Mar 29 2013

Dear Old Bolds, friends, and family,

Austin was so lovely...while it lasted. After quickly establishing myself in the state of Texas, I visited with family members of the "Trouble" crew (shot down over France on Jan 7 44) - the pilot's grand-niece and her husband in Austin, and the pilot's beautiful widow in San Antonio. We had a wonderful, long visit one afternoon when she told me about her husband, and their tragically short war-time marriage.

On Saturday I visited Bob Sweatt (the only survivor of Trouble's crew on that day) and his lovely wife Mary on their ranch outside Austin before I drove on to Houston to pick up my Africa Corps friend and steadfast traveling companion, Charley, who had flown in from Germany.

Knowing we planned to ride horses on the prairie in warm Oklahoma, and worried about  overheating, we went to buy cowboy boots and hats (I bought an expensive matching ensemble with some beautiful, brown-red $200 boots and similar-colored hat, and then picked out a pair of jeans to match) and then settled into our airport hotel. On Sunday, we flew to Little Rock, where I worked (work-work - we had a training) on Easter Sunday and Monday. Monday afternