The Engagement

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Seung Geel Hong

A young couple becomes engaged in high school, and they later decide to postpone the wedding until the boy has served in the military (during World War II).

The Engagement

First Edition

By Hong, Seung Geel

© 2019 by Hong, Seung Geel

All rights reserved

ISBN:  978-1-79471-418-2

 

Disclaimer

The following story was inspired by true experience, but the names of persons and organizations were changed to protect the privacy of everyone involved.  Therefore, any similarity between any of the names in this story to any known individual, whether living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Hong, Seung Geel

The Engagement

 

01. Sophomores Oliver and Mabel

Oliver Sanders and Mabel Hartley were about to begin the first day of their sophomore year at James Olson High School in Rattle Run, Colorado.  It was the first Thursday of September in 1939, which was a very significant time in world history.

About a week earlier (on Friday, September 1st), at 4:45 a.m., approximately 1.5 million German troops had begun their invasion of Poland, whereupon Britain and France declared war against Germany on the following Sunday (September 3rd).

Europe was fighting again, only 20 years after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that punished Germany severely for the cost of the great world war of 1914 - 1918 (now called World War I).  Hence, it now seemed almost certain that other countries would eventually be drawn into the new fighting, whereby history would experience a second world war.  And this time, the war undoubtedly would be more devastating than any other war in the past.

The war in Europe was scary:  The United States, sooner or later, might be drawn into it.  And if the war should drag on for more than three years, Oliver most likely would be compelled to join a branch of the military.

Nevertheless, Oliver and Mabel believed that their love for each other would not be affected:  After all, they had known each other ever since the third grade, and they had been going steady for nearly a year.  Therefore, even though Oliver and Mabel were concerned about the war, they were not concerned about their feelings toward each other:  They believed that nothing could take away the love they had for each another.

In any event, Oliver and Mabel entered the school at 8:00 a.m., where Oliver walked Mabel to her homeroom before rushing to his own homeroom.  And Oliver and Mabel each became re-acquainted with those whom he (or she) had not seen since the previous school year.

Most of the homeroom mates already knew one another from the year before, but Oliver’s homeroom teacher Mr. Bond was replaced by Miss Corbin, while Mabel still had Mr. Simms.

At 8:05 a.m., the first bell rang, whereupon the homeroom teachers took roll calls and assigned lockers to the students.

Then, the teachers dutifully explained the already-familiar rules and regulations that the students were expected to obey, and they (the teachers) either recited or read out aloud the latest announcements.

And finally, the students were allowed to talk softly to one another until the second bell rang, whereupon the students went to their first class of the day.

Since today was the first day of the school year, the bell for the first class of the day did not ring until 8:25 a.m., but it normally would ring at 8:15 a.m.

Anyway, at lunchtime, Oliver rushed to Mabel’s history class and walked her to the lunchroom, where they ate their “sack-lunches.”

Then, after lunch, Oliver walked Mabel halfway to her band class, where she played the French horn.

Mabel’s final class of the day was English Literature, whose classroom was situated at the farthest point from the front entrance of the building.  And Oliver’s final class of the day was Plane Geometry, whose classroom was located only two doors from the front entrance.

Therefore, not wanting to make Oliver walk all the way to her classroom to meet her at the end of the last class, Mabel had instructed him to wait for her just outside the front entrance.

So, after her last class, Mabel walked briskly to the meeting-place and joined Oliver.  All the while, Mabel was smiling and eager to walk with him.  And they slowly walked together toward home and noticed all the wonderful things about their hometown.

Then, they said good-bye to each other at Mabel’s house before Oliver went on his way to his own house, where Oliver’s mother was happy to see her only son return safely from school.

Oliver and Mabel, more or less, performed this same routine throughout their entire high-school years.  Of course, the routine would change from time to time, such as during holidays or during unexpected events.  But on the whole, Oliver and Mabel’s lifestyle would remain unchanged until graduation.

To many of Oliver and Mabel’s friends, such lifestyle seemed boring, but Oliver and Mabel were completely satisfied just to be with each other.  And they both were confident that they would get married soon after graduation.

02. Oliver and Jake Join the Army

Six months before Oliver and Mabel’s graduation (December 7, 1941), Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, whereupon the United States declared war against Japan on the following day.  And consequently (because of the treaties among the Axis Powers), Germany and Italy declared war against the United States three days later on December 11, 1941.

Therefore, Oliver and Mabel decided to postpone their marriage until Oliver had served in the military.

The school year ended on a Friday (June 12, 1942), and Oliver went to the army recruiting office on the following Tuesday.

Oliver completed six weeks of Recruit Training (i.e., basic training or “boot camp”) along with a fellow townsman named Jake Henderson, who was two years older than Oliver was.  Jake had failed grades 3 and 5, which was the reason why he and Oliver joined the army at the same time.

Anyway, for the next 12 months, Oliver and Jake received further training while stationed in Georgia, New Jersey, and Florida.  They trained to fight in rain and mud; they trained to fight during daytime and at nighttime, and they marched for up to 30 miles.

In Florida, they trained for beach assault landing; and Oliver and Jake learned that they would be members of an invasion force.

On January 18, 1944, Oliver and Jake boarded a ship in New York and set sail for England to prepare for D-Day.

In England, for the next four months, Oliver and Jake’s unit practiced amphibious techniques in southwest England at a beach called “Slapton Sands,” which ironically is covered in pebbles ranging from ¼ inch to several inches.

03. The Invasion Preparation

While Oliver and Jake were training for the D-Day invasion, the Allied forces were gathering soldiers and supplies in southern England.

Prior to Oliver and Jake’s arrival in England, during the Allied conferences in May and June of 1943, the D-Day invasion was scheduled to take place on May 1, 1944.  And the Allies made plans to send soldiers and supplies for the historic day.

As for the United States’ contribution toward the invasion, the number of American military personnel in England swelled from approximately 774,000 at the beginning of 1944 to approximately 1,537,000 by the beginning of June.  And of course, millions of tons of food and supplies had to be stockpiled all over southern England.

Moreover, the Allies went to great time-and-expense to misinform the German code-breakers:  The Allies sent false messages (via radio traffic and secret agents) to convince the Germans that the invasion force was much larger than the actual number.

The Allies supported their misinformation by creating two “phantom” armies (or “ghost” armies):  One phantom army was set up in Scotland, while the other one was set up in East Anglia and southeast England.

Fake tent cities and fake equipment, such as inflatable tanks and wooden ships, were set up (and modified every day) so that they would appear to be authentic when photographed by enemy reconnaissance planes flying at 33,000 feet.  Even a dummy oil dock was set up near Dover, and pyrotechnics were used to simulate successful hits by enemy guns on the French coast.

Hence, there seemed the possibility that there were three Allied armies ready to invade Europe:

 

One army could invade through Norway, which the Germans probably believed unlikely.

 

Another army could invade through Pas-de-Calais, which was the route that most of the German High Command believed the Allies would use.  Why?  Because it was the shortest route, and General Patton (and his phantom army) appeared to be poised to cross the English Channel from across Pas-de-Calais.

 

The third Allied army could invade through Normandy.

04. Exercise Tiger

During a military rehearsal called Exercise Tiger (also known as Operation Tiger), Oliver and Jake missed the worst U.S. training disaster of World War II.

Exercise Tiger was a series of D-Day rehearsals that took place from April 22 to April 30, 1944.  It involved 300 ships and 30,000 soldiers.  And Slapton Sands was an excellent practice-beach for the Utah Beach landings, because it closely resembles Utah and Omaha beaches.  But fatefully, to expose the inexperienced soldiers to actual combat conditions, the participants were ordered to use live ammunition.

As for Oliver and Jake’s involvement in Exercise Tiger, they were in the rehearsal for the landings on Utah Beach that took place on April 27 - 28.  At least 4,000 men were involved in this particular part of Exercise Tiger, and Oliver and Jake were members of the assault force.

In the early morning of April 27, Oliver and Jake landed on Slapton Sands with the assault force.  The landing occurred one hour behind schedule, but otherwise, things went quite smoothly.  And a follow-up force was scheduled to arrive 24 hours later.  The follow-up force included engineers, quartermasters, and other special personnel, along with supplies and equipment.

Anyway, shortly before 2 a.m. on April 28, the follow-up force (traveling in a flotilla of eight tank-landing ships [LST] and one British escort ship) was maneuvering in “Start Bay,” the westernmost corner of Lyme Bay.  They were heading toward Slapton Sands when nine German torpedo boats came across them.

The torpedo boats were from the French seaport of Cherbourg, and they were sent to investigate the higher-than-usual radio traffic in Lyme Bay.

According to one German sailor, the torpedo boats slipped past the British patrols without even seeing them, and they (the Germans) happened to come upon the nearly defenseless convoy.

Then, a few minutes after 2:00 a.m., the torpedo boats successfully attacked their prey, sinking two LST and damaging a third one.  At least 749 American soldiers and sailors died in the attack.

Unfortunately for the follow-up force, the tragedy did not end with the attack on the flotilla:  When the surviving LST reached Slapton Sands and unloaded the soldiers, many of the soldiers (possibly 308) were killed by so-called friendly fire.

According to the British marines who were onboard the ship that was bombarding the beach, the U.S. soldiers failed to stop at the “white tape line.”  Instead of waiting for the bombardment to stop, they continued onward, and many of them were blown up.

Thus, Oliver and Jake felt very lucky that they had landed on Slapton Sands on the 27th instead of on the 28th.

Jake remarked:

 

“Wow!  Just how lucky can we get?  The Man upstairs must be watching over us. . . .”

Oliver agreed:

 

“Yeah, somebody must be keeping an eye on us. . . .”

 

05. The Invasion Date

As mentioned earlier, the Allies originally had planned to begin the invasion of Europe in May.  But they now found themselves in short supply of landing crafts.

Therefore, the Allies were forced to pass up a month of “perfect weather for attack” and postpone the invasion until June.

Hence, six weeks after the Exercise Tiger tragedy, General Eisenhower (the Allied Supreme Commander) had to decide on which day to launch the invasion:  June 5, 6, or 7.  Each of those days would have both a late-rising moon and a low-tide shortly after dawn.

The paratroopers and glider-borne infantry (launching the assault at night) would need the cover of darkness while en route to their dropping-zones.  Then, they would need the moonlight to accomplish their mission.

The seaborne troops, on the other hand, would not need the late-rising moon, but they would need the low-tide to expose as much as possible the anti-invasion beach-obstacles.

To complicate matters even more, the English Channel was beginning to experience bad weather, and General Eisenhower had to make an important decision:  He reasoned that he should try to start the invasion on June 5th, because the Allies would have more time to make a second attempt if the invasion should be postponed due to unacceptable weather.  Otherwise, if the invasion should initially be attempted on the 6th and then be postponed, there may not be enough time to try again by the 7th.

Thus, General Eisenhower ordered his High Command to begin the invasion on June 5th.

06. D-Day

At 6:00 p.m. on June 3rd, convoys from the more distant seaports of southern England began to maneuver toward France at approximately 5 knots (5.75 miles an hour), while the convoys from the closer seaports would leave at a later time.  (Oliver and Jake’s convoy left Dartmouth on June 4th.)  The convoys were scheduled to converge off the Normandy beaches in the early hours of June 5.

The leading convoy started out from Plymouth, approximately 190 miles southwest of London.  It had the farthest distance to go, and it was led by the destroyer U.S.S. Corry.

Six mine sweepers cleared the way, followed by the escorting destroyers; and behind the destroyers were miles and miles of landing ships.

The landing ships carried military personnel, weapons, equipment, and provisions.  They even carried carrier pigeons for sending messages back to England during radio silence, and each landing ship flew an anti-aircraft barrage balloon.

In any event, at 1:00 p.m. on June 4th, when the leading convoy was only 40 miles from the Normandy beaches, they received a coded message to turn back, and therefore the convoys returned to England.

Most of the smaller convoys managed to dock at a port by 11:00 p.m., but some of the larger ships had to travel around in the rough water awaiting further instructions.

The convoys, then, received a second coded message:  They were ordered to resume their voyage.  So, at 2:00 a.m. on June 5th, the convoys again sailed for France, and they arrived 11 - 12 miles off Normandy at approximately 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday, June 6th.

In the meantime, to keep the German High Command misinformed and confused during the weeks preceding the invasion, the Allies dropped more bombs on Pas de Calais than anywhere else in France, which convinced most of the German generals that the main invasion would take place at Pas de Calais instead of at Normandy.

Therefore, the vital German reserves would not be permitted to take part in the battles at the Normandy beaches, not even after the Allies already had landed.  Instead, the German reserves (especially the much-needed Panzer divisions) would be held back in anticipation for the supposed main invasion at Pas de Calais, supposedly spearheaded by the venerated General Patton and his “phantom” army.

Hence, the German reserves would not even begin to move toward the beaches until it was already way too late.

In any event, as the Allied convoys were nearing the Normandy beaches, D-Day already had begun at 12:15 a.m. (midnight).

American, British, and Canadian paratroopers began to jump out of their planes behind the five Normandy beaches to secure road junctions and beach exits.  And at 4:30 a.m., 132 men from the United States 4th and 24th Cavalry squadrons landed on Saint Marcouf Islands (Iles-St.-Marcouf), which are two tiny islands of barren rock 3 - 4 miles off Utah Beach.

Interestingly, although history remembers very well the heroic deeds that were performed by the Allied paratroopers in the moonlight hours before the beach landings on D-Day, not much is mentioned about the 132 men who landed on Saint Marcouf Islands.  The men landed on the islands because the Allies suspected the presence of observation posts or mine-field casements.

However, the islands were deserted, and as the men moved away from the beaches, they found themselves trapped in mine fields and booby traps, which killed or wounded 19 men.  Nevertheless, the islands were occupied by 5:30 a.m.

Originally, the Allies had planned to begin the pre-landing bombardment of the beaches at 5:50 a.m., but the enemy gunners fired at some of the closer ships before the bombardment time.  And naturally, the Allied ships returned the fire.

So, at 5:36 a.m., the Allied ships unleashed a horrendous naval bombardment against enemy positions, and nine minutes later, low altitude aerial bombing began.

The American forces were scheduled to assault Utah and Omaha beaches at H-Hour 6:30 a.m.  And the British, Canadian, and Free French forces were scheduled to begin their attacks against Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches at H-Hour 7:25 a.m.  The difference in the H-Hours was because of the difference in time of the tides.

07. In the Landing Craft

As for Oliver and Jake’s situation on D-Day, they had been traveling on the choppy English Channel since June 4th, and they (like nearly everyone else on board) were seasick.  Therefore, they more or less were eager to get into a landing craft and get onto the beach.

Oliver and Jake climbed down the scramble-net of their troopship with the other members of the first-wave assault force, and they each carefully timed the moment to jump as the awaiting landing craft moved up and down with the waves.  Both Oliver and Jake managed to jump into the landing craft safely, but some of the less fortunate ones were injured badly.

The already-loaded first-wave landing crafts circled the leading mother ships until the others were loaded.  Then, they left on a 1½-hour ride to the beach.  And on the way, they stopped at the rendezvous area that was approximately three miles from the beach.

Next, as H-Hour drew near and the Allied bombardment still hammering away, the first-wave assault force (600 men in 20 landing crafts abreast) left the “line of departure” (about 2.3 miles from shore) and sped toward Utah Beach.

The assault force was divided into two groups:  ten landing crafts in the “right group” and ten landing crafts in the “left group.”  The two groups hurried toward the beach on choppy water under limited enemy fire:  They did not experience nearly as much hardship as did the ones who were attacking Omaha Beach.

For example, at least 10 of the Omaha-bound landing crafts (during a period of two hours) were hit by artillery fire before they had a chance to unload the troops.  And those who could quickly discard their equipment-and-ammunition were soon bobbing on the water, but the others (who were seriously wounded or too-slow-to-react) were instantly dragged down to the bottom of the channel.

Tragically, as the survivors begged for help, the undamaged landing crafts were not permitted to stop and pick them up, because all the landing-craft crews were forewarned to ignore the drowning men and continue toward the beach:  The landing crafts must unload the troops on schedule (on the beach) at all cost.  The men in the water would have to wait for the rescue boats to pick them up.

Those in the “as yet operable” landing crafts felt sorry for their unlucky comrades; some even became sick from seeing such pitiful sight.  Nevertheless, they all felt relieved that someone else’s landing craft had been hit instead of their own.

As for the first-wave Utah-bound assault force, one control vessel (guide boat) and one tank landing-craft (carrying four tanks) would each hit a mine and sink.  But all 600 men in the 20 landing crafts would safely land on the beach.  (Incidentally, each tank-crew member wore a device that enabled him to breathe underwater for five minutes.)

