to see each other as much as possible before they shipped out into the unknown, not knowing whether they would make it back from the war or not. And I became the little sister to all of them and they spoiled me royally and, needless to say, I loved it.
One of the pilots brought his fiance to town and they had their wedding in the small chapel on the base and I was the flower girl. I was one of the few kids in Monahans during that time that had CHOCOLATE candy! And bubble gum – gum, period! All those delightful goodies that were so sparse and hard to get during that time.
They moved in and moved out, went overseas, wives returned to their homes all over the country and another group would move in. I slept on the sofa bed for nearly three years and loved every minute of it! The guys wrote me letters and sent me presents from overseas, some that were sent to the South Pacific even made me bracelets out of shells they found and their wives stayed in touch for the remainder of the war. They celebrated the holidays with us and they were the best holidays ever and I had never felt so loved!
Before the war came to an end there gradually was less need for off base housing and I finally moved back into my room, the car moved back into the garage. I knew it was a good thing we were winning the war and when it was finally over I jumped up and down and celebrated along with everyone else, but I missed my “family”.
We continued to hear from many of those that had shared our house. Some of the men didn’t make it back and I cried for them and after the war a few of the couples actually returned to Monahans to visit us and it was wonderful.
I hadn’t thought of that time in many, many years. It’s been a fun look back.