Johnny’s Life

IOWA

Let me introduce myself, I’m Johnny. Around the later part of the year of 1927, I was conceived by a mysterious union of two people that were enjoying themselves and let things get out of control. About eight months later, I was growing into a small baby in what I found out later was a woman that I was to call mother.

My mother, Bessie, kept a big secret that she did not want anyone to know about. That secret was that she was going to have a baby, me. She was upset, as could be expected, because she was not married at the time.

THE WILLOWS

MISSOURI

She did not know what to do but a friend came to her rescue and offered to pay her way to Kansas City, Missouri, and enrolled her in The Willows Maternity Hospital. All the time I was getting excited that I was going to see the world for the first time but I was also getting anxious for my mom to hurry up. I would like to know who the friend was that befriended my mother so that I can thank him.

I was wanting out to see the world but for some reason the exit door would not open. About a month later, there was a lot of motion going on and that was when I noticed that the exit door was opening and I got really excited. The time was drawing near for my great entrance and I could hear my mom saying some very loud words that I could not understand as I didn’t even know how to talk yet.

There was a lot of pressure against me to slide out the exit door but for a while I was holding on as I was scared as to what was happening. The pressure got too great for me and I started to slide out into the world.

Then all of a sudden, there was a very loud scream and there was a lot of excitement as I was finally out in the world. I guess the excitement was due to me but again I did not understand why they were cheering for me but I guess it is done for every newborn. Darn it, I thought it was only for me.

The next thing that I remember was that there was a person with a beard who was holding me, and then he gave me a strong slap on my butt, which made me start crying. I was told that the person with a beard was called a doctor, whatever that means. People were sticking things in my nose and covering me up with a really nice blanket. I guessed that I was special as I was alive. My mother was hurting now, and she was being taken care of by several people. I found out later they were called nurses. Now that I was out in the world, what do I do with myself? I was on my own.

The doctor gave me to a pretty woman who started to put something in my mouth and then gave me a warm bath because I was sorta dirty. The pretty woman put a warm blanket around me and put me in a bed so that I could get some rest as I was tired from the long trip that I just took. Since this pretty woman was called a “nurse,” I thought that she was the one to nurse me but instead she put a nippled bottle filled with milk in my mouth to feed me.

Oh, by the way, my birth was on July 2, 1928. There were a lot of people out of work at this time and some were begging for a handout just to be able to survive. I guess that I was lucky to be where I was at. I had a bed to sleep in even though there were a lot of crying babies. There was always someone sticking a bottle in my mouth and then cleaning me up, as what goes in has to come out. You should have seen the look on the face of the person cleaning me. I enjoyed that very much.

After I was born, I was called John Doe. About seven days later, someone started calling me John Thurmond. I am not sure why they changed my name to John Thurmond. I was excited to be in good health and surrounded by several crying new births. At that same time, I found out that my mother was nowhere around, and I got upset as I had a feeling of attachment toward her. I was disappointed to find out that my mother had left the hospital and was headed back to her home without me.

One day a person, who the pretty nurse called a superintendent, came and picked me up and placed me in the hands of another person that I assumed to be a nurse. It was not a nurse but a person by the name of Mildred Leake. I heard people talking that she was now going to be my mother. How can that happen? I already had a mother and I got a little scared. Mrs. Leake would be taking me to her home in Missouri to raise me as her son. I was to call her Mother. In a very short time, I had had two mothers and I remember that I had only strong feelings for the first mother. This was very confusing to me and still is.

ADOPTION

There was a procedure called “adoption” that I had to go through. Not knowing just what to expect, I got a little bit scared again. I found out later that the only thing that would affect me was that I would be leaving The Willows Hospital and traveling to Missouri, whatever that is, with Mr. and Mrs. Leake. They also told me that they were going to change my name to Charles Louis Leake.

Not sure what ever happened to my name of John Thurmond but I guessed that I would find out later in my life. Wow, John Doe, John Thurmond and now Charles Louis Leake.

We finally arrived at that Missouri place and they took me into their home. There is not much that I can recall about living with the Leakes. I have heard that they were loving people, but they had serious health problems. Shortly after I came there, Mr. Leake passed away and Mrs. Leake was not in the best of health. Based on her health problems, she decided to put me up for adoption again. At this time, I was only two months old and did not really understand what was going on around me.

Mrs. Leake got in touch with her niece, Mittie Barry, and asked her if she could raise Charles (me) as she (Mrs. Leake) could not do it properly. Mrs. Barry talked to her husband, Dr. Richard Barry. They wanted a boy in their life. Since I was available, they decided that they would adopt me and raise me as a good Christian boy. After the adoption, they decided to change my name again. This time it was changed to Charles Louis Barry. I started out my life as John Doe, then John Thurmond, then Charles Louis Leake and now Charles Louis Barry and I am only about two months old. Wow!

Baby Charles (Johnny)

Dr. Barry was a veterinarian and Mrs. Barry was a homemaker. It took me a while to get used to calling them Mom and Dad but after so long I got the hang of it. Dr. Barry, or Dad, was a very likeable person and helped several of his neighbors with their animal problems, even though some of them had no money at the time. He would accept whatever they would offer him, such as eggs or vegetables.

Charles on Tricycle (Johnny)

There were many times that I went with my dad on some of his trips to see the farmers about a sick animal. I got a big kick out of this, as well as being able to get out of the house. There was a time when I was chased by an unfriendly goose and I wound up on top of our truck.

One time I remember getting into big trouble. I was playing with matches and somehow, I got the adjoining field on fire. The firemen came and put it out. They told my parents how it started and then I was called into the house, but I never showed up because I was hiding under the house. When they finally located me, I was told not to do that again as someone could have gotten hurt. Speaking of hurt, after our talk I was not able to sit down for a while. I wouldn’t do that again.

Charles at an early age (Johnny)

I was with Dr. Barry for about six years. During that time things started to happen in my life. Dr. Barry contracted cancer and passed away. Mrs. Barry was at a loss at what to do with me as I was becoming a burden to her. She decided that rather to keep me with her, she would place me in an orphanage.

The orphanage was the Saint Joseph’s Orphanage located in Saint Joseph, Missouri. I was there for about two long years. At this time in my life, things were starting to happen that I did not understand. For example, why was I in an orphanage when my mother was living about two miles away? On the weekends, she would pick me up but always returned me the following Monday. This was very rough for me.

I have found out by searching several legal documents that Dr. Barry left me a small amount of money as well as part ownership of their house. The money was to be used toward my future education. That did not sit too well with Mrs. Barry so she had herself appointed as my guardian, thereby, she would be in control of my inheritance. Mrs. Barry spent my inheritance on things that she thought that I needed as well as loaning some to her friend. Now I know why I was placed in the orphanage. There was a small amount of money left for my future use.

Life for me at the orphanage was not the best. The sisters were very strict toward us and I also believe that I was not the best angel. So, I had several problems. The sisters would whip us with a belt if we made too much noise after we were sent to bed. But to get even with the sisters, we would make a lot of noise late at night just to be able to wake the sisters up. They would whip me, but I was determined not to cry and I didn’t.

There were girls at the orphanage as well as boys, but the girls were in another building downhill from us. So, boys being boys, we decided to put on our roller skates and crouch down and coast down the hill. That was a great idea but with one exception, we had to stand up to get back up the hill and that is when we got caught. Caught again!

There was not much to do so we decided to make up our own games. One of our so-called games was rolling small rocks down the hill into the traffic just to see how far they would travel when they were hit by a car or truck. Caught again! I do not want to imply that all the sisters were cruel, they were not, just a few.

BOYS TOWN

NEBRASKA

When I was about nine years old, Mrs. Barry had me placed in a boys’ home named Boys Town. Boys Town was a home that took boys who needed guidance in everyday life. It was a home that was founded by a priest named Father Flanagan. I was the youngest boy at Boys Town when I was there. Being so young caused me a few problems just trying to blend in, but after a while I did ok.

The home is still in operation today and located just eleven miles out of Omaha, Nebraska. Boys Town is a home that I am very proud of. I believe that even though I was there for a very short time, I learned a lot about what life is all about as well as the true meaning of respect and honesty.

There were times that I did get in trouble and had to go before the Boys Town court, which by the way are fellow boys that have been voted into different town offices. Court was one of the offices. For example, there was one time when I was out by the lake when I came upon a duck egg. I picked it up and went to a close-by shed where I was going to cook it. As I was looking for a match, I looked around behind me and there stood someone. I was caught again!

For that mistake, the Boys Town court gave me a sentence of not being able to have any dessert for a week. That was not too bad, but the bad part was that I had to stand up as everyone enjoyed their dessert. The lesson that I learned was to be honest and not selfish as that duck egg did actually belong to all the boys and just not me.

My job at Boys Town was to be a visitor guide to all of the visitors that arrived from different states. Once my guiding was finished and the visitors were roaming around, I would sneak out to their cars and touch the license plates and in my mind, I felt like I just traveled to that state.

Father Flanagan

One time I recall that I was asked to be an altar boy for Father Flanagan. I was thrilled to do it, but I did not exactly know how. With the guidance of Father Flanagan, I was doing ok, so I thought. But there was one time I was supposed to move an altar book to the opposite side of the altar. Everything was going ok until I tripped and dropped the book. The pages went everywhere. I knew that I probably would be in trouble, but it never turned out that way. After Mass was completed, Father Flanagan came over to me and patted me on the head and never said anything about the accident. I was surprised but grateful.

While at Boys Town, I got to do some acting. I was in the background scene of the movie titled Boys Town with the main actors being Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney and of course me. Someone’s acting must have been exceptional because the movie received an Academy Award. I assumed it was my acting.

Another activity I was involved in for a while was the band, but I was not musically talented. Just to make sure that I had something to play, I was given the bird whistle, triangle and blocks.

I was given a chance to live a respectable life and I did just that. Maybe not just while I was at Boys Town but in my later life. If it was not for a duck egg, I would have had a perfect life at Boys Town.

IDAHO

I was hoping that I would get to go to school and start getting some smarts, however, that never happened. I was placed up for adoption again to a family that was living in Malad City, Idaho. The adoption was not to take place until the family decided if I was the kind of boy that they wanted. The people’s names were Mr. and Mrs. Edell. I was with them for about a year, and they did adopt me. They also changed my name, this time to Jack Edell.

