True Love Never Dies





Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be.
The last of life,
for which the first was made.

Our times are in His hand
Who saith 'A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half,
trust God, see all nor be afraid!

Robert Browning

May 2, 2005

 

Dear John

Back in the good old days of 1941-42, I was enjoying going to an old country high school in the little community of East Mountain located in the Piney Woods of East Texas. Yes, I was enjoying it, mainly because of an association I had developed with a beautiful young lady, Betty Jo (Jodie) Sturgis, who attended White Oak High School in a community nearby.

These schools, although small by today's standards, were located on land that contained producing oil wells, part of the famous East Texas discovery. The oil income helped the schools to buy the best equipment and provide quality education.

Since the school furnished the instruments, I was able to play trombone in the school band for three years. In my senior year I finally convinced Mom to let me play football. I mention these activities because they are the reasons I occasionally got to see my sweetheart when our schools competed in band contests and football games.

Dad lost his job and could not find employment. Free natural gas from an oil well in our back yard supplied our lights and heating. At this point in time, this "well-head" gas was considered surplus and provided heat and lighting to many needy families. Since we didn't have a car and neither family had a telephone, it was extremely difficult for me to communicate or spend time with my sweetheart.. Luckily, one of my buddies started dating Jodie's sister and his family was fortunate enough to own an automobile. His father would occasionally let him use it. When he had a date he would invite me to go along so that I could see Jodie and as I later learned, to be his chauffeur. I always had to drive while he and his date sat in the back seat and 'cuddled.'

As my friends and I enjoyed these happy, carefree days, we were also aware of the specter of war and our upcoming invitations by Uncle Sam. I graduated from high school in May of 1943 at the age of 17. I had almost a year to find a job and make some money before my 'call to arms.' I managed to see Jodie from time to time and in my mind she was the girl I would marry and be with the rest of my life. There was just one problem, she didn't know this and I was just too bashful to open my heart and mouth to tell her how I felt.

I found a job at an aircraft plant in Ft Worth, Texas where I helped build B-24 bombers and participated in the early development of the giant six-engine B-36 bomber. During this time I wrote letters to Jodie and hoped she would 'read between the lines' of things I didn't have the nerve to write. Inevitably, decision time arrived and in April 1944 I enlisted in the US Navy to avoid being drafted in the Army. I planned to serve on the 'high seas' while seeing the world (how romantic the recruiters made it sound). I managed a few days at home while waiting for the Navy to get ready for me. These were bittersweet days as I prepared to say farewell to my family and my sweetheart, Jodie. I finally got up enough nerve to give her a real goodbye kiss on our last date. I promised to return to her and hoped she could read my thoughts about marriage and happiness ever after.

After a whirlwind session in boot camp at San Diego (they really shoved us through in '44) I was transferred to radio operator school at the US Naval Armory in Los Angeles. With hard work and a natural affinity I had for Morse code, I graduated from radio school with 3rd Class Petty Officer rating. When the Navy asked my preference of duty, I requested aircraft carrier and was totally surprised when I was assigned to the carrier USS Ranger, CV-4. I went aboard and immediately found that I was in trouble; a brand new RM 3/C with very little Navy 'savvy' and still wet behind the ears. It was really a struggle but perseverance finally won their friendship and cooperation.

This brings me to the reason for my story. While out at sea on a training mission the old Blue Goose (our mail plane) brought a letter one day from my one-and-only sweetheart, Jodie. It turned out to be a DEAR JOHN! For those who don't know, a Dear John letter meant that you had been replaced. It seems that she was swept off her feet by a tall red-headed guy with a gift of gab that I didn't have. She had actually MARRIED him! How would I ever live through the grief?

Well, those buddies I had managed to cultivate decided they would help me through my crisis. When we docked at North Island, across the bay from San Diego, several of them convinced me to get ready for liberty and hustled me ashore. Many bars later they carried me aboard ship and put me in my bunk. Somehow they covered for me and after two or three days I gradually came back to life.

Now for the rest of the story!

I settled in San Antonio, Texas after discharge from the Navy in 1946 and worked at Kelly Air Force Base for 36 years. In 1980, I received a phone call from my sister. She blew my mind by telling me she had received a letter from Jodie. She told me that Jodie was single again and wondering what had become of me. She gave me Jodie's phone number where she now lived in Longview, Texas. I called immediately, and with a gift of gab I had developed over the years, wasted no time assuring her how much I still loved her and wanted to see her. I left San Antonio that night at midnight and arrived in Longview (almost 400 miles away) by daylight.

Jodie met me at the door with the same beautiful smile I had remembered for 35 years. I could sense that she still cared for me and I wasted no time assuring her that she was the only one I had ever really loved.

I returned to San Antonio a very happy man and in a few weeks , went back to Longview and arranged for Jodie and all her belongings to return with me to my home in 'San Antone.' We were married in a beautiful service performed by an Air Force Chaplain at Lackland Air Force Base.

After 17 years together, we decided to move back to Longview. Jodie has three daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and she is enjoying being back near them. I go down memory lane occasionally and visit the old school building and look at the marble monument erected in memory of WW II veterans from our school. I am saddened by the names of those who were lost in action but thankful that mine is listed with the survivors.

God didn't promise us life without thorns as I was to learn again. My Jodie began to have shortness of breath and chest pains. A visit to the doctor followed by a litany of tests confirmed that she had congestive heart failure. The prognosis was not positive, however, the doctor would not predict her life expectancy. This was in 1996 and we continued to grow old together and pray without ceasing that the Lord would intercede. He has his own timetable so as Jodie's health continued to get worse, we made the best of her remaining time on earth by spending as many hours as we could with our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

In June of 2001 we reached a point where the doctor advised that hospice was inevitable. On June 22nd Jodie's last words were "I don't want to live in this body anymore!" God heard her plea and at 5:45 that evening she went peacefully to sleep and departed the worn-out body for eternal rest and happiness.

If there is a good ending to this story, it is that my widowed sister moved in with me and we share a delightful life together as we grow older and wait for our reunion with my Jodie and her Joe.

---
Copyright © 2005 James Johnston (Jim)

 

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