BITS and PIECES # 23

2

February 22, 2013 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 23

Hello again from Luquillo,

Here is warm, war-time reminiscence, extracted from my tattered supply of ‘anecdotage’ — I hope you find it interesting and possibly even an enjoyable read…

I will be ‘off-line’, and thus won’t be posting a blog entry next week — our beloved daughter Lisa, son-in-law Yvon and our precious grandchildren, Nicole and Jacob, are coming from frigid New Hampshire to join us on the island for a pleasant week of vacation in the sun — we are of course, quite excited!

Anyway — here is the story — I’ll be back soon, with another, Lord willing…

A WAR, A HERO, AND AN ‘OLDER BROTHER’

I was a youngster of eight in 1943.  World War II was in full swing which meant food rationing, gas-rationing and no new cars, since car factories were busy producing tanks and airplanes for the war effort……

Each Sunday, my father, barefoot and clad in his preferred casual Sunday attire (well-worn swimming trunks faded to an indeterminate color and an equally scruffy, short-sleeved canvas pull-over)  would coax our rapidly decaying Oldsmobile sedan into life, expending precious fuel to drive my mother, sister and me to the Church of the Good Shepherd, so we could attend 10:00 mass…

After depositing us at the church, he would drive a few blocks further down Rodeo Drive to where it intersected with Wilshire Boulevard.  Back then, at ‘1 Rodeo Drive, stood the storied Beverly Hills Brown Derby restaurant, which handily featured a popular newspaper stand on the sidewalk to the left of its front entrance. Dad would often pause to chat with Harry, the loquacious newsvendor (Harry: “Hiya Al, my wife and I seen you in Panama Hattie the other night — you was pretty good”, Dad: “Thank you Harry, old boy, I’m flattered that you recognize superior acting ability”).  Dad would then instruct Harry to sell him ‘one of each’ — all three local Sunday papers (Los Angeles Times and Examiner and Hollywood Citizen News), place the bundle on the seat beside him, turn around and drive back to the church.  Parking out front, he would wait for us to emerge, carefully scanning each paper while drinking coffee from a battered thermos jug that had been a close companion since theater days… 

One Sunday morning, as he was engrossed in his reading, two young Army Air Corps airmen appeared next to the car and one of them tapped hesitantly on the window to attract his attention.  When he looked-up and rolled-down the window, they told him they were walking around town and wanted to know if he could direct them to any movie star’s homes nearby.  Dad responded that if they could wait a few minutes until his family emerged from church, they could ride along with us and he would show them the homes of a few of the more famous actors and actresses… 

 The two young airmen gladly accepted his offer, and soon after we were crammed into our wheezing ‘Olds’ for a short tour of Beverly Hills with dad as tour guide.  Midway through the tour, mom asked them if they would like to come home with us for lunch and then spend the rest of the day relaxing and swimming in our pool.  They readily accepted her offer, and off we went.  They told us they had recently learned how to fly with the Army Air Corps, and were now being trained to fly the P-39 ‘Aircobra’ fighter at Muroc Army Airfield in the California desert north of Los Angeles.  Their names were Harold Everett and George Hrico.  When my parents found out that they were just starting a five day pass, and hadn’t gotten around to finding a place to stay as yet, they were promptly installed in the guest rooms behind our swimming pool for the duration… 

 When the time came for them to leave, they vowed to make every effort to return whenever possible — but, since this was wartime, they never got the opportunity — they were soon shipped off to join the 8th Air Force in Europe.  We heard from them often, each letter causing my mother to pray for their safe return, and ask for prayers at church ‘novena’ services. One such letter contained a photograph of Everett standing next to his P-51B ‘Mustang’ fighter — on the nose were painted four Nazi swastikas, evidence of his aerial combat skills — they were labeled ‘Alan, Lorayne, Pat and Butch’ (me)… 

Everett was a foundling, raised in an orphanage in New Jersey. He had no parents that he knew of so he shyly wrote to ask my mother if she would consider him a sort of adopted son while he was away at war — she quickly agreed — she thought the world of her ‘Evvie’…

 We were shocked and saddened when we received this cryptic telegram from the War Department:

“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Mowbray, we regret to inform you that your adopted son, 1Lt. Harold M Everett, AO 00 798 270, of the 505th Fighter Squadron, was shot down while flying a mission over German territory in his P-51B aircraft and was subsequently captured by the enemy and is currently a prisoner of war.”

 He had listed our Beverly Hills residence as his ‘home of record’ and my parents as his next of kin, and thus, by default, he became my worshipped and prized ‘older brother’…

For the next few months we worried and prayed, anxious to get more details from the War Department — and then, one day we received a letter from him — miraculously, he had been rescued from captivity in September 1944, and returned to his Squadron!!  Mom scurried-off to church to offer her prayers of thanks to a merciful God for keeping her precious ‘Evvie’ safe…

Lieutenants Everett and Hrico survived the war, finishing their tours in November, 1944 and returning home a few months later. After the war, Hrico became a TWA captain, flying Lockheed Constellation airliners for many years.  Everett stayed in the Air Force, retiring with the rank of Colonel in the mid-sixties, after over twenty years of service to his country. He saw combat once more during the Korean war in 1951, this time as a squadron commander, flying an F-86 ‘Sabre’ jet fighter…

In 1945, just after the war’s end, he took me out to Burbank airport and gave me my first-ever airplane ride in an Army C-47 cargo plane. A few years later, at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona, he outfitted me in flight coveralls and a pilot’s helmet, sat me in the back seat of a T-33 trainer, and gave my first jet airplane ride!  By 1953, when I was an enlisted airman, serving in Korea as the war wound down, he wrote me frequent letters that always contained sound advice on how best to endure the rigors of that dangerous and disagreeable tour of duty… 

I saw him frequently over the years, whenever he visited southern California. I sat with him when he attended a testimonial dinner honoring my father at the Masquer’s club in Hollywood, and spoke with him again when he served as technical adviser on the play ‘Flameout’, sharing his expert knowledge of flying jet fighters in Korea.  The last time I saw him was in 1969. When I called to tell him that dad had died suddenly of a heart attack, he flew out from Florida immediately to offer his services as pallbearer at the funeral. He wore his full-dress blue uniform — including a pair of white gloves.  I vividly recall that as dad’s casket was lowered into the grave, he stripped them off and placed them carefully on top of the casket — in what I later learned was a military burial tradition…

After the funeral, we lost track of one another and I never saw him again — I heard ‘through the grapevine’ that he had returned to his retirement home in Florida — but had subsequently gotten ‘itchy feet’ and signed-up as a radio officer on a tramp steamer to wander the seas and see more of the world…

If he is still living, he would be in his late nineties by now — I still think of him often — he was my personal idol when I was a young kid, and later-on when I was a teen-aged airman — even now, after so many years have passed, he still occupies that special place in my heart reserved for brothers and  heroes…

 

© 2013 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

 

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2 thoughts on “BITS and PIECES # 23

  1. Bob Foote says:

    Alan, sitting in the mountains of Maine. Slightly different than Luquillo. As always a good read. I did a brief web search for Harold Everett and got a number of hits. I will see if I can dig up his where abouts, or final resting place.

    When we sailed together, you told me stories of your heroics in Korea. I hope you are not too humble to share some of that.

  2. mkhulu says:

    Perhaps this was the most enjoyable read from you thus far. I love your mother.

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