The 50-Year Miracle
What started as a friendly gesture to help a roommate survive the Vietnam War became a fifty-year miracle. In December 1971, I had already been in Vietnam for four months. My roommate, John, who was from Northeast Tennessee, went home for two weeks of R & R (Rest and Recuperation). Feeling sorry for me, having to be in Vietnam during Christmas, he asked his wife if she had any friends that would write to this poor, pitiful GI. She said sure, and asked her friend Becky if she would write.
Becky was a nursing school student, living in the dorm, eating peanut butter and crackers, and getting rides with fellow students to her training hospital in Kingsport, TN. She welcomed the distraction of writing to a lonely GI—or so said John.
The first letter came about the time John returned from R & R. Over the next two and a half months, we wrote about once a week until I was scheduled for R & R at the end of March. I flew into San Francisco on Tuesday, then to Denver to see friends. I was supposed to fly to St Joseph, MO on Thursday to see another friend, but that friend did not answer the phone. I was scheduled to go to see Becky on either Friday or Saturday, but when St Joseph didn’t answer, I called Becky.
That sounds simple, but we didn’t have cell phones back then, and her dorm had one pay phone on her floor. I knew it was a long shot—I had better odds of winning the lottery (though I didn’t play) than of Becky being in the dorm, let alone answering the phone herself. But I called, and she answered. That was a sign to me that I should get better acquainted with the sites in the northeast corner of Tennessee sooner rather than later.
She picked me up at the Johnson City airport. That was the first time I saw her in person. I had seen a picture of this petite little lady with legs shining at the end of her mini skirt—a little hard on a soldier’s mind. Anyway, I nervously clicked my watch band all the way to her parents’ house, to the point that she asked me to stop. She was already taking charge (ha!).
We had a great evening with her family. Her two younger brothers made sure I was properly introduced to the family by farting repeatedly at the dinner table. It was important to me that they could have fun without me taking offense. I was a Yankee (did I tell you I was from Michigan?), but I earned their respect that night.
I don’t remember a lot about what we did the next day except for whatever it was, we did together.
On Saturday we went up to Gatlinburg, TN. There is a small waterfall on the west side of Gatlinburg—a very romantic spot, just right for discussing marriage. It was a simple, casual conversation and decision on both our parts. We’d marry when I returned from Vietnam.
But on Sunday, my mind went into overdrive. I reasoned that if we got married right now, during this trip home, I would draw housing allowance and separation pay (to be sent to her), and we could go to Michigan and get my car. That made sense to her, too. So on Monday, we traveled to Burnsville, NC and got married. No, we did not tell her parents; instead, we said we planned to get married when I returned from Vietnam.
That was fifty years ago, March 27, 1972.