Meanwhile, during the bumpy-and-wet ride to the beach, Oliver and Jake looked up and noticed tracers whizzing past a plane.  Obviously, one of the naval gunners was trying to shoot it down, and Oliver and Jake naturally assumed that the plane was hostile.  But, when the plane got closer, Oliver and Jake realized that it was a P-38 Lightning, and it had the freshly-painted alternating black and white “invasion stripes” painted on the fuselage and on the wings.  Oliver shouted:

 

“Hey!  Those invasion stripes didn’t help that pilot very much; he almost got hit!”

 

Jake quickly shouted back:

 

“No, but the navy gunner’s lousy shooting sure saved him -- ha-ha-ha! . . .”

 

When the landing crafts were 300 - 400 yards from the beach, each group-commander fired a black smoke rocket as a signal to stop the bombardment.  And by 6:30 a.m., the landing crafts were close enough to the beach to drop the ramps, whereupon the assault troops (including Oliver and Jake) jumped into four feet of water and waded the last 100+ yards to the beach.

Thankfully, the heavy current (along with the obstruction of view due to smoke and dust) had prevented the troops from landing at the correct location:  They had drifted 2,000 yards south of their designated area, to a point where the beach was only lightly defended.

There were sporadic gunfire from the enemy; but fortunately, they were not very accurate.  And many of the troops felt that the training for the beach landing had been more difficult than the beach landing itself.

Enemy gunfire increased shortly after the landing of the second-wave (H-Hour+5 minutes), but resistance still remained low.  The third and fourth waves arrived at H-Hour+15 minutes and H-Hour+17 minutes respectively, and enemy resistance would remain about the same as more and more waves of invaders came ashore.

Previously, the enemy had flooded the area behind Utah Beach to hinder the Allies’ movement toward the interior.  Therefore, only three of the five main causeways were dry at the time.

Nevertheless, fortunately for the Allies, the capable Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (son of the 26th president and cousin of the 32nd president) landed on Utah Beach with the first-wave.  And when he realized that they had landed at a wrong location, he had to make a critical decision:

He could divert the succeeding troops to the original location where there were two dry causeways. . . .

 

Or, he could bring the succeeding troops to the new location that only had one dry causeway but was a much safer place.

 

The general took the second choice.  He was taking a big chance:  If the assault force should fail to capture the single dry causeway, thousands of troops (26 scheduled waves over a 6-hour period) could become trapped on the beach.

Therefore, everything now depended on how fast the assault force could overcome the enemy.  The enemy must be defeated before they have a chance to organize an effective resistance.

General Roosevelt’s strategy would succeed.  His courage and leadership inspired the troops to quickly capture enemy positions and begin their advance inland within three hours after landing.  And at 11:10 a.m., the seaborne troops linked up with the airborne troops behind the beach.

By the end of D-Day (during a 15-hour period), over 23,000 troops and 1,700 vehicles would land on Utah Beach.  And they would penetrate 4 or 5 miles inland at a cost of 197 troops (including 60 missing).  Most of the missing, if not totally, are believed to be from drowning.

Incidentally, most sources consider the seaborne Utah-landing as the greatest success on D-day with the least number of casualties.  However, they fail to include the casualties that were suffered by the airborne troops who had landed behind the beach several hours earlier.  It is very likely that the casualty-count for the seaborne Utah-landing would have been considerably higher if the airborne troops had not managed to isolate the enemy defenders at Utah Beach.

Therefore, if added together, the 197 seaborne casualties and 2,499 airborne casualties at Utah Beach would roughly equal to the 2,000 - 3,000 Omaha Beach casualties (figures vary).

Some feel that the losses sustained during Exercise Tiger should be included with the Utah Beach casualties, which would give the Utah Beach landing the highest military casualty-count for D-Day.  (About 15,000 - 20,000 civilians were killed by Allied bombing.)

08. Oliver and Jake on the Beach

While the seaborne assault force on Utah Beach was experiencing good fortune, things did not go well for Oliver.

As General Roosevelt was deliberating with his two battalion commanders, Oliver and Jake (along with the others) were crouching next to the seaward side of a 4-feet-high concrete seawall that was situated approximately 300 - 400 yards from the shoreline.  And they noticed an army photographer releasing two carrier pigeons.  Apparently, the pigeons were carrying notes or films concerning the beach landing.

The first pigeon flew toward England, but the second one flew inland, at which point Jake commented:

 

“I think that bird is gonna do us more harm than good, carrying the message to the enemy.  What do you think, Oliver? . . .”

 

Oliver was not concerned.  He only replied:

 

“The enemy already knows we’re here, so I doubt that whatever the bird is carrying will make much difference to either side. . . .”

 

Just then, another wave of troops began to walk onto the beach, and Oliver thought that he recognized one of them.  And since there were only sporadic enemy gunfire at the time (with very little accuracy), Oliver exclaimed:

 

“Hey!  I think I know the third guy from the front:  I can tell by the way he walks.

I met him the other day.  He can come and join us; I’ll go get him.”

 

Oliver, then, removed his backpack and cautiously scurried toward the newcomers.  And just as Oliver reached “the third guy,” an artillery burst landed nearby and knocked down five troops, including Oliver and “the third guy.”

Jake rushed to help Oliver.  It was obvious that the other four men were either seriously injured or dead.  However, Oliver only appeared to be semiconscious yet unhurt otherwise.

Therefore, instead of waiting for a corpsman to arrive at the scene, Jake dragged Oliver by the arms to the seawall as Oliver moaned and mumbled.  Jake felt that Oliver would be safer by the seawall than to be lying on the open beach.