John Doe, John Thurmond, Charles Louis Leake, Charles Louis Barry and now Jack Edell. This is starting to get out of hand.

Mr. Edell worked as a station master for a railroad company, and there were many times I would go to his work area and just sit around and watch the trains go by. When at home, Mr. Edell enjoyed himself by watching me jump from being shocked when he used a cattle prod on me.

The Edells enrolled me in school. I was thrilled to be going and I met a lot of new friends. They took away my glasses and that made it hard for me to see the school blackboard. But things didn’t work out as the Edells had hoped. Mr. and Mrs. Edell were upset with me as they accused me of stealing and being dishonest. Technically I probably did steal, but what I did was I was given some money to buy school supplies and instead of bringing back the change, I purchased candy for my new school friends. The worst part about the time with Mr. and Mrs. Edell was that I never again got to go to school full time. This adoption was never finalized as I was taken back to Boys Town.

NEBRASKA

I was back at Boys Town a very short time before Mrs. Barry decided to take me out of Boys Town and placed me with a farm family, Mr. and Mrs. Levi Waggoner of Chanute, Kansas. They were going to adopt me and did change my name to Dick Waggoner.

Here we go again, John Doe, John Thurmond, Charles Louis Leake, Charles Louis Barry, Jack Edell, Dick Waggoner.

KANSAS

I have located a notarized document that states that I was adopted, but I cannot locate any legal adoption records yet. The Waggoners were farmers but Mrs. Waggoner was a school teacher. They also had a son by the name of Sylvan. He was four years younger than me. Sylvan and I got along well. He was like a brother to me.

Sylvan and Dick (Johnny)

With a lot of effort on my part, I tried to get along with Mr. and Mrs. Waggoner. The Waggoners had their standards that were extremely difficult for me to understand. When I first arrived at the farm, everything was nice. But after a few days there, Mrs. Waggoner took my glasses away from me and then told me that if God had wanted me to wear the glasses, God would provide them.

Dick Waggoner (Johnny)

This is the second time my glasses were taken away. I was not allowed to leave the farm for over a year other than to go to school, which was just a mile away, or to go to work for the neighbors to earn money for the family.

My life on the farm was terrible. I was at the farm for about a year and during that time I do not recall my bed sheets ever being changed. Also, the food that I was given was terrible. There was fried mush every day and if I wanted any dessert (when it was available), it was banana pudding. I never want to see those items again. 

The school that I went to was a one-room school and had about twenty students. I was the only one in my eighth-grade class and also the largest student in school. I am not sure why I was in the eighth grade as I still did not know how to read and write very well. The name of the school was the Little Friend School but today it has been destroyed by Mother Nature.

The most terrible thing that I can remember was that in order to go to school, I had to wear old hand-me-down shoes that had soles made by Mr. Waggoner from soup cans. I guess that was their way to save money, but it was a problem for me as the kids in school always had something to say about my shoes.

Dick (Johnny) and Sylvan

I used to work for the local farmers and one time I remember when I was working for my Uncle Silas putting hay up in the barn, I was approached by a visiting person that just happened to be very pretty and was a female airline stewardess. She came over to where I was and wanted me to show her just what I was doing. So, I took her up to the dirty, old hay loft to show her when she approached me about playing doctor. Not knowing just what she was talking about, she showed me the facts of life.

Sylvan and I were always doing something that would annoy his parents, especially his mother. One of the things that we did was to make tunnels in the barn hayloft and pretend that we were in caves. That was fun if only the cats would not use the tunnel for a place to go crap. We had so many cats that Sylvan and I decided on a plan to get rid of them. The plan was for Sylvan to gather up as many cats as he could and I would go to the hayloft and get the hay ready to feed the cows. So, as I dropped the hay, Sylvan would place a cat in the manger hoping the cows would eat them along with the hay.

Well, that plan did not work so we had to come up with something else to get rid of them. Only before we could come up with a plan, one day Mr. Waggoner gathered up the cats and put them in a bag and tossed them in the pond. I remember hearing the cats meowing even after they were under water. We would have never done that. He made us stand by and watch the situation.

Sylvan and I were always doing something together. We raised a calf to get ready to show at the fair. We taught it to join us in our walks to the pond and things like that. One day one of us did something wrong and Mrs. Waggoner came out of the house with a rifle and shot our pet cow and told us to get back to work. That was terrible for both of us.

I was always hoping something horrible would happen to Mr. and Mrs. Waggoner. Part of my wish came true as Mr. Waggoner got real sick and passed away. I shed no tears. There were times that I wanted to do bodily harm to Mrs. Waggoner. For example, Sylvan and I just came back from hunting on the farm when a very strong wind came up. Mrs. Waggoner wanted me to stop what I was doing and close some barn doors. I guess that I did not move fast enough, and she located a bicycle chain and started beating me with it. I reached down and picked up my rifle and pointed it at her and said, “Bang.” If I had pulled the trigger, I would not be here writing this story from where I am now. This is when I said goodbye to Sylvan and left the Waggoner farm. I was just 13 at the time. Mrs. Waggoner gave me a dollar and a sack full of old clothes and bid me farewell and not to come back.

Sylvan and I were very close, and it was hard to leave him behind. I did stay in touch with Sylvan over the years. He got married and he and his wife, Marilyn, raised a wonderful family. They are great people and I love them very much.  They had three children and I never got to really associated with them as I had moved away from Sylvan. They had two sons and a daughter that now have their own families.

There were a lot of medical problems that Sylvan and his wife had to endure. Sylvan passed away a few years ago and is missed by many. Before he passed away, he asked me to watch after his daughter and wife as they were having a tough life at that time. I told him that I would do my best, but it seemed to me that she had everything under control. Sylvan’s wife passed away in 2014 and will be missed by many. Their daughter, Michelle, and I do correspond by email and we keep in touch. Even though I was not officially Sylvan’s brother, I was his brother.

So, after I left the Waggoner’s, I was fourteen years old and never had a full year of schooling. It just dawned on me that I never had a chance to go to school as I was placed in so many families during my younger years. The longest time that I was in school was when I was with the Waggoner family in Chanute, Kansas. I was placed in the eighth grade hoping that I would absorb something pertaining to the lessons taught. I was able to graduate from the eighth grade even though I really never knew how to read or write. I believe that I outgrew the school desk.

After a while on my own, I went to work for a farmer that traveled the country harvesting wheat during the summer months. After we got finished with work for the day, we spent the evening and night sleeping in the field. The last job that we harvested was in northern Nebraska. When they finished harvesting for the season, most everyone went to town to cash their checks and to have a good time. They never came back to the field where I was, and I was left to make it on my own. I did not get my check, but I did have a small amount of money to tide me over. After the harvest season was over, I migrated to Wichita, Kansas, hoping to find a job. But being only fourteen years old, it was rough.

The reason I went to Wichita was that I wanted to get my paycheck as I knew where the person with my money lived. I approached this person and was able to collect the money that was owed me without any problem, but later I found out that this person claimed that I had robbed him of the money. The police contacted me but nothing came of it. I never heard any more about it after they questioned me.

For two weeks after I arrived in Wichita, I had to live the best way I knew how. I was literally a homeless street person and only about fourteen at the time. I found out that I could live in the gas station restrooms, but I had to put a board against the door to keep people from opening it. This was not the best idea, but it was my idea at the time. I also slept under road bridges just to be able to get out of the bad weather.

When the weather was good, I would climb up the ladder fire escapes to get to the building roof and that was where I spent many nights. I had to come up with a plan to survive the best way possible. I would get food in the grocery stores and go to their restroom and eat it. I would also follow the milk men on their routes to get a bottle of milk just to survive. I was sorry for creating problems for other people, but I had to survive.

I finally located a job with a taxi company washing their taxis. One night after finishing up washing the taxis, I noticed that here was a back door to a cafe that opened into the garage and I was getting hungry. I decided that I would climb through a window that was over the door and get me a slice of their pie. I did just that but as I was eating the pie, I heard a siren. I knew that it was time for me to leave, so I tried to go back through that window but it seemed like the window got smaller. I did get through the window and fell on the garage floor hurting myself. I then knew that being a crook was not for me.

There was a time when I did get in trouble with the police. I was caught selling some hubcaps that I didn’t know were stolen. By not knowing they were stolen and no money was exchanged at that time, it got me out of the problem with the police. It was during this time I was befriended by a detective named Mike Gunter of the Wichita police, and he became like a father figure to me. It was with his guidance and the knowledge I picked up at Boys Town that I believe kept me out of any serious trouble.

Detective Mike Gunter would let me sit in his office and watch what goes on in a police station. That was very informative. He was tough as nails. I had been trying to locate Mr. Gunter’s family to let them know just what a big part he was in my younger life. I was told by the Wichita police department they never had a Mike Gunter working for them. Now I just wondered who he was. Could he have been my angel? Later I found out that his real name was Detective Preston Albert Gunter and Mike was just a nickname. 

Around the first of 1945, I decided to be able to stay out of trouble I would sign up for the Navy, even though I was only sixteen at the time. The Navy was needing good men and I believed that I was a good man as I was large for my age. The recruiter that interviewed me was very nice. He explained to me that it was nice for me to want to join, but I was too young and also, I never had a birth certificate. So, I had to change my plans. As I was leaving the recruiter, I noticed that the Merchant Marine were also wanting good men. I then went to see their recruiter. The recruiter was also nice, but he also kept telling me that I had to have a birth certificate in order to sign up.

My next step was to try and obtain my birth certificate as soon as possible. I did not have any extra money to hire someone to help me, but I took a chance that maybe I could get some free help. I did contact a lawyer in Wichita, Kansas, who just happened to be an ex-governor of Kansas at the time. His name was Payne Ratner. He was governor from 1939 until 1943. He was able to get my original birth certificate from my sealed files in Kansas City, Missouri. How he was able to do that I never understood, but I am thankful for his effort.

John in Merchant Marines

I presented the birth certificate to the Merchant Marine recruiter, which made everything okay and I was accepted to become a Merchant Marine. This time I had to change my name back to John Thurmond to match my birth certificate. I did not do this through the courts but on my own.

John Doe, John Thurmond, Charles Louis Leake, Charles Louis Barry, Jack Edell, Dick Waggoner and finally John Thurmond.

MERCHANT MARINE

CALIFORNIA

I was living in Wichita, Kansas, at that time. Several other boys and I from Wichita were placed aboard a train bound for California. After a long ride on that train, we were put on a water taxi headed for Catalina Island off the shores of California. The Merchant Marine had a training camp on Catalina and each of us was assigned a small cabin for our home for six weeks.

While at Catalina, I did not like the training that they wanted me to do, especially swimming in the ocean. In order to get out of the training, I volunteered for Post Office duty. That was great as now I could almost get out of all the training. The only training that I had to do was serving meals at a Catalina restaurant. That did not go too well at first as I could not remember the orders and the people that were at my table were my trainers. Not a good day.

Catalina is an island off the California coast. The town where I was stationed was a named Avalon. Avalon is situated on a very small part of the island. The rest of the island was owned at that time by the Wrigley Gum family and we were not allowed to go on their property. So, for entertainment we could go to the theater or go fishing. One time me and another Merchant Marine decided to rent a boat and try our luck at fishing. We got the boat into the water and was ready to go when another person showed up wanting to join us. So, we said ok but I did not know that this person had a bottle of whiskey with him.

We went fishing and from that point on I don’t remember much as I was drunk as well as seasick. Somehow when my senses got back to normal, I discovered that I was in my bunk. The music jukebox was located just outside of my bunk area and I came to the conclusion that there were a lot of Merchant Marines that were from Oklahoma, as all night long I would hear the song “Oklahoma Hills Where I Was Born.” So, I not only was terribly drunk, but that music was not helping matters either. How I got to my bunk, I don’t know, but I learned a valuable lesson, “never to get drunk again” as at that time I just wanted to die. To this day, I never got drunk again.

Shipping out after my six weeks training, I was then shipped off to San Francisco, California, to a holding area until a ship became available. I was there about two weeks when a ship became available and I was chosen to go to sea. There was a lot of paper work to be completed before I was to go, but, unbeknownst to me, the ship that I was assigned to was leaving port right then, and if I wanted to go, I had to take a water taxi to catch the ship and get aboard. That was an experience, as once the water taxi caught up with the ship, I had to climb aboard by using a rope ladder that was dropped over the side of the ship. Try climbing a rope ladder while the ship is going forward, the sea has large waves and you were struggling with a full duffle bag. I got bruised pretty good and most all the sailors aboard kidded me about it for a long time.

I was then a Merchant Seaman and I was able to do this only with the help of several people. Our ship, the Capitol Victory, was a nice clean ship and had a captain that was respected by most of the sailors. I was assigned to the food stores area. I had to see that all supplies that would be needed for a long trip was aboard and accounted for. This area was called their dry stores. It was August 1945 when we headed toward Japan. There had been a lot of ships lost on this route due to the war but now everything seemed calm. Then I realized that the Japanese probably heard about me shipping out aboard the Capitol Victory and they decided to surrender rather than have to deal with me. Anyway, that’s my story.

John and buddies in the Merchant Marine

Upon arriving aboard the ship, I was getting settled in my room when I started to get sick. Seasick! I was told to go on deck and go to the center of the ship where the movement is much less and lay down and throw up in the water. I did so but the movement of the water only made me sicker. I looked around me and noticed that the older sailors were laughing at me. They got me good. There was another time when a Japanese worker who was unloading the ship was caught urinating in a mail bag. He was caught and the sailors put him in the mailbag and left him in there for a long while.

We were at sea when a buddy and I decided to see just what we had in the ship’s hold. We went on deck and each shipping hold has an above deck vent so we decided that was a way in. We removed the screen cover somehow and crawled through it to get into the hold. Once we got in the hold, we found to our delight BEER. After a few hours of drinking hot beer, we had a terrible time climbing out and getting back to our rooms.

Another time while we were at sea, there was a new sailor, not me, who was told that on a certain day the postal mail ship will come by and pick up our mail and he must be on deck at a certain time at night. Believe it or not this sailor was standing on the bow of the ship in the middle of the night holding his letters to be mailed.

JAPAN

When we arrived in Tokyo Bay, Japan, we had a pilot come out and lead us through all the damage that was in the harbor. The pilot asked if he could have a hot hamburger, so his wish was granted. There were several of us involved in this. What we did was cook him a hamburger, but there was a whole bottle of hot sauce in it. The end result to this was that we were once again in trouble with the captain.

In the bay, everywhere you looked you saw damage from the American bombers. We were not allowed to go ashore as there were still some hot spots since some of the Japanese did not realize the war was over. I HAD to see what Japan looked like, so I thought that I would go to our four-inch gun that was mounted on the stern of our ship and use the sights to investigate the waterfront. As the Japanese ships and small boats came by our ship, the people would wave and cheer. I think some thought I was going to blow then out of the water.

While anchored in Tokyo Bay, I was tossed overboard by my sailor friends. But I could not swim due to the fact that I did not learn to swim while in training on Catalina Island. They tossed me a life ring. The water in the bay was real warm due to some ocean current, so once I put on the ring, I decided to stay for a while. When I got ready to get out, there was no one to help me as it was chow time, so I had to again climb back by using a rope ladder that someone was thoughtful enough to throw down. The captain did not like what I did, that being I left the life ring floating in the ocean. You won’t believe what happened next. They threw me back overboard and I had to go retrieve the life ring then come back up the rope ladder carrying the life ring. Lesson learned. We then traveled down the coastline of Japan. We went by Nagasaki, Japan, where the second atomic bomb exploded. We heard about the extensive damage to the area even though we were out to sea. I feel sorry for the innocent people but not for the soldiers.

KOREA

Our next stop was Pusan, Korea. We got to go ashore there. I almost got run over by a truck as they drive on the wrong side of the road. It was in the winter time and it was really cold so we did not do much except stay aboard the warm ship.

It was about a long mile to walk into town. We hitched a ride with anyone we could just to get to town as well to keep out of the cold weather. Once in town, now what was there to do? I was almost broke so I had to watch how I spent my money. Everywhere there was either a bar, a gift shop or someone begging for money. I went to this gift shop, thinking about getting something for my girlfriend back home. The saleswoman was really nice and she spoke good English as she was educated in America and was caught up in the war and could not get back to America. They were a real nice Korean family that owned the small gift store. They seemed to like me and asked me to stop by often.

I think that the saleswoman at the gift store realized that I was lost in her country and started to ask me questions about my family. I told her what I could and she told me about her family. She then invited me to stop by anytime to join them for food or just visit, which I accepted. They lived behind the gift store. Their living area was really nice and everyone in the family seemed to enjoy my company as well as I enjoyed their company. I only wish that I knew the family’s name as I would like to contact them and see how they were doing.

On Christmas I stopped by and they invited me to have an evening meal with them, which I did. After the meal, they gave me a small gift. It was a fresh egg. I took the egg and wondered what am I going to do with it as I had a lot of eggs aboard the ship. Well, my decision was not the right one. I tossed it in their charcoal fire pit. Learning about it afterward, I found out that they went to a lot of effort to get a fresh egg as there were very few available in town.

I had to leave to get back to the ship when someone suggested that they would take me back. I said that was great because it was really cold. They had a car that looked like a 1934 Ford. They drove me up to where my ship was anchored and let me out. Well, as you can imagine, most of my shipmates saw me get out of the car and I was kidded about that for several days. Remember now, I was the youngest sailor aboard the Capitol Victory and I had a car with a driver already. The next morning, after we got everything done that we had to do aboard the ship, we received permission to go ashore again. Well wouldn’t you know it, there was a car and driver waiting for me to come to their place for lunch. I got in the car and left several sailors as well as the Captain walking into town. That was not a good thing to do as I heard about it later when I returned to the ship. The captain did not like to have to walk to town while I had someone come to the ship in a car to pick me up.

Somehow my name was attached to a group by my shipmates to have a boxing match with another ship that was anchored there. I was not thrilled but I thought I would give it a try and maybe get on the good side of the captain. It came time for my match and I was really excited. I put on the gloves, which were huge and heavy. Then I found out that I could not box with my glasses on, so they removed them and I got beat up as I could not see who I was fighting. Anyhow I do have a perfect boxing record, 0 wins and 1 loss. Oh well.

After all the swelling went down, the next day me and a sailor buddy decided to go see a movie in town but we wanted to also explore a building where we heard there were Japanese small arm weapons stored. When we got to the building, we noticed one guard stationed at the front door. We decided that I would look to see how to get in the building while my buddy kept the guard occupied. There was no way to get in the building, but then I noticed air vents along the sides of the building. I was able to obtain a broken rake that I figured I could put through the vents, hoping to attach to something. I was lucky. I was able to get at least six 30-caliber imperial rifles out of the vents and hide them in the bushes. I then went to get my buddy and headed for somewhere just to get out of the area. We came back later and retrieved the rifles and stored then aboard our ship.

We again had another problem – no bullets for our guns. I talked to several people about where we could get bullets. We made a deal with a Japanese person and he would give us bullets if we gave him 50 lbs. of sugar. In the middle of night, I moved a 50 lb. bag of sugar off the ship and hid it in some bushes. The next morning, I traded the sugar for the bullets and then I had to get the heavy box of bullets back on the ship.

As my buddy and I were heading back to our ship, it started to rain hard. We were almost to the ship when we spotted an MP patrol heading our way. We tossed the ammo behind a road grader blade before they got there. They stopped and checked our IDs and let us go but not without a warning. The warning was, “Don’t forget your box behind the grader blade” and they drove off. We grabbed the box of ammo and started to run toward our ship when all of a sudden, we fell into a bomb crater that was full of mud. The more we tried to climb out, the more we slid back in the hole. After about an hour in the bomb crater, covered with mud, we were able to get out and head for the ship. We made it to the ship okay with our box of ammo but where now do we hide this stuff? We decided to hide everything in my storeroom area hoping not to get caught. Which luckily, we didn’t.

There was also one item that I was trying to bring aboard the ship. It was a one-man tank that was in an old shed and could have a bomb attached if necessary. But the captain told me to forget it, which I did. I was able to open up the hatch and look inside and I found a German pistol. I retrieved the pistol hoping to bring it home but on the way home, it disappeared.

