Chapters of life: Love and loss in the Throes of WWII

By Guest Contributor March 15, 2009 17:20

By Shirley Singley

After graduating from high school, Bobby enlisted in the Army Air Force. When we met, he was just waiting to be called up. He had a good paying job, but his dream was to be a fighter pilot. Finally on Jan. 9, 1943, he left for the service and started his training for this dream. Before he left, we became engaged. He presented me with a beautiful solitaire diamond ring that was set in a lovers’ knot pattern.

After Bobby left for the service, we kept up an exciting correspondence. I didn’t see him again until late August, 1943, when Mom Welch and I went by bus to Montgomery, Alabama, to visit him. It was a long hard trip, but we were determined. Because Bobby was in intensive training, we only saw him in the evenings. Once Bob said, “Watch the sky tomorrow.” The next day he buzzed us in his P51 trainer. This, of course, was against regulation, but he got away with it.

Bobby graduated as a P51 pilot in early December, and he received a leave of absence to come home. We decided to get married before he left for active duty. I was only 17, and, of course, too young for marriage, but I was determined. My parents finally gave me permission, so on Dec. 10, 1943, we were married in the Salt Lake Temple. There was no honeymoon – just a couple of days together, and then Bobby left for San Antonio for his next assignment.

In June, Bobby was transferred to Winter Haven, Fla., and I joined him there. I remember many happy times and meeting several wonderful people, especially a nice couple from Michigan with whom we hobnobbed.

Yes, I did get pregnant in Winter Haven. I didn’t suspect it until I was on the train going home. I experienced morning sickness for the first time, and as naïve as I was, I knew this meant I was pregnant.

Then that fateful day came. Bobby and his group were to go overseas. So I went home for another long wait. Bobby was sent to the Assam Valley in India. He was to escort and provide cover for the large transport planes that flew the Hump (the forbidding Himalayas). While there, he wrote frequently and sent some beautiful souvenirs. He was very excited about the baby, and by letter we were making plans for our future. One thing he mentioned that he might do when he got home was to apply to be a forest ranger. He loved the outdoors, and he also thought he might like to be a guide for fishermen and hunters. I’m almost certain we would have lived in Idaho. But none of our plans were to be.

The second huge tragedy of my life happened on Jan. 9, 1945. Exactly two years after Bobby went into the service, he was killed in his plane during takeoff. The P51 took off at a speed of 115 mph. You can imagine how dangerous that could be. I will never forget the telegram, “We regret to inform you …” I have never come so close to fainting in my life. It was unbelievable. For years I would see a tall man at a distance, and I’d think it might be him. I couldn’t look at a war movie. It was too horrible. Then approximately five years later, Bobby was sent home in a casket, and we had a full military service at the graveside. I was presented with a flag that my son, Bob, now has. For me, this service helped to bring some closure to this tragedy.

One month and 12 days after Bobby died, our baby was born. He was one month premature and weighed just five pounds, but he was perfect in every way. The circumstances of his birth have been told many times, but I think it deserves to be in print. I caught the mumps from a child (a distant relative) who had dropped in for a visit with his mom. Anyway, the mumps caused the premature delivery.

When my water broke, my parents rushed me to the hospital only to be told that they couldn’t admit me because they had no isolation ward. Mom called my doctor, and he said that he couldn’t possibly deliver a baby at home. What to do? Dad then called the police, and they in turn called Bushnell Army Hospital in Brigham, Utah. Because this hospital had an isolation ward, and I was the widow of an Army Air Force second lieutenant, they agreed to take me.

Dad didn’t have enough gas to get us there (wartime gas rationing), so an ambulance was called. I couldn’t go to the maternity ward because of the mumps, so they took me to the isolation ward, placed some plywood on an ordinary hospital bed to use as a delivery table. This was in a private room. Thank goodness!

The doctor arrived just in time for the delivery at midnight, just four hours from my first labor pain. So number one son, Bobby Francis Welch, sans any artificial help, was born quickly, but not so easily. Now I was a widow and a mother – at age 18.

“Chapters of Life” is a regular feature in FAN. This issue draws from Jamestown resident Shirley Singley’s 2008 memoir, “A Walk with Shirley Down Memory Lane.” A native of Utah, Singley is a retired teacher who is active in numerous local groups, and in 1991 served as foreman of the Tuolumne County Grand Jury. Now 82, Singley began writing her memoir in 2005 after being diagnosed with an extremely rare form of lymphoma, now in remission. The book is dedicated to her husband of 23 years, Lawrence, a retired U.S. Navy Chief, with whom she has shared “the happiest years of my adult life.”

Part of a letter from Bobby to Shirley, postmarked May 4, 1943:

“I hope by the time we put on our winter clothes we will be wearing bars of some kind, don’t care if they’re Flight officers, or Sts. just as long as there is a pair of wings to fit on the blouse just above the pocket flap. When/if I do, I doubt very much that I do, get killed, I want a pair of wings pinned on my chest when they bury me. Silly aren’t I? But I think flying is just about religion in itself. It’s when we’re the closest to God, when every move depends on God. It’s there when our faith will be the greatest. I’m just living for the day when I can be up alone and go just as high, fast, and far as we want to, with nothing to stop us but fate. It’s then that all this work we’re doing now will have come in handy, and life will be worth living again.”

© 2009, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Guest Contributor March 15, 2009 17:20
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