As for the “third guy,” he sustained a fatal chest injury, and he turned out to be someone whom Oliver did not even know.

In any event, at the seawall, Oliver now seemed to be somewhat disoriented but completely conscious.  He could not see at all with the right eye, and the left eye was not much better.

Nevertheless, Jake was optimistic, and he believed that Oliver could live a fairly normal life after being discharged from the military.

By this time, General Roosevelt and the battalion commanders were ready to attack the enemy positions and fight their way inland.  Therefore, Jake said good-bye to Oliver and then helped to capture the dry causeway before marching inland with the others.

09. After D-Day

Sadly, Oliver would never again see or hear from Jake, because Jake was transferred to another unit a month later.  And Oliver was not able to locate Jake’s whereabouts until Jake already had died:  In late August, Jake fell off a truck and broke his neck while en route to Paris.

As for Oliver’s unfortunate situation, he was taken to England via hospital ship.  His vision in the left eye continued to deteriorate until he became completely blind.  The concussion from the explosion had completely detached the Optic Nerve in the right eye and partially detached the Optic Nerve in the left eye.  The doctors had suspected Oliver’s condition shortly after a careful examination, but they were unable to save what little vision Oliver still had.

10. Back at Home

Several weeks after D-Day, Oliver’s parents and fiancée Mabel Hartley went to the airport in Denver to take Oliver home.  And on the way home, in the back seat of the car, Oliver put his arm around Mabel and tried to demonstrate his affection toward her.  And of course, Oliver expected Mabel to respond warmly.  After all, they had not seen each other in many months.

However, instead of returning Oliver’s affection, Mabel smiled politely and returned Oliver’s embrace without much warmth, and even though Oliver could not physically see Mabel’s facial expression, he certainly could sense that something was not right.  He could almost “read out loud” the message that Mabel was radiating.

Nevertheless, Oliver hoped that Mabel was behaving in such manner merely because she was concerned about their uncertain future.  And he sincerely believed that things, once again, would be the way they were (i.e., before he joined the army).

That evening, Mabel came to the house and chatted with Oliver until 10 o’clock.  They talked about Oliver’s experience in Europe; they spoke about the things that had happened in town during Oliver’s absence; and they discussed their future together.

Before leaving, Mabel explained that she would be out of town for a few days:  She would be visiting Aunt Doris in Denver.

Three days later, Mabel came to the house at one o’clock in the afternoon to break off the engagement.  She explained:

 

“Oliver, my family and I believe that we should break off the engagement, because . . .”

 

Before Mabel could continue, Oliver interrupted:

 

“Your family?  This is between you and me, not between you-and-your-family and me. . . .”

 

Mabel disagreed:

 

“You’re wrong, Oliver:  This decision involves both of our families.

Just how much longer do you think this war will last?  Right now, just about anybody who is willing to work can find a job somewhere.  But what’s going to happen when the war is over?  The women in the factories will be expected to go back to housekeeping so that the returning servicemen can have the factory jobs.  And I’d be lucky to get a job that can support just myself, let alone a job that could support a husband as well.

Besides, my family and I feel that the man is supposed to be the breadwinner, not the woman.

Perhaps someday, women may have to work alongside the men, but we’re not there yet:  Right now, most women still have the option of staying home and raising a family if she wishes, and that’s what I want to do.

So you see, in a way, the decision is between you, me, and my family; because if you can’t support me properly, my family would have to help me.  And I don’t want that; I’d rather marry someone who can make a decent living so that I can stay home and raise a family like other normal women. . . .”

 

Oliver clearly understood Mabel’s reasoning, but he still did not want to give up his argument.  He explained:

 

“The government recently passed a law to help the returning servicemen with their college education, home loans, and unemployment pay.  I think it’s called the G.I. Bill. . . .”

 

Mabel retorted:

 

“Yes, I heard about that on the radio.  But even with a college education, just what kind of job do you think you could get?  You’d probably end up selling something door-to-door like countless of other blind salesmen.  The only difference would be that you’d be an educated blind salesman.

I’m sorry, Oliver, I just can’t live that way.  I expect more out of life than being the wife of a blind door-to-door salesman.  I feel bad for you, Oliver, . . . but the engagement is off. . . .”

 

Oliver was devastated by Mabel’s unflinching position, but he refused to show his feelings.  After all, even though he was blind and he seemed not to have much of a future at the moment, he still had his dignity.  And nobody was going to take that away from him.

11. Learning to Adapt

Oliver went to California and entered a rehabilitation program. Afterward, he returned to Rattle Run and spent a year learning how to live in the sighted world.

For example, he would count the number of steps from his bed to the bathroom sink before reaching for the sink or the toilet, and he memorized people’s voice, footsteps, perfumes, tobacco smell, and even body odor to identify whoever might be entering the room.

Yes, Oliver did learn to do many things that helped him to survive in the sighted world, but sometimes people would expect too much from a blind person.

For instance, a stranger in a grocery store struck up a friendly conversation with Oliver.  He asked:

 

“If I were to hand you a dollar-bill and a ten-dollar-bill, could you tell the difference?”

 

Oliver quickly answered:

 

“No, I could not.  I imagine that there must be some individuals in the world who could tell the difference, whether the individual is blind or not blind.  But I personally cannot tell the difference.”

 

The stranger remarked:

 

“Oh, I guess I just assumed that if a person loses something, such as eyesight, God would give him (or her) something else to make up for the loss, such as improved hearing and improved sense of touch.  But obviously, I was wrong. . . .”

 

12. Sharlene Blackfield

Fifteen months after D-Day, Oliver entered college, and he would graduate four years later with a Bachelor of Arts degree.  During the four years of college, Oliver had a “reader” who would read his lessons to him.