Two weeks had come and gone so I had to say goodbye to my Korean family that had befriended me. I went to their shop to say goodbye only to find out that they closed. I was able to locate a neighbor that spoke English and he told me that the gift shop was robbed. That was the reason the shop was closed. I also found out that the robbers could have been my shipmates. All the way back to the States, I wondered just which of my ship buddies were the robbers. I never did find out who robbed them but I did see some gifts aboard the ship that looked like the gifts that could have come from their shop. This really upset me as these people did not deserve being robbed. They were good people just trying to make a living.

CALIFORNIA

At the end of our trip, we arrived at San Francisco to dock and unload. Then we could sign off and go home. Plans changed as someone had picked up a cat and brought it aboard. The port inspectors saw the cat and made us go anchor a long way from where we were scheduled to dock. The reason was that the cat did not have its shots and we were told to get its shots or get rid of it before we could dock. We came up with a plan and that was to make a raft. We put a box on the raft, put the cat in the box and put everything in the water, hoping that the tide would push it ashore. Not sure if the cat made it or not, but when the inspector returned, the cat was gone and we were allowed to go to the dock and unload.

LOVE OF MY LIFE

KANSAS

When I returned to Wichita from Korea, I met and fell in love with a wonderful girl named Mary Louise Connor. The way that I met her was just a little unusual to say the least. I had purchased a bottle of beer and was trying to open it on a street-corner-crossing push button when Mary and her girlfriend, which turned out to be her sister Dollie, came walking down the street toward me. I stopped them and asked them if either had a church key (bottle cap remover) in their purses. It just happened that Mary had one and then I asked her for a date. After a few months seeing her, I knew in my heart that she was to be my soulmate forever. We got married on May 30, 1946.

Mary and John’s wedding day

At the time Mary was only fifteen and I was seventeen years of age. We were married in Wichita, Kansas, by a justice of the peace. My reason I believe that Mary’s parents let her get married at such a young age was that they just wanted her to be happy and, in their minds, getting married to me was a way to keep her happy. Her parents were really nice and her mother was a great cook.

I was sweating out our wedding day as I needed my unemployment check for $18.00 so that I could pay the preacher. The check finally came and as the saying says, “Let the show begin.”

After our wedding, we headed to a small apartment that I had rented to be our first home together. I remember it was on Hydraulic Street in Wichita, Kansas, and it was behind a laundry. It was not much but it was all we could afford at the time. I will never forget our first night together. Everything was going well when we heard a cat meow several times. So, we got up and started to look for the cat because we thought maybe it was trapped somewhere. It sure was trapped. Someone put the cat at the foot of our bed under the mattress and it wanted out. We did not know for sure who would pull this kind of a prank on us, but we had our thoughts. It was either Mary’s sister, Dollie, or her brother, Noble. We never did find out for sure. We let the cat out and went back to bed.

Mary and John in 1946

Mary’s brother, Noble, turned out to be my best friend. We used to go out to a drive-in that was located on the north side of Wichita and just mingle with the crowd. Noble had a car and that is how we got around at that time. Noble got acquainted with a girl at the drive-in and that was the real reason we went there. I do not remember her name but I do remember the name I called her as she was not that beautiful. That name was “Lantern Jaw.” There was nothing serious going on at the drive-in, just a nice group of people having a good time doing nothing.

I remember one time when we left the drive-in, we were heading toward town when we were stopped due to a train switching cars. There was one car ahead of us that was stopped, but Noble wanted to get home so he pushed the car that was in front of him across the tracks and then we also went across the tracks. I looked at the driver when we passed him, and it was an old man that looked like he was in a state of shock or maybe he just wet his pants.

There was another time when Noble was able to get his parents’ car and we decided to try a dumb thing. That was to put the car on the railroad track and drive it across the Arkansas River on the railroad bridge. It was not me that was driving. All I remember was that Noble made it all the way across the river. He got out of the car and yelled at me to come on over as he will not drive it back to pick me up.

The only transportation that I had was a bicycle. To me, it was a valuable possession as I had very little money. I was continually polishing the bike and put in a lot of effort to keep it looking nice. The one thing that I remember that was unusual about the bike was that I had installed two steering knobs on the handlebars. Instead of holding the handlebar, I held on to the steering knobs. I also had a playing card attached by a clothes pin to the bicycle frame in the wheel area. When pedaling the bike, it sounded like it had a small motor. Cool at that time.

One of the best times that we had in Wichita was the time Noble, Chet Clark and I came up with a plan on how to have a good time without spending too much money. The plan went like this. On a Friday evening, I would go rent a car and always requested that the car be a certain color. The rental cost us $10.00 a night. We then would go to a local night club. That is where everything we had planned would work out. Noble was the driver, Chet was my bodyguard and I was the rich person. Chet would open the nightclub door and then I would come in. The word got around that I was a very generous person and that evening someone would win a car. That started things off right as all of a sudden, we had our own private table, a lot of free beer, as well as a lot of girls wanting to join us.

The first night went well and only cost the three of us just $10.00. The next Friday night, I again rented another car, which had to be a different color as we told people that the other one was given away. We did this for three or four weekends until things started to change. There was an argument between other people over something and one of the women opened her purse and pulled out a gun to settle things. Fortunately, someone took it away from her but that was when a bad fight broke out. During the fight, someone pulled a knife and stabbed another person. At this point, we decided to leave and we never went back. Wow, what an experience! One that I will never forget.

John and Mary

During our early time together, Mary and I sometimes struggled in order to make ends meet. I would give Mary the money that I earned doing odd jobs and she would make it work best she could. I was lucky to get a job at Beech Aircraft, teaching people how to do sheet metal. The only problem with that was I did not know sheet metal fabrication from milking a cow, but I learned the craft of sheet metal while I was teaching people. I enjoyed the work very much and that was where I started my education as being a sheet metal fabricator, which paid a good wage.

After working for Beech Aircraft, I then went to work for Coleman Company making lanterns and camping stoves. I was there for about ten years and then we decided it was time to move on. We decided to move to California. We were finally going to be able to see California as we always heard that California was a beautiful place to live. We were also happy to reunite with Mary’s brother Noble and his family, who were also residing in California near us. I got a job working for Bill Lear at Pac Aero.

LEAR AIRCRAFT

CALIFORNIA

When Mary and I were living in Mar Vista, California, next door to our apartment was a vacant field. I got the idea that I would use it to learn how to do archery. So, I set up some hay bales (not sure where they came from), put targets on the bales, and then realized that there was something missing. Archery equipment. Somehow, I was able to obtain the equipment and then I started to practice shooting.

I got to where I was pretty good, so I attracted some neighbor kids and started to give lessons. Well, believe it or not, Noble just happened to stop by and wanted to join in with the archery shooters. After a few months of practice, Noble and I were invited to join a fun tournament, and we decided that we would give it a try. Tournament day came and after a day of shooting at moving targets, I was really tired. But Noble won his class and received a small metal. This is a case where the teacher failed and the student won. But by the time we got home, I do believe that his metal had started to turn green. So, it all worked out as I told him I did not want a metal that was turning green.

I went thru a period when I wanted to have a Hot Rod. But to get one, I had to make it, as funds were very short. Mary and I had a ’34 Ford and that car was the only car that we used for our transportation. Somehow, I got the okay to try and modify it, but my modification idea was extreme. I made a roadster out of it that I thought was great. I got a lot of people staring at it.

Well, along came Mary’s brother, Noble, and he wanted to take it for a drive. Being that I was such a good guy, I said okay. Noble took it for a drive but I never thought that he would try to drive it under a tractor trailer. He almost made it and the only thing that stopped him was a small tank hanging down under the trailer. He hit the tank and by doing so he fractured his jaw as well as wrecking my car. The car was towed to a impound yard because I would not claim it since it was not titled or licensed for the street. In other words, the car did not show an owner. Not only did Noble get hurt and the car was destroyed, but I had a problem explaining the situation to Mary as we had to go buy another car.

Working for Bill Lear was quite an experience. He owned Lear Aircraft and other things. I was with him for six or seven years. At Lear we made special designed aircraft for several businesses, as well as for some wealthy private people and movie stars. He was involved with several of the movie people, and at times, I was able to see some movie stars.

One person that I got to meet was Howard Hughes. He was a very demanding person, but I guess that overall, he was a nice man to deal with. I liked him. At that time, I thought maybe Mr. Lear and Mr. Hughes were going to purchase the state of Nevada as they were purchasing a lot of property there.

Mr. Lear also hired the displaced king of Romania to be his sales representative. This king was King Michael of Romania who abdicated his throne during World War II. I only got to talk to him but a couple of times, but I do remember one of the questions that I asked him. “When I greet you, sir, just what greeting do I use?” And he replied, “Why don’t you just call me Mike.” All went well from then on.

I will never forget my first day on the job at Lear Aircraft. As I walked into the aircraft hangar, there was blood all over the floor. Earlier in the morning, there was a serious accident to an employee. He got himself in a dangerous area of an aircraft that was being tested for the gear wheel door to fit properly when it closes. Somehow this employee got caught in the door as it was closing and almost killed him. Lesson learned.

Mr. Lear and I hit it off pretty well as he was always wanting me to help him with some project that he wanted to develop. Whenever there was a special sheet metal job to do on a customer’s plane, somehow, I was the one picked to do the job. I didn’t mind it as I got to meet a lot of people that I would never have gotten to meet otherwise. I really enjoyed this life.

But there was also a time when things did not go as planned and I will never forget. That was the time I was asked to ride the brakes of a large Convair twin-engine plane while it was being towed by a tow tractor to another location. I had ridden the brakes many times but this time was different. We were putting the plane in the hanger. The tow operator had to stop the tractor in order to reposition himself. He disconnected the tow bar after I put on the brakes, and he moved the tractor to another position. Then my brake pedal went to the floor and I lost my brakes. The plane started to move forward slowly, and there was nothing that I could have done except pull up the landing gears, which I never thought about doing.

As the plane traveled forward, I could see another large plane directly ahead. I knew that we were going to crash, which we did. The first thing that I did was to get out of the plane in case there was a fire. Believe me, I got out in a hurry. There was an investigation into the crash and it was decided that what I did was all that I could do, as someone had not tightened the hose fitting on the brakes and therefore the brake fluid drained off. I will also remember that the Convair belonged to Gov. Kerr of Oklahoma.

The reason I left Lear Aircraft was that a union wanted to represent us and I was not for it. I was making more money per hour than the union contract called for, so I would be frozen for the time being. I was given 30 days to make up my mind or I would be terminated as a volunteered layoff. I quit.

