Chihuahuas, Dry Roast Peanuts, and a Second Hand String of Pearls

Louie and Vada

 

I’m sitting on a plane after a visit to an old, dear friend, Vada Pitchford. She and her husband, Louis, were life long friends of my parents. Louis and Dad met in graduate school at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Later, Dad asked Louis to work at Hillsdale College where he became a well loved history professor before retiring in 1982 and moving to Billings, Montana.

However, there is so much more to this special couple. Vada was a school teacher for 14 years. She was teaching a few miles away from Texas City during the 1947 explosion, our nation’s worst industrial accident. She recounted the fear and confusion while evacuating students and the challenges of the days that followed.

Louis served as a Naval Officer in WWII on the USS Washington, participating in several missions, including the Solomon Islands. He continued to serve after the war as a member of the Naval Reserves for 22 years. When he shared his plans to join the reserves, Vada asked why. He simply said, “Someone’s got to do it.”

When I think of this amazing couple, I remember dry roasted peanuts (Louis’ favorite snack), Vada’s famous jalapeno grits, their pet Chihuahua, Cha-Cha, Sunday dinners, Vada’s string of pearls, and most important, Vada’s smile and Louis’ kindness.

During my visit, I was so happy to be given Louis’ silk flag from WWII. If you look closely at the picture below, you will notice there are only 48 stars. This special gift will have a place of honor in our home.

 

vada

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Did “Ewe” Know There Was an Aerial Attack on South Padre Island?

"Flyboys

(Flyboys in training at Navy Air Station Corpus Christi, 1943-44, Grandpa Springer is in the front row on the far right.)

Every summer, Chad’s grandparents, Donald and Maxine Springer, spend time in Michigan. We consider it an honor to have them over for dinner and hear their amazing stories. I always wondered why we were never allowed to prepare lamb for these meals until one day Grandpa shared a memorable adventure from his flight training during WWII.

After graduating from high school, Don Springer enlisted in the Navy, and in 1943-1944 spent time training in Texas as a fighter pilot. During the war, Corpus Christi was known as a Navy town. Here many young men received flight training at the Navy Air Station, also known as Truax Field. Due to the demand for pilots after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Navy Air Station Corpus Christi quickly expanded into one of the largest naval aviation training centers in the world. Don was among more than 30,000 men who earned their wings. Grandpa loved the challenge and thrill of flying (In fact, after the war, he continued to work as a flight instructor at our local airport where he taught an adventurous student, his future wife, Mac.).

One day, on a training run, Don decided to make a pass over South Padre Island around 125 miles to the south. Back in the 40s, South Padre Island was mostly grazing land, primarily for sheep. Flying an F4F Wildcat with machine guns mounted on each side, Don spotted sheep, grazing in the lush fields of the island. He decided it was time to sharpen his skills with a bit of target practice, so he attacked the sheep. Between Don’s skill as a pilot and the power of those guns, the sheep didn’t stand a chance.

Shortly after his return to Truax Field, his commanding officer learned what had happened. In addition to paying the farmer restitution, Don, his flight class, and flight crew had to eat all of the “casualties,” meal after meal, until all the mutton was consumed. Despite my efforts to explain the taste difference between mutton and lamb, I have since given up encouraging Grandpa to sample a meal of young lamb. After his adventures in Texas, nothing will convince that old “flyboy” to give it a try.