The reader’s name was “Sharlene Blackfield,” and it just so happened that her fiancé had been killed in the Battle of the Bulge.  Therefore, Oliver and Sharlene felt that they had something in common, and they fell in love and got married.

After graduation, the government helped Oliver to start up an at-home business in manufacturing plastic dishware, but the business failed after only six months.  There were three main reasons why Oliver’s business failed:

 

Firstly, Oliver’s plastic dishware could not be washed in extremely hot water:  They would soften and deform when exposed to extreme heat.  Many hunters and campers would ruin their plastic dishware because they would fail to add enough cold water to the campfire-heated water before washing the plastic dishes.

 

Secondly, it was too difficult for Oliver to manufacture and sell the products single-handedly.  After all, Sharlene had to work outside the home.

 

Thirdly, there was not enough demand for Oliver’s product:  They were cheaper than regular dishware, but they were not cheap enough to be used as throwaways.

 

Oliver realized that better plastics would most likely be discovered before long, but Oliver could not wait:  He needed to get into a profitable business soon.

13. Property for Sale

In February of 1951, Oliver and Sharlene visited the parents of Jake Henderson, Oliver’s army buddy who had died near Paris, France.  At the time, Mr. and Mrs. Henderson were living at a place called “Sunset Mobile Home Park.”

After the visit, Oliver asked Sharlene to describe the mobile home park to him.

Sharlene explained:

 

“There are approximately 50 trailers in the park.  There’s a one-way horseshoe-shaped driveway that goes through the park, and trailers are parked on both sides of the driveway. . . .

Where the driveway curves (on the outside of the curve), there’s an elevated wooden rail (the height of car-windows) that resembles a long railroad tie.  And on the rail are galvanized-steel mailboxes, each box with a black number (painted on the door) that corresponds to a lot-number.

Most of the trailers have flowers or bushes planted in the front to hide the trailer’s “tongue” (or, “hitch”).  And every trailer has a tree nearby. . . .”

 

Oliver had heard enough.  What Sharlene was describing sounded wonderful, and before Sharlene could continue, Oliver blurted out:

 

“I got it!  That’s what we can do:  We can buy a piece of rundown property real cheap and build a mobile home park on it.

There are two or three such suitable properties around here, and I’m sure we could get any of them for a good price.

What do you think, Sharlene?”

 

Sharlene was not so sure that Oliver had such a good idea, because it would take a great deal of money to get such a project started.  And Sharlene feared that the banks would not co-operate with them.  After all, banks are in the business to make money, not to accept high risks and function as a charity organization.

Nonetheless, Sharlene was happy to see Oliver in such high spirits.  Therefore, she replied:

 

“Whatever you think, Dear.  It sounds pretty risky to me, but if you feel that we have a reasonable chance, I’m right behind you. . . .”

 

A few weeks later, Oliver and Sharlene tried to buy a large tract of land on the slope of a hill, which was located just outside the city limits.  However, the neighbors already had learned about Oliver and Sharlene’s plans, and they had begged the property owner not to sell the property to Oliver and Sharlene:  They did not like the idea of a trailer park located just across the road.

Hence, the property owner claimed:

 

“I’m sorry, folks, I cannot sell you the property, not yet anyway:  Another party wanted to buy it a couple months back, and they could not come up with the money at the time.  But they now think that they can get the money from their relatives.  So, I’m going to give them another chance to come up with the money. . . .”

 

Since the property owner was not willing to co-operate, there was nothing Oliver and Sharlene could do except to ask:

 

“If the other party can’t come up with the money, could you please call us?

Meanwhile, we’ll check back with you from time to time to see how things going. . . .”

 

Oliver and Sharlene telephoned the property owner three times during the next four months; and each time, the property owner gave the same answer:

 

“I’m still waiting. . . .  I hope to get an answer before long. . . .”

 

At the time, there were two other properties that were available, but they were too small for Oliver and Sharlene’s purpose:  They were large enough for only 10 or 15 lots.  Therefore, Oliver and Sharlene waited patiently for their “first choice” to become available.

Incidentally, the property owner of the “first choice” was financially comfortable, which put Oliver and Sharlene at a disadvantage.

 However, as good luck would have it, better times were “just around the corner” for Oliver and Sharlene.

14. Offer from the Carnies

A week after Oliver and Sharlene’s latest contact with the property owner (in late July), the carnival came to town:  the “Goodall Amusement Company.”It included rides, games, and sideshows.

Some of the carnies (carnival workers) soon befriended Oliver-and-Sharlene and offered to help them to purchase the property.

At first, Oliver and Sharlene thought that the carnies were joking, because Oliver and Sharlene just had met them.  And there was no rhyme-or-reason for strangers to make such an offer.

However, Oliver and Sharlene soon learned why the carnies were being so helpful.  The Ferris wheel operator Jesse Loxton explained:

 

“Some of us here have had similar problems as the one you are facing.

For example, Jack Anderson was born deformed and paralyzed.  He can talk, but he can’t do anything else:  While his head continued to grow, the rest of his body stopped growing when he was 19 months old.

So, since he obviously could not survive on his own in the outside world, joining the carnival gave him the opportunity to be financially self-sufficient:  We lay him on his back in a comfortable, cushioned, drawer-type box.  And he gets paid for answering the customers’ questions, such as, ‘Since all your other family-members were born normal, what made you come out as such an oddball? . . .’

For another example, ‘Liz the Fortune-Teller’ joined us eight years ago after her abusive husband threw her down the basement stairs.  She lost the use of her right arm from the injury, and she soon afterward joined us.

Previously, to survive, Liz had heightened her innate ability to ‘read’ her husband’s body-language and to ‘feel’ what he might be thinking.

So, Liz became a good candidate for a fortune-teller:  She would have a friendly conversation with a customer and ‘pick up’ information or ‘feel’ what the customer might be thinking.

As for myself, . . . well, . . . we won’t go into that right now.

Anyway, as I mentioned, some of us here have ‘walked in your shoes.’

So, if you’re not too proud to accept our help, we’re willing to go and bat for you.

What do you say?”

 

Oliver thought for a moment and replied:

 

“No, I am not too proud to accept your help.  On the contrary, I appreciate your offer. . . .”

 

15. The Purchase

After speaking with Oliver and Sharlene, Jesse Loxton and seven other carnies set out to help Oliver and Sharlene to buy the property for the mobile home park:  They pooled their money to purchase the property and made their plan.

Then, Jesse telephoned the property owner and inquired about the price of the property.  He explained that he already had seen the property, and he wanted to buy it so that he could build a 3,000 square-feet home on it (along with a two-car garage).

So, two days later, the property owner contacted Jesse, and the two parties agreed to meet in seven days at the office of the property owner’s attorney.  Jesse would be accompanied by his own attorney to complete the transaction.

A week later, everything went as planned, and the seller swallowed Jesse’s blarney hook, line, and sinker.

After the transaction, the seller commented:

 

“Welcome to the neighborhood.  I hope you enjoy your future home.

Just between you and me, another party wanted to buy the property to build a mobile home park on it, and I’ve been stonewalling for time to discourage them:  None of us around here want to see a trailer park just across the road.  And I was running out of excuses.

So, you did all of us a big favor by buying this property from me. . . .”

 

Thus, Jesse Loxton had purchased the property under false pretense, but he had no compunction about the transaction.  Even though he had lied to the seller, he had done so for a good cause.  And he felt good for having taken part in helping someone who had been injured while fighting for his country.

16. New Life for Oliver and Sharlene

Jesse sold the property to Oliver and Sharlene; and before long, Oliver and Sharlene built their mobile home park.  They named it, “Sanders’ Hillside Mobile Home Park.”

For the next ten years, Oliver and Sharlene improved and expanded their business.  They started out with only ten lots, and by 1962, they had expanded to 173 lots.

Meanwhile, during the ten years, Oliver and Sharlene gave birth to a son and a daughter (Raymond and Janice).

Without a doubt, things were going well for Oliver and Sharlene, and their future looked even better.

Oliver and Sharlene never forgot their friends at the Goodall Amusement Company, because without their help, Sanders Hillside Mobile Home Park might not have been built.

17. Ex-Fiancée Mabel

While Oliver and Sharlene were experiencing good fortune, Oliver’s ex-fiancée Mabel Hartley was having success as well.

Sixteen months after breaking off the engagement, Mabel fell in love with a neighbor’s cousin who had served in the navy (in the Pacific).  His name was “Joey Zumo,” and he lived in Tonawanda, a suburb of Buffalo, New York.

Joey was in town (i.e., in Rattle Run, Colorado) to spend a couple of weeks with his cousin before going to work at his father’s car dealership in Buffalo, New York.  And that’s how Mabel and Joey met.

Anyway, Mabel and Joey originally wanted a one-year engagement, but they extended it several times because of injuries and financial setbacks.

First, Joey’s father became gravely injured in a car-and-truck accident.  Next, the dealership suffered major financial problems because of a fire.  Then, Joey seriously injured his back from a skiing accident that put him out of work for several months.  And lastly, Mabel suffered a serious brain infection:  Bacteria from an abscessed upper right molar entered the bloodstream and traveled to the brain.

Mabel and Joey finally got married in December of 1948.  They held their wedding ceremony in Buffalo, with over 150 guests and entertainers, and they moved into a Victorian-style home in an affluent neighborhood in Tonawanda.

By 1962, Joey had taken over his father’s dealership, and Mabel had given birth to two sons and a daughter (Joey Jr., James, and Jeanette.).  Like Oliver and Sharlene, Mabel and Joey were living a successful life.

18. Mabel’s Memories

Mabel’s life seemed good on the outside; but inside, she was troubled by her past.

Ever since her breakup with Oliver, she had experienced occasional feelings of uneasiness:  She felt guilty for having abandoned Oliver when he was at the lowest point in his life.

In short, she had deserted him when he needed her the most, and she now regretted the way she had handled the breakup.

Up to now, Mabel had managed to suppress her feelings without much trouble.  But lately, her successful life had been reminding her of the life that she and Oliver had planned, and her uneasiness was now beginning to increase.

To make matters even worse, Mabel was afraid to discuss her problem with anyone, because she did not want to take the chance of jeopardizing her relationship with her husband Joey.

19. Home to Visit Dad

On one early March morning of 1963, Mabel received a phone call from her mother:

 

“Mabel, your dad is scheduled to have his appendix removed tomorrow.  He’s been hurting on-and-off for almost three months, and his doctor thinks that it would be best to remove his appendix.

He’s not in any danger yet, but he could be if he doesn’t take care of it.  So, your dad decided to take the doctor’s advice and have it removed before it gets any worse.”

 

Mabel replied:

 

“I didn’t know he was having so much trouble.

I’ll come for a visit while he’s recuperating. . . .”

 

Mabel discussed the situation with her husband at lunchtime and made the arrangement to catch a plane to Denver on the following day.

Early the next morning, Joey drove Mabel to the Greater Buffalo International Airport and gave her a romantic send-off.

That afternoon, in Denver (at Stapleton International Airport), a friend of Mabel’s mother (named Leah Samson) held up a home-made sign with Mabel’s name on it as the passengers entered the arrivals lounge.  And the two ladies each introduced herself to the other and quickly became acquainted.  Mabel insisted on buying Leah a decent meal before starting out for Rattle Run.

Later, a few miles from Rattle Run city limits, Mabel and Leah stopped at a restaurant to buy coffee, use the rest room, and to make a telephone call.

Mabel called her parents’ house to see if anybody was home.  And when no one answered, Mabel presumed that her mother was still at the hospital with her father, and she (Mabel) asked Leah to “drop her off” at the hospital.

Then, just before entering the city limits, they drove past “Sanders’ Hillside Mobile Home Park.”

Mabel asked:

 

“How long has that mobile home park been there?”

 

Leah answered:

 

“Oh, . . . ten years or so. . . .

It’s owned by a blind man and his wife, and they’ve done pretty well.

I hear that they’re doing well enough for the wife to wear rings on all her fingers, and one of the rings is an $8,000 diamond. . . .

Anyway, several years ago, some of the tenants moved out and went to a cheaper park.

Then, less than a year later, we had more rain than usual, which flooded the cheaper park.  And when the former tenants asked to return to Sanders’ park, they were told that all newcomers (including the returnees) would have to pay higher lot-rent than the others.

So, the returnee tenants gladly accepted the new terms and never again complained about the high lot-rent. . . .”

 

At the hospital, Mabel and Leah easily located Mabel’s parents, and after 15 or 20 minutes of visiting, Leah informed the others that she had to leave.

Mabel thanked Leah for the ride and offered to pay for Leah’s help.

Leah replied:

 

“You’re kidding me.

Your mother and I are good friends.  She’s done a lot for me.  So the least I could do was to give you a ride.

Besides, you bought me a good meal, so we’re even. . . .”

 

Mabel and her mother stayed at the hospital until the end of visiting hours.

They went to the hospital twice a day for the next two days.  And Mabel’s father was released from the hospital on the fourth day at approximately 11:00 a.m.

Mabel visited her parents for two more days before returning to New York.

Meanwhile, during a conversation, Mabel asked her parents:

 

“Why didn’t you tell me about Oliver and his mobile home park?  Leah said that Oliver and his wife are doing well.

He was still away at college when I left for New York. . . .”

 

Mabel’s mother glanced at her husband and then gave Mabel an awkward, embarrassed look.

 She replied:

 

“Umm, . . . your father and I were ashamed to bring up the subject.

When you were engaged to Oliver, we were looking out for your best interest:  We didn’t want you to be forced to go to work and have to support a husband for the rest of your life.

That’s why we put so much pressure on you to break off the engagement.

Of course, Oliver’s success has proved that we were wrong:  You would not have been forced to support him for the rest of your life. . . .”

 

Before Mabel’s mother could continue, Mabel’s father added:

 

“We were only trying to do what was best for you.  Of course, we now realize that we should have let you make your own decision.

We’re happy that things worked out well for you:  You married an exceptionally good husband.

We’re just sorry that we were so unfair with Oliver.  We hope you understand.

We thought of approaching Oliver and explain that it was our idea for you to break off the engagement, not yours.  But we feared that we might start up trouble between him and his wife.  So we decided to leave well enough alone. . . .”

 

Mabel instantaneously recalled every important moment that she and Oliver had shared together, and she remained quiet for three or four seconds as her eyes began to tear.  Then she responded:

 

“I was old enough to know what I was doing:  It was my own decision to break off the engagement.

At the time, I neither had the confidence nor the courage to marry a blind man, so I felt very much relieved when you strongly advised me to break off the engagement.

Evidently, God was looking out for me:  Joey is good to me, and he’s a good provider.  I also have three wonderful children who are in excellent health.

As for Oliver, I’m glad he’s doing so well.  I think he has forgiven me by now, at least I hope so. . . .”

 

20. Back to New York

The next day, Mabel’s plane landed in Buffalo in late afternoon, and Joey and the three children rushed to her to give her hugs and kisses.

Mabel cried from joy and told her family how much she had missed them.

Joey asked Mabel how things were going in Colorado.

Mabel smiled and answered:

 

“Everything is going well in Colorado.  Things couldn’t be better.

I should have visited my parents long time ago.

The trip made me realize how lucky I am to have such a wonderful family, and I feel so much better now.

I think I’m gonna sleep like a baby tonight. . . .”

 

Bibliography

 

DDay-Overlord.Com.  The Battle of Normandy.  (Downloaded on 04-20-10)  http://www.dday-overlord.com/eng/index.htm.

LCT Stories.  (Downloaded 4-26-10)  http://ww2lct.org/history/stories/JSuozzo_report.htm.

Morison, Samuel Eliot.  History Of United States Naval Operations In World War II:  The Invasion of France and Germany 1944-1945.  Copyright 1957 by Samuel Eliot Morison.  Copyright renewed 1985 by Augustus P. Loring and W. Sidney Felton.  University of Illinois Press:  1325 South Oak St., Champaign, Il.  61820-6903.

Ryan, Cornelius.  The Longest Day:  June 6, 1944.  Rockefeller Center, 630 Fifth Avenue, New York 20, New York:  Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1959.

The Exercise Tiger National Foundation.  Battle of Exercise Tiger … The LST’s Finest Hour.  (Downloaded on 04-12-10) http://exercisetiger.org/pages/ext_battlehistory.htm.

The Kemble Kollection.  Exercise Tiger.  (Downloaded on 04-12-10) http://www.mikekemble.com/ww2/tiger1.html.

Wikipedia.  Exercise Tiger.  (Downloaded on 04-12-10) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exercise_Tiger.

 


Submitted: May 10, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Seung Geel Hong. All rights reserved.

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