I then went to work for a company called True Trace, in Whittier, California, a specialized machine shop. I learned to be a machinist through a lot of trials and errors. I had the help of an older machinist. He really was the person that showed me just how to operate machine shop machines the proper way. I was taught the proper way to disassemble and reassemble various types of heavy-duty manufacturing machines and rebuild then to better than new condition.

Whenever there was a trade show, I was the representative sent to show the public just how our products performed. After the trade shows were finished, the company wanted me to go purchase an old retired school bus and make it into a traveling demonstration vehicle that would be equipped with several heavy-duty machine shop tools. This took me about six months to complete, and I must say that it looked nice once it received a new paint job. The company hired a person to drive the bus as well as demonstrate products to several potential buyers. All went well until the bus was involved in a crash and was totaled. That’s all I know about that.

There is one experience that I will never forget. I went to work for a company called True Trace in California. The people that I worked with were a good group. There were times when everything went as it should, but there were times when things just didn’t seem right. One of my fellow workers had just opened up a gay bar and I was invited to go and bring along a friend if I wished. I had never been in a gay bar, so with my wife’s blessings, I decided to go with my work buddy, Raoul. The bar owner invited us to attend the grand opening but gave us a warning that things will probably not be like what we are used to in our life style so keep an open mind.

My friend Raoul and I went to the bar, but as we entered, we noticed that no one even paid attention to us. We found out later, they thought we were a couple. We went to the open pool table, deciding to play some pool and keep an eye on the crowd. As we were playing pool, two girls came up to us and wanted to play pool also. We agreed. As the time passed by, one of the girls asked me if I would like to meet her mate. So, I said ok. I was thinking that the girl playing on Raoul’s side of the table was who she was talking about. Was I ever wrong. The girl then grabbed me by the hand and we headed toward the kitchen. Once in the kitchen, she introduced me to a very young girl that was too young to be in the bar who turned out to be her life partner. That really got to me as the girl looked to be about thirteen or fourteen and she really looked scared.

I left the couple in the kitchen and went back to where Raoul was and told him what I just saw. I suggested that maybe we are out of our element and we should head for home. That was all right with Raoul, but he wanted to at least have a beer before we left. So, we then headed toward the bar. There was no problem going on at the bar, but there was a lot of touching. As we were having our beer, a man came and sat beside me. We talked about different things. Then I looked up and saw the bartender waving her hands in the air several times so I waved back. I told the stranger that we were leaving and started to leave. On our way out, the bartender met us at the door and told us that the man that I was talking to was a cop. We left and never went back.

When I got home, I told my wife about the experience of the evening and she never even felt sorry for me. That happened on a Friday night so when Monday came around, it was back to work for me. Once at work, I approached the person who owned the bar and told her about what took place. She was not surprised at all.

John riding his motorcycle to work

Another experience that was unforgettable was the time a group of people that I knew wanted to know if I could arrange a raft trip down the Colorado River. Sounded great! I made arrangements with a canoe supplier. I found a caterer to supply the food and drinks for the voyage. Once everything was in place, we loaded up and headed toward the Colorado River. Once there, we met with the canoe supplier and the caterer. We had our canoes and were given our food and drink supplies for the trip.

The canoes turned out to be a struggle. Once they were loaded, we tried to head down the river, but we ran into a snag. We had a problem getting the canoes to go where we wanted them to go. After about an hour, we were under control. After about five hours on the river, we were finally at our destination, a campground along the river. This is where the caterer had our food setup and was awaiting our arrival. Everything turned out great for us. However, other campers not with our group were eating hot dogs and we had steaks. They thought that we were something special. They brought over refreshments and we shared or food with them. We had a great time except for one thing. Sunburn.  

There was a time when I was asked to get together a fishing trip to Mexico and of course I said I would try. I was able to make contact with a boat captain out of San Diego who would take us aboard. He said that we would have to get twenty people to go. Getting twenty people to go was not the problem. The problem was most wanted to go for free. I finally got the twenty together and away we went for a weekend of deep-sea fishing. The boat was great and the fishing was even better. The fish that I caught, I gave to the local people.

Most everyone headed back home with the exception of a few friends and me. We decided to go to Rosarito Beach and enjoy some good fresh clams and a few beers. We got there at the right time, as there was a big beach party going on. We decided to join in. Sometime during the party, the partiers had a meeting. We were asked to put our names in a hat for a drawing to be held later for the office of mayor of Rosarito Beach. Later the drawing was made and you will not believe this, but I won and was chosen to be mayor for the rest of the day. Now what do I do? I made this day a holiday and I said to go entertain someone that you would like and enjoy the evening. My only duty as mayor was to issue a call for free beer for everyone but there was a catch. They had to pay for the beer.

On the way back to the Mexican border, I stopped along the road to grab a bite to eat. I was approached by a Mexican person that was selling something in a bag that looked like pills. I told him to go get lost and I then headed toward the border. When I got to the border, the border guard asked me where I was from and where I was going. I told him that I was going home from a weekend fishing trip. The guard told me to drive over to another area so that my van could be checked further. Another guard came up with a mean look on his face. He told me to get out of the van and go sit on a bench while he checked the van. This guard put a large dog in the van to sniff out something, which it didn’t find anything. The guard finally told me to get in my van and go home. I believe someone saw the person that approach me while I was eating and reported me to the border guards.

Finally, I headed back toward home. I stopped for gas and decided to grab a quick meal. When I went in the restaurant, I spotted someone that I knew. Of all people, it was my boss arm-in-arm with a cute woman. I got out of there pretty fast. Even though the fishing trip was great, it was sure nice to get home. I told Mary about what went on during the trip and she just laughed at me.

FLORIDA

One day I saw an ad in our local paper about a company in Florida that was looking for someone to service their line machines. I went for an interview and was hired for the job. So, we again put everything in our car and headed for Florida. The company was a Johnson & Johnson company named Vistakon, and they were in the developing stages of producing contact lenses. Their machines were very small compared to what I was used to working on. I had to hit the books because they wanted me to learn the programming of robots. I said to them, “What is a robot?” This was a whole new area for me.

I was now in optical engineering as a maintenance mechanic. Wow, a title! The development of contact lenses went great after a slow start due to a lot of safety standards that had to be included. We did not want anyone to have problems with their contacts. I was with Vistakon for ten years and not only did I develop manufacturing skills, but I also established a lot of good friends. A few of my friends still communicate with me by Email and that is a good way to keep in touch nowadays.

Even though I was also in the learning mode, I was like a teacher to our new maintenance people by showing them the proper way to get things done. I recall that Richard Harmon, Nestor Tobias, John Harman, Bruce Voight and Jim Revels were just a few that were in my group as well as Jackie Hearne. Speaking of Jackie, she was working on the production line. She seemed like she was mechanically inclined, so I recommended that she should join our group, which she did. The reason that I write about her here is that I became attached to her due to the fact that she developed a kidney problem. I decided to be tested to see if I could donate a kidney to her. I was told that even though I could be a donor for her, it was very unlikely due to my age at the time. But in an emergency, it might be considered but very unlikely. 

Mary and John

The day came when I decided to retire. One of the hardest things that I had to overcome when I retired was the feeling I had when I left my friends. I missed them a great deal. I just needed to be able to enjoy the retirement life and Mary and I came up with a good way to do that.

MOTORHOME LIFE

Mary and I purchased a motorhome in order to see just what our country had to offer. It also allowed us to be able to help Mary go places that she could not go because she was starting to have a walking problem. Her knees were wearing out and it was quite painful for her. We traveled most everywhere west of the Mississippi River and enjoyed every moment of it. It is not everyone that can say that they have a different front yard most every day. I parked my motorhome and was in the process of remodeling and cleaning it up so that I could put it up for sale the next summer. However, on November 8, 2011, we had a very bad hailstorm and it destroyed the motorhome. It had to be sold for junk. That was a sad moment as we had put a lot of effort into restoring it to better than new condition, only to lose it to an act of the weather.

Perris Island, South Carolina

We were at home in Jacksonville, Florida, when we decided to visit our grandson Michael who had joined the Marine Corp. and would graduate from boot camp that weekend. We decided that we would go to the graduation held at Perris Island, South Carolina. We have been planning this trip for some time and we had made reservations at Hunter State Park, which is close to the Marine Base. We had overstocked the motorhome with food and bedding supplies because we expected several people to join us at the park.

We decided that in order to get an early start, we would gas up the previous day rather than waste our time gassing up on the day of our trip. We went to get some propane first. Then we headed toward the gas station when we heard a very loud noise. We lost our driving power and our brakes. We were able to coast into a vacant lot that was nearby and then we called for our emergency road service, which responded in about fifteen or twenty minutes. They came for us with a semi-tractor with a sliding platform trailer. It had been decided that it would be better to load us rather than tow us and maybe cause more damage. At this time, no one was sure just what the problem could be. The motorhome was hauled to a Chevrolet dealership in Jacksonville that specialized in truck repair.

While they were hauling the motorhome, I walked back home and got our car.  I went back to pick up Mary and we proceeded to the Chevrolet dealership. When the semi arrived at its destination, there was no way to unload the motorhome because the main roads were being torn up for resurfacing.

The Chevrolet dealership contracted our repair job to ATS truck repair located in another part of Jacksonville. When we arrived at ATS, the motorhome was unloaded from the trailer platform and one of the mechanics checked it out. It was decided that we had a broken axle and axle housing. They told us that the repair should take about one week because they were going to have to order a completely new axle assembly. The old one was torn up too much to repair. The axle had to be ordered from Michigan and that area was under one of the worst snowstorms in years so I figured that maybe two weeks would be more like it.

We unloaded the food and blankets and put them in the car. We would go by car to Perris Island and see our grandson Mike graduate from bootcamp. It took us about three hours to get to Hunter Island State Park and once there we had to exchange our three-day campsite reservation for a 1-day cabin reservation. It took us quite a while to get everyone together because there were three carloads of people coming to the graduation exercise from different areas. Once we got everyone rounded up, we all headed for the cabin and a good night’s rest.

