Sunday, July 29, 2007

Rest in Peace Elizabeth Smith

My aunt Liz died Saturday night in a plane crash. Her story from Bombshells is included in this blog. Liz was on a great adventure with her 78 year old friend. They were on a one month trip through Alaska flying to small airports, camping under the wing of the plane and the stars and enjoying life. I imagine if Thelma and Louise were seniors, they would be like my aunt and her friend. Click the title to access a news link.

She was due home today, Sunday, but the plane crashed on their last stop and Liz is no more. This is Liz at 15, right when she met Garry.

Liz was 73. She lived through the Great Depression, married Garry Smith and soon after he was drafted to Korea... Her tale follows. For me, she was a great symbol of pride, strength, fearlessness and independence. She and her friend also went to Russia last year and many other adventures. She died on another great adventure. She was a pilot, a mother and a true friend.
This is a picture of Garry in Alaska during the conflict with Korea.
Korea, Korea, Korea
Liz Smith

We met at fifteen and seventeen, and fell in love the very day we said hello. We dated, took wonderful car trips, walked the beaches and hills, and danced to the big bands at the Hollywood Palladium. When Garry graduated from high school, he replaced his old 37 Chrysler with a snazzy 1947 Buick convertible, and we were in heaven.
Yet this strange echo reverberated in the background: Korea, Korea, Korea. We didn’t know quite what it meant, but we had just finished World War II, and didn’t worry about another war.
But then our friend George surprised us with the news that he’d joined the Navy. In unison, Garry and I responded “WHAT?” George urged Garry to look at his draft number – it was next to be called up.
“Oh my god!” we both thought. We studied our options. Garry didn’t want to join the Army and serve during the freezing winters in Korea. Since all the Navy billets were filled in the towns adjoining ours, we raced to Lancaster where Garry enlisted and was sworn into the Navy. We eloped on Garry’s leave from boot camp.

The first three months were wonderful. We lived in San Diego in a Travel Court for $13.00 a week. Falling asleep in my sweetheart’s arms every night was a dream come true. Then one day Garry opened the door and I could tell by the look on his face that something was wrong. He handed me a large white slip of paper. Orders. He’d be shipping out in three days.
But it wasn’t too bad. His ship was delivering supplies to Alaska. While it was dangerous, as Russia was only a few miles off the coast of Alaska—ready to blow up any ship that strayed—it wasn’t Korea. And it only lasted six weeks. In fact, the experience was comical.
I moved out of the Travel Court and stayed in an old shed in the back of Garry’s parents’ property. Every time Garry’s ship stopped at a port along the west coast, he would hitchhike home for a visit, and then I would drive him back to the ship. Once Garry’s dad had to put him on a plane back to San Francisco. He said, “Garry, please don’t hitchhike from Alaska.”
When the mission ended, Garry and I moved back into a room at the Travel Court. Then Garry received new orders. This time they said: Korea.
I moved back into the shed until winter came and it was too cold to sleep there. Then I slept on the sofa inside my in-laws’ house. I filled my days by working at J C Penney Company, and I learned to paint, wallpaper and garden, helping Garry’s parents remodel their house. At night I’d write passionate love letters.
Our love grew stronger while Garry was away, and we talked of having a baby. When the day arrived for him to return home, I watched his ship sail into the horizon. When it docked the Admiral himself congratulated me on the fastest run up a gangplank in high heels.
Finally, I was in Garry’s arms again. I became pregnant at once, no doubt about ten minutes after we checked into the motel. We rented a garage apartment in a San Diego suburb, and furnished it with the best stuff the Goodwill store had to offer. When the baby finally arrived, Garry thought she was the greatest miracle in the world. He adored her, and everyday after work he’d bound up the outside stairs two or three at a time shaking the whole apartment. He’d open the door, give me a kiss and go straight to the bassinette to pick up his daughter and hold her.
One day his steps were slow. When he opened the door I thought a ghost was standing in his uniform. He said, “I have orders to go back to Korea.” He’d be shipping out in three days.
“No! You served your time!” I cried, wondering what would happen to the baby and me. I was only 19 and didn’t know anyone in San Diego. I cried all night.
We decided that I would stay in the apartment and pray the war would end early, and peace talks would work, and Garry’s tour of duty would be cut from a year to nothing.
I had $167.10 a month to live on. The apartment without gas and lights was $65.00 a month, and I had no idea how to I would stretch the funds to cover the rest of my expenses. I swore I would never borrow money from anyone. The baby was on Pet milk and canned foods so I bought all she’d need at one time, so I would not run out. The store was within walking distance and for 15 cents I could take the bus to the naval hospital for my baby’s monthly checkups so I could save the car for emergencies only, spending only about $1.25 a month on gas.
Loneliness and despair encased my life. I ran to the mailbox each day but the Navy held up mail until the operation was over. At least I had Garry’s first letter, and I read it over and over:

July 18,1952

Hello my precious little one,

I love you with all my heart. Oh Sweetheart, its evening now and I’m so lonesome and heartsick for you as I begin this first letter of our separation. I can’t express to you how bad I felt as we said goodbye at the ship. I wanted to tell you so many things but I could hardly talk, after I kissed your tear filled checks and our sweet little baby. Oh honey it was all I could do to keep from breaking out crying. Darling, it would have been torture for me if you and little Linda had stayed and watched the ship leave the dock. Oh God, Liz when I walked away from the car I could hardly stand it. I looked around once and almost cried, it was so awful watching you and my tiny baby driving away without me. I knew I had to hold myself together, yet I wondered if it were possible when I reached the ship and went aboard and looked around again and you were gone, and the terrible realization of being separated swept over me. The feeling I had can’t be written in words or said; only our good Lord knows what was in my aching heart. Oh darling, I could never go through another goodbye like that again and be the same. You just can’t take two things from a man’s life that he loves more than life itself and expect him to be the same. I knew, my precious, what being separated from you was like before I left this morning, but today I not only said goodbye to one of great love, but two dearly beloved one’s in my life. Yes, my darling the terrible experience of saying goodbye is over, but the more terrible separation remains. I just hope and pray God helps me enduring these long days and nights of loneness. He gave me the most wonderful and perfect wife and baby in the world so I truly believe he’ll watch over me now.

Well darling, the first thing they told me when I came aboard ship this morning was that I have the watch starting at 8:00 so I went below to our quarters, put on my undress jumper and went to the radio shack. There wasn’t anything for me to do so I just went outside and walked around taking my last look at San Diego and thinking of the wonderful happy year we’ve spent here together. As the time draws closer and closer to our departure from this Harbor I kept thinking of you and the baby and wondering if you were all right after being so terribly upset and heart broken, then at 10:00 o’clock, we took in the mooring lines and slowly moved away from the dock, and I just stood looking at San Diego and thinking of the day we would return. Oh precious, I miss you and the baby so very much. I went to the movie tonight but I couldn’t keep my mind on the picture so I left when it was half over and got out my paper and ink and started this letter. Taylor asked if he could see the pictures of Linda again that I have in my wallet so I showed him the big pictures instead and he sure thought she was a doll. I’ve showed quite a few guys her pictures and most of them complemented me on our sweet little girl. Honey you tell “bumpy” that her daddy is very happy over his cake and is going to enjoy it on the mid watch Sunday night. I’m saving it just especially for then. Well darling it’s about time for lights-out so I’ll bring my letter to a close for now. Be careful and remember I love you and Linda with all my heart and think of you all the time. Goodbye my love and God Bless you both.

Your Very Loving Husband, Daddy, Garry

Early one morning, around three o’clock, I awoke to a knock on the door. I peeked out and saw two uniformed men. When I opened the door and discovered they were San Diego police officers, reporting that a drunk driver had just hit my car, I fell to the floor in a near faint. The officers assured me that the car could be fixed, but I explained, “I thought you were here to tell me my husband had been killed in Korea.”
The year passed, and my little baby grew into a little girl, and I had grown up in many ways, too. When Garry’s ship returned I held our daughter’s tiny hand and together we walked the gangplank to welcome her daddy home. There was no race in heels to win this time just the sure new walk into the journey of our lives.