Hunter State Park is a very large and very dark park. Due to the darkness, we had a lot of problems trying to locate our cabin. We had to locate a park ranger to lead us to the cabin or we would still be driving around the next morning. The cabin was very nice and it was located within walking distance of the ocean. The rating for Hunter State Park would be average. The personnel at the park were very helpful in getting us to our cabin and arranging for our switch to a cabin rather than a campsite as we had planned. We decided we would stay there again the next time we were in the area. The graduation was very impressive and Mike looked very military. After the ceremonies, we took a short tour of the military base and then headed for home.

We decided to check on the repairs being made to our motorhome, hoping that we would find it ready for us, but we realized that would be impossible. When we arrived at the repair shop, we were told to expect at least another week to have the repair completed. Two weeks had passed and the motorhome still had not been repaired. This was due to the Chevrolet dealer not receiving a completely new rear housing assembly from the factory. They blamed it on the weather but we blame some of the delay on the Chevrolet dealer. When I asked to speak to the owner about this situation, a new rear housing assembly was found in their stockroom. Amazing. The repair shop finally called and told us that our motorhome was repaired. We were delighted. We took a test drive and the repair was acceptable. The ABS truck repair shop was very good to us. We drove home thinking about how lucky we were to have this breakage happen in town instead on the road. This trip was different than others in the past but now that everything was repaired, we started planning our next adventure.

Decherd, Tennessee

We decided that this trip would be different than the trips in the past. We were going to take our time, just relax and enjoy our travels more than we did our previous trips. Our travel plan consisted of going to see our son Scott and his family in Decherd, Tennessee. Then on to Hutchinson, Kansas, to visit Mary’s sister Dolly. From there to Hampton, Iowa to visit my sister Diana and then back home.

We got on the road at 7:17 a.m. heading toward Decherd, Tennessee. Once there we were planning on checking out the countryside for a possible homesite. We had been discussing the possibility of purchasing an acre or so to be used for our campsite when we were in the Tennessee area. When we arrived in Decherd, the weather turned cold and windy. We were told that the weather was beautiful before we arrived. When Scott and his wife’s neighbors found out that we were coming for a visit, they knew that the weather was about to change and it did.

Scott and I went for a drive throughout the countryside looking for some property that was for sale. The property had to have a good view and situated in a clean and odor free area. We drove and drove throughout the hills and found some areas that were really good, and we also found several areas that were nothing but junk. While checking out one piece of property, we experienced a one-of-a-kind type of excitement. We were chased off a farmer’s property by a very large turkey. That’s right, a turkey attacked us and our car. You get the idea that the turkey didn’t want us around. We got his point.

McDonough, Georgia

Mary and I left Decherd early Monday morning and took our time heading toward Carthage, Missouri. Our first stop for the night was at a KOA campground located at McDonough, Georgia. The park was rated as above average by the Good Sam inspectors, so based on this reference we pulled in. At this park we are assigned to campsite #57, which turned out to be almost as long as our motorhome. Other campsites were very short and close together which made it hard to get in and out. We checked out the campground so that we could rate it for future reference. We rated it as below average. We based this rating on the general appearance of the campground, which had many permanent campers and several of these campers had all kinds of trash thrown around their rigs. The restrooms were dirty and the electrical boxes around the sinks were not secured safely. As for visual appearance, the campground was very dirty and dusty. If you like to see people walk their dogs unleashed and let them do their thing in your campsite and not pick it up, then this park is for you. But it wasn’t for us. There was also a lot of highway noise to contend with. All this for $19.80 a night.

The next morning we listened to the weather forecast and we found out that there was a heavy hailstorm approaching our area. So, we left quietly early in order to get ahead of it. As we were headed north, we only ran into some light rain but a lot of wind. The wind made driving hard but we knew that as soon as we started heading west, we might be able to outrun the storm and maybe enjoy some sunshine. Sure enough, we were right. The sun did come out for a while and we enjoyed good weather the rest of the way toward Carthage, Missouri.

We decided to go directly to the Precious Moments RV Campground, which is adjacent to the Precious Moments attraction area, and try to get a choice campsite. Upon arriving at the campground, we were surprised at the layout. All campsites there had concrete pads with water and electricity but no sewer connections. There was a clubhouse that had washer/dryers, several large bathrooms with showers, a swimming pool that would be open once the weather warmed up, and a very nice clubhouse with a large screen TV.

We rated the campground 8/9.5/8. We had to downgrade this park because the concrete pads were advertised as being level and most were not. The bathrooms were locked at night, and they were a long walk from some of the campsites. There are no sewer hookups but there was a dump station. We were in campsite #23 which was level and close to the clubhouse. We paid $18.50 for the night and decided we definitely would stay there again the next time we were in the area.

The Precious Moments attraction is the place to go if you are a Precious Moments figurine collector. Briefly, this place has every figurine ever designed by Mr. Butcher, and they are all for sale in the salesroom. The buildings, landscape and the ground art are absolutely beautiful. They have tours of the area as well as a very good restaurant. This is a place to see even though you might not be a collector.

We took a short stroll through the salesroom. When Mary couldn’t find what she was looking for, we called a tram to take us back to the campground. We took some pictures of the area. We also met some interesting people that were camping next to us and visited with them for a short while. Then we went to our campsite to call it a day.

Cherokee, Kansas

The next morning, we took our time getting ready to start down the highway toward Hutchinson, Kansas, to spend some time at Mary’s sister Dolly’s home. Mary decided that she wanted to stop at the Cherokee, Kansas, courthouse and check on some of their genealogy records. Cherokee is about an hour’s drive from Carthage, Missouri, but after driving for two hours, we couldn’t locate the town. Finally, with the help of another person, we arrived at our destination only to find out that the courthouse for the county is no longer located in Cherokee. We said forget it and headed down State Highway 96 toward Hutchinson, Kansas.

Wichita, Kansas

We stopped in Wichita, Kansas, to visit our former brother-in-law, Bruce Branscum. We knew that he was in the process of remodeling his mother’s house and that would probably be where we could find him. We not only located Bruce but his ex-wife, Mary’s sister Dolly, was there helping him out. Bruce was also remolding another house, which was keeping him very busy. Both of the properties were a long way from completion and I didn’t believe that he had the time left to complete them much less help out other people with their needs. I hoped that I was wrong. Bruce was a good person but he needed some respect from other members of his family.

Hutchinson, Kansas

We left Wichita, Kansas, and headed toward Hutchinson, Kansas, with Dolly as our guide. The wind was blowing gusts of 40 to 50 miles per hour, and it was making driving dangerous. We had to use a lot of caution while driving in order to stay within the highway lanes. When we arrived at Dolly’s home, we encountered another problem. A very large tree was very close to her driveway, and I had to back up around this tree trying not to hit it. I really didn’t have too much to worry about at the time because Mary and Dolly were guiding me into the driveway. I looked at Mary and she indicated everything was okay on her side, but when I glanced at the side Dolly was on, she was making a lot of weird motions. I wasn’t sure why until I felt a thump. I hit the tree limb and it tore two small holes in our rubber roof. The damage was not a lot but just the same it made Mary, Dolly and me feel bad.

I decided to patch the roof as soon as possible so that no moisture could get under the rubber and maybe do damage to the interior of the motorhome. The wind picked up again, and it made it dangerous to stand on the top of the motorhome to make the repair. I decided that the safest way was to use a ladder and hope that I didn’t get blown off of it.

Dolly had a lot of work lined up for me to do, but I had expected it this time because we had discussed it before this trip. I didn’t realize that the list would be so long but was able to complete most of them. After I finished, Dolly had shelves in her garage, gutter downspouts that were anchored to the house, a storm door hung on her kitchen entrance, a ceiling fan installed for better air circulation, a painted park bench placed on the front porch, and a replaced broken sink drain plug. To top it off, I programmed her TV so that she could receive all the channels. Sounds like a lot but it wasn’t that bad.

We got to spend some time Saturday with our niece, Nancy Myrtle and her husband Rocky. We didn’t do much but go to the grocery store shopping and spent the rest of the day just catching up on family things. It was a real nice visit and wished that we could have spent more time with them. But we again got to see them when they came over for Easter dinner at Dolly’s home and brought her grandchildren. The Easter dinner was very good. A lot of effort went into it and I believe that everyone enjoyed it. After dinner it was the beginning of a lazy day. Rocky and I talked about computers while Mary, Dolly and Nancy discussed genealogy. Speaking about genealogy, Mary had traced part of her family back to about 1640. She made up her family tree, printed it out and gave Dolly and Nancy a copy. It was very impressive just to see where her family came from.

Rocky and I went to see the Cosmosphere exhibit which now has a permanent building in Hutchinson. The exhibit is a museum on space history. Some of the exhibits on display are the V-1 and V-2 rockets that were used to bomb England during World War II. There was a backup module of the spacecraft used to land on the moon along with the moon rover car. The original Soviet Sputnik spacecraft was on display as well as a retired space shuttle which was like the ones NASA was using then. The shuttle is huge when you stand alongside of it. There were also several aircraft on display. One aircraft was the stealth Blackbird spy plane. This plane replaced the U-2 spy plane. Another aircraft was the one used by Chuck Yeager to break the sound barrier or the speed of sound. There was much more to see, but Rocky was starting to feel bad so we decided to leave and head for home.

Topeka, Kansas

We left Hutchinson early Wednesday morning and headed toward Topeka, Kansas, to have a short visit with our nephew David Branscum. We were able to spend about two hours at David’s home. It was just beautiful with the exception of one bathroom, which has green reflective wallpaper. He assured us that the wallpaper was going. We were not able to visit with his wife, Iona, because she was out of town.

Cameron, Missouri

Wednesday night we stopped at the Wallace State Park, Cameron, Missouri. We had stopped at this park before and we rated it as above average. The restrooms were clean and the surrounding area was very pleasant. We were charged $10.00 for the night, including electricity and water. They also have all night security.

Hampton, Iowa

The next morning, we drove to Hampton, Iowa, and visited my sister Diana Norem for a few days. We had been driving in rain ever since we left Wallace State Park and were hoping for better weather while in Iowa. We surprised Diana when we gave her a computer. The computer was an old one but it was a chance to learn basic computer skills. I set up the computer in about fifteen minutes but it took me several hours instructing Diana on how to use it. She gradually understood the basic functions and probably was an expert in no time. She got a lot of enjoyment from making all kinds of banners and playing the solitaire games as well. Next thing we knew she was teaching her friends how to use computers.

Saturday the weather turned real nasty. The temperature dropped to the mid-20s and the wind was blowing very hard with gusts of 45 to 55 miles per hour. You might say that we were trapped inside the motorhome until the winds calmed down. We stayed parked at Diana’s house riding out the storm, hoping to stay upright.

Iowa Falls, Iowa

Sunday we decided to go to take a day trip to Iowa Falls, Iowa, and visit with Marilyn Echelberger, my late brother Don’s wife. We also would try to locate my other brother Gary Echelberger and maybe go to lunch with them. The weather was still bad with gusting winds and now snow. We had to stop at a local store to get Mary a winter coat, only to find out that the winter clothing had been removed from the shelves. We were dressed in layers of all types of clothes to keep warm because we didn’t bring enough winter apparel. We were hoping to leave Hampton, Iowa, on Monday morning, but it was too dangerous to drive in the wind.

Monday during the early morning, Mary started to feel sick. We decided to go see a doctor at the hospital where Diana works. We found out that the care would have to be done at an emergency room since we were from out of town. This would not have been the case if we hadn’t have had HMO medical insurance. A doctor at the hospital did check her, and he thought she had a plugged or partially plugged artery in her neck. He suggested that we go to Mason City, Iowa, for further medical tests.

Mason City, Iowa

Mary was given several tests at the Mason City Hospital emergency room and it was decided that she had a small stroke. They suggested that we go to the Mayo Hospital in Minnesota, or we could take a chance on driving home and have our family doctor look at her. This was a hard decision to make. At that time, the weather in Mason City was still cold and windy. The weather report for traveling north was not encouraging, so after talking it over with Mary, we decided to head for home.

To make this trip work so that we could continue home without stopping except for gas, I had planned to drive to Decherd, Tennessee, and ask our son Scott to help me drive the rest of the way home. Scott was more than willing to help with the driving, which took a lot of pressure off of me. Once Scott got behind the wheel, he drove all the way to Jacksonville, Florida. I believe that he was under as much pressure as I was. His wife, Lora, was going to drive down a couple of days later to pick up Scott.

We arrived home late at night with plans on seeing our family doctor the next morning. Once Mary was checked and a test run, it was determined that Mary was to have an operation as soon as possible. The test showed that the vein in her neck was about 98% closed and she could have a bad stroke. She was immediately put in the hospital; an operation was performed successfully and Mary was feeling better quickly.

We were very lucky. I believe that God was with us. I don’t know how I would have reacted if things went bad. I owe an awful lot to our son Scott, the doctors and nurses and my sister Diana. Without them I probably wouldn’t have had Mary with me.

This was a trip that I will always remember. The weather was terrible with cold temperatures and high winds, I hit a tree limb and damaged the roof of the motorhome, not to mention the medical experience. The good side of this trip was that we were able to visit Mary’s sister Dolly, her daughter Nancy and her son David, and last but not least, my sister Diana. We wished that we could have spent more time with each of them. The best part of this trip was I still had my copilot.

Sullivan, Illinois

“Well, here we go again,” I thought. This time we were going to a family reunion of the Wickiser family to be held in Sullivan, Illinois, on August 10, 1997. Mary’s mother was a Wickiser family member and lived most of the early years in the Illinois area. They then migrated to the Wichita, Kansas, area and that is where I met Mary. We hoped to gather up some information for Mary’s family tree as there were a lot of bare and crooked branches.

We had planned on getting an early start the morning we left, but I overslept and we didn’t get away until 9:00 a.m. We towed our car on this trip but left it at our son’s home in Decherd. Once on the road I decided to drive all the way to Decherd without any overnight stopping and that way we could spend more time visiting with our son and his family.

Decherd, Tennessee

While in Decherd, we drove around the countryside looking for a small parcel of land that we could someday call our other home. We wanted a place to go and park our motorhome when in the area. While driving around, we did notice that there was a lot of construction mostly for homes. We hadn’t been able to find out what was the reason for the change other than the Nissan Automotive Co. was in the process of building a large manufacturing plant and had just started tooling up.

Metropolis, Illinois

On Wednesday morning we left for Metropolis, Illinois, and the Massac State Park. We have been there before and enjoyed it very much. When we arrived at Metropolis, we drove around town. Mary noticed a sign CASINO. She wanted to check it out, so we did. The casino was on a river boat and left for somewhere every two hours. We had to pass this up at this time because we didn’t want to wait around. We did have a buffet lunch and then back on the road.

We decided to drive along the river and stop at several cemeteries, hoping to find some burial plots that maybe will give us clues about her family tree. After driving about half an hour and neither of us knew where we were, we came upon a small cemetery and stopped to check it out. We were surprised to find a gravesite with a name that we were looking for.

Arthur, Illinois

We got back on the road again heading toward Sullivan, Illinois, and the Bo Woods Recreation Park. After driving for a long time, we finally reached our destination. We checked in the park at campsite #77. We didn’t do much more that day except check out the campground. The restrooms were clean and the campsites were reasonably level. The only thing missing was that there were no water connections in any of the campsites, just electrical connections. There were a lot of pull through campsites within view of a large lake. We rate the campground as just average and put it on our list of desirable travel stops.

After sleeping late and a good breakfast, we decided to go see the Amish village at Arthur, Illinois. The village was as expected, a tourist trap. We looked through the shops and Mary purchased two Precious Moments figurines to go in her collection. We then went to a local restaurant and had lunch and then headed back to the campground.

Sullivan, Illinois

The next day, which was Saturday, we went to see Mary’s cousin John Shain and his wife, Reba, in Sullivan, Illinois, for a visit. They invited us to park our motorhome at their place during our stay for the family reunion, which we accepted. We found out one thing about the Shain family, they are everywhere. We met so many nice people while at the Shain’s, we didn’t want to go on to the reunion. During the day, Mary’s brother Leo Connor and her sister Dolly Branscum arrived from Florida and Kansas to join in on the reunion, which was nice of them.

Sunday we were up bright and early because Dolly woke us all up since she couldn’t sleep. When Dolly couldn’t sleep, no one slept. Later in the morning we went to the park for the reunion gathering and we found out that the Wickiser/Lee family reunion was almost a thing of the past. It was mostly the Lee family reunion because most of the Wickisers were not interested attending anymore. What few Wickisers that were there were a joy to meet, and we exchanged family information. Mary was able to pick up some additional data for her family tree, which was one reason why we were there. I feel that Leo and Dolly were disappointed in the reunion as they went to a lot of effort to be able to attend and probably will not attend again. We thought we would attend the next reunion though.

We spent the remainder of the evening with John Shain’s family at their home, which was real nice. More family information was exchanged that evening than was exchanged at the reunion.

Monday was supposed to be a lazy day because we were planning on leaving for Nashville the next day. John and Reba took us out for breakfast and then for a tour of the town. We went out to the French Cemetery where Mary’s little brother and sister were buried. Mary knew that there was a problem with the grave markers and was hoping to be able to get someone to correct the problem but she didn’t have any luck. The problem was that the gravestone was on the wrong gravesites. It was very important to get this problem corrected. I inquired about getting the grave marker moved but I found out that I had to get permission to move it. Since I could not get permission to move the marker to its right location, I said a little prayer and what do you know, the marker moved to the right location. Amazing what prayer can do.

We then went back to John and Reba’s and spent the rest of the day with them. John’s sister Betty came over with some photos and immediately Mary got out her genealogy book.

Paducah, Kentucky

Tuesday morning around 7:00 a.m. we got back on the highway heading toward Paducah, Kentucky. Mary wanted to check out the genealogy records at the library, hoping to find out where her dad was born and what year he was born. We arrived at the library around 1:00 p.m. We spent about three hours searching through any records that we thought would help, but we didn’t have any luck.

We had planned to stop in Nashville for the night, but the stop in Paducah put us behind. So we decided to stop at the Kentucky Dam Resort State Park. We pulled into campsite #217, which was level and had water and electricity and was close to the showers. The rest of the evening Mary napped and I worked on my chapters. The next day we went to Nashville and the Camping World RV store. Then we went on to Decherd for a visit with our son and his family again. We toured the campground and will rate it as average, as it was nice and clean.

Decherd, Tennessee

When we arrived at our son Scott’s home, we were surprised at the different attitude that surrounded their lives since the last time we were here. I felt that there was a major problem within their marriage, and they should get some help real quick or else lose all they had acquired together. We wanted to stay and visit with them but we knew enough to stay out of their affairs.

At that time we planned on leaving Monday morning for our trip home but would make another stop somewhere along the way. We talked to our other son Rick in Jacksonville, and he told us that the temperature was about 115 degrees. After hearing that, we couldn’t decide for sure if we wanted to hurry home or just take our time.

The weather had been hot and humid with the temperatures in the 90s. Saturday was a do-nothing day. We stayed pretty much in the motorhome during the hot part of the day, planning our trip home. Sunday, we planned on going to the park for a picnic around the lake. With the hot temperatures, we figured we would probably lose a few pounds before we returned home. Well, we were wrong. The weather cooled off and the park was not crowded and the food was good, Wal-Mart chicken, potato salad, and bar-b-que beans.

Perry, Georgia

After saying goodbye to Scott and Lora, we left for home early Monday morning. We stopped for the night at the Twin Oaks Campground which is locator at exit 41 off highway 75, just south of Perry, Georgia. We usually stopped there because the campground was above average and the owners were really helpful. There was also a large swimming pool that was very useful in relieving your tense muscles caused by driving with the highway traffic. We headed home after a great trip, but there was no place like home.

OUR NEW HOME

TENNESSEE

Mary and I were motorhome travelers and traveled the country for about five years. Almost every morning we had a different front yard as well as meeting a lot of motorhome traveling friends. We planned several trips but instead of taking them, we decided to purchase a home. It was a great life for us but after a while, the motorhome seemed crowded. That’s when we purchased our home in Tullahoma, Tennessee, where we settled down to normal life.

Mary and I were married for 63 years, but on May 28, 2009, Mary got real sick. I took her to the local hospital to find out what was bothering her. Once in her hospital room, our doctor started running tests on her. She slipped into a coma and on June 3, 2009, Mary passed away. I found out that she had advanced cancer of her liver and never had a chance to go home. She is missed my many, especially by me.

Mary had many more friends than she realized. I feel that she died for our family’s sins just like someone else had done in prior years. I became really mad at God for taking her away from me, as we were happy. But a short time later I was talking to a friend and she told me that God did not want her to suffer. Now I understand. She has taken up residence with God, and I have been trying to get my life together, but it has been hard as I am still missing my companion of many years. This was something that I never counted on so I started taking small steps at a time trying to get on with my life alone. I miss her dearly as she was a very great person.

Mary’s requested that she be cremated and her ashes to be buried with her younger brother and sister, who are buried in Illinois. As she requested, I took her ashes to Illinois. Once there, I noticed that the headstone was once again located in the wrong place. I was able to locate someone who could advise me about what to do about moving the headstone. I was told that I had to get permission to move it. Since I had to leave shortly for home, I gave my self-permission to move it to the right place. I was also told not to bury her ashes due to regulations, so I spread them over the grave site. I did the best that I could at the time.

After Mary passed away, I could no longer go traveling without my special copilot. In the year of 2010, we had a terrible hail storm that destroyed the motorhome, but I was thankful that the insurance paid for my loss. Mary and I had our ups and downs, but I would not trade what we had for anything. We loved each other a lot. Although Mary has been gone for a while, I still talk to her every day. She will always be in my heart forever.

Mary and I traveled the country for about five years in our motorhome. Almost every morning we had a different backyard, as well as meeting a lot of motorhome traveling friends. Our Tennessee backyard is a beautiful place with flowers, birds and a beautiful yard that make you want to just sit a spell and listen to Mother Nature. This was Mary’s backyard and she loved it. To this day, I go sit in Mary’s backyard and dream about our life together.

I have to give credit to my great neighbors and friends for helping me get through this very sad time in my life. A person that helped me through the loss was my good friend Donnia Wright, who lived in Reno, Nevada. She used to be married to Mary’s brother Noble, but he passed away a few years back. She was a close member in our family. Me and her husband, Noble, were like best of friends. We did a lot of crazy things together. Like the time Noble and I dug a swimming pool in their back yard. To this day, I do not remember what we did with the dirt that we removed.

Donnia had been a widow for many years and I used her experience to guide me through my dark time. June of 2013, Donnia passed away due to a severe bout of liver cancer. She is missed by many of her friends, especially me. Just before Donnia passed away, she asked me to come to Reno and help her out as she was fed up with the person that was helping her. She also gave me her phone number so that we could keep in touch. She was going to see her daughter in Oregon. A few hours after I got through talking to Donnia, I received a phone call and the person calling me wanted me to know that Donnia had passed away.

Speaking of neighbors, over the years, we have had both good and what we call bad neighbors. The bad neighbors were a different type. The husband was abusive to his wife verbally and physically. The wife was not the devoted wife, as she used to go hang out at the local bar each Friday night.

One time the going got tough next door. The wife knocked on my door and asked me to come over and witness what was going on. I did go over but was met by her upset husband. He told not to come over, so I didn’t. The husband left the house and then I again was invited over to see what had happened. The house was a mess, as there was broken glass everywhere. I then went home after the wife told me that she was ok. The good part of the story is that the property was then sold to a young couple that are very nice, and I have more or less adopted them as my foster kids. By the way, the original couple now have their lives together and I guess everything is going okay. I wish them luck.

There is also another person who helped me through my difficult time and that is Linda Green. She also used to be married to Mary’s brother Noble. Both Donnia and Linda were great friends of mine and will always have a place in my heart. Linda is also known as Lin Lin in our family. I speak to her on the phone from time to time and she is telling me that she is now living in Missouri where she is trying to see if she can make it on her own. She has a hard road ahead of her, but I do believe that she will prevail.

John’s children Teri, Rick and Scott

As I stated above, there were several people who helped me but the ones that really deserve credit are my children. They were there whenever I needed them. I am thankful for them as they are the best.

The Search

Many years ago, I realized that a lot of my friends had a mother and father, but I didn’t since I was adopted so young, lost my adoptive parents, and lived in so many different situations. Mary and I decided to try to locate my own family, even if it took us a lifetime. We started to try and locate my mother and father. I started checking for leads to my parents, not realizing that I already had my mother’s name, which was on the original birth certificate I had gotten when I joined the Merchant Marine. The name of my mother was Bessie Thurmond. She had lived in Iowa. Mary and I put out questions to people who could have known a Bessie Thurmond that lived in Iowa.

John’s mother Bessie

A person from the Catholic Welfare Bureau of Kansas City, Missouri, sent me a copy of a letter dated July 27, 1938, stating that the bureau had contacted my mother requesting information on Charles (me). The reply from my mother was not to contact her again as she was now married and had three children of her own, and her husband did not know of the existence of Charles (me). That note on the letter stating that, in 1938, Bessie had three children at the time confused my search. I knew that by 1938, she only had two children, not counting me. Was there a mistake stating that she only had three children by 1938?

However, Bessie did acknowledge me as being her child. Did she mean that I was one of the three children she had by 1938? These things had to be sorted out. In my mind, I was not really sure that I had located my true family. I felt like my newfound mother’s older sister could have been my mother, and the older sister’s youngest sister could be my sister. This was just a thought.

Because I did know the name of my mother, I thought that it would be easy to locate her but was I ever surprised. After approximately twenty-plus years and with the help of the internet, we did gather a lot of information, not only on my family but Mary’s family as well. My search stopped for a while as we decided to try to locate information on both families. We were able to connect to approximately 10,000 people that were related to both of us. But I was never able to locate my father.

A person in Iowa wrote to us stating that she knew Bessie Thurmond, but she had just passed away. We located the area that Bessie had lived and found out through several birth records that were available to us that she was my mother. We also found out that she was a great lady and loved by so many. As the old saying goes, “She would give you the shirt off her back if necessary.” That was my mother. I don’t know why she gave me up for adoption and I don’t care to know, because she had her reason at the time. I have met with Bessie’s children and they are a great bunch. I now have brothers and sisters and I am very proud of them. They have their own families and I got to meet most of them over time.

John and his half siblings

One of the strangest things that was uncovered in our search for my family line happened while we were living in Florida. I came across a photo posted in the local paper about the opening of the local swimming pool. It showed the two people chosen to be the first to jump in the pool. One was my son. The other boy turned out to be his unknown cousin at the time. My brother and his family lived in the general area close by, but we never met at that time. Small world.

My son Richard helped track down a lot of my information and was able to get copies of letters from Boys Town. One letter is dated July 19, 1938, and appears to be from someone from Kansas City who was contacted by a Father Demers from Boys Town. It is not signed but it is sent from someone who is searching for a home for me when I was “Charles Barry” and living at Boys Town.

In the letter it described me as:

Ten years old, of Irish American stock, has blue eyes and blond hair and fair complexion, is of a lively and gay disposition. Mentally he is normal, being in the fifth grade in school. Physically he has no imperfections. Wasserman and Schick texts taken June 2, 1938 were negative and he has been immunized against Diphtheria and Smallpox. He is 4 feet 5 inches tall and weighs about sixty-five pounds. He is a well-bred child and should make a childless couple happy. I will try to get a Kodak picture to send to you.

The letter also explained how I ended up at the Catholic orphanage. 

Father Demers at that place (Boys Town) wrote us asking to see if we could find a home for him. The boy has had a rather odd experience for one so young. The boy was adopted from a maternity home here. The man died and the woman had him re-adopted to the Barry’s. Mr. Barry had requested on his deathbed that I be raised Catholic. Mrs. Barry had remarried and does not want to keep the boy. She is not Catholic and I suppose her new husband also does not want the boy. She placed him at the Catholic Orphan Home at St. Joseph, MO, and they sent him to Father Flanagan’s Home. He is a trifle too young for Boys Town; usually they do not take them till they are twelve. The boy has been baptized Catholic and I feel he has something good in store for him. He lost both of his homes through no fault of his own, and as Father Demers describes him to me, he is an attractive, smart, likeable little fellow. In fifteen years, this boy ought to be a fine young man. The home you could give him would guarantee that. At that time of your life it would be nice to have a big son like that. What do you think of it?

Unfortunately, this Doctor Smith from Texas did not adopt me. Maybe Father Demers saw something in me though. I do feel Boys Town is what helped me to become the person I am today.

My wife and I had gone back to visit Mrs. Barry after we got married and a couple of other times. One time when we went, we found her in the bathtub. She had fallen and broken her arm. We got her to the hospital and helped take care of all her medical expenses. We really liked her a great deal and thought she was the greatest thing since apple pie. It wasn’t until after she had passed, we found this information out about her not wanting me, all she had done to me and why she gave me up for adoption. 

John, son Rick, and Mrs. Barry

There were still some loose ends that needed to be taken care of. One of the most important ones was to try to locate my father. Information was hard to come by on this subject, but I was determined to not give up until I succeeded or passed on. 

DNA testing showed without a doubt that Bessie was my mother. My son, one of my half siblings, and I all did the DNA test. My sibling’s father was German but, I was not, so we definitely had different fathers. My tests showed I was from Scandinavian descent and we were able to locate my father’s family. We are down to two brothers who could be my father. Neither of the brothers had children, well, except for me. So, DNA tests aren’t available to figure out which one. My daughter joked with me that she wondered why we couldn’t drill a hole down through the casket and get a DNA sample to find out. One of these brothers is buried in the same cemetery in Dows, Iowa, as Bessie.

My birth father’s last name is Erickson. Turns out on the DNA testing I’m related to Norwegian royalty and Leif Erickson. I have to laugh because some of my friends are now calling me Sir John. I guess I could have been John Erickson.

John Doe, John Thurmond, Charles Louis Leake, Charles Louis Barry, Jack Edell, Dick Waggoner, John Thurmond, John Erickson. Nah, I think I will stay with John Thurmond.

John and his 92nd birthday

Looking back on my life, a lot of people say to me, “What a rough life you have had.” Maybe so by some people’s standards, but for me, it was a life learning experience.

I feel that the lesson that I did absorb was that if you have the ability to get ahead, then go for it. But if you do not have that ability, then you need some help and guidance to set you on the right path of your life. As for me, I did a lot of jobs in order to cope with living in my younger days. Some were honest and some were not. When I finally retired, I had the work title of mechanical and electronic tech and making a very good wage. But the most important part of my life has to do with my family. In my mind, God gave me a great family and I believe that is the best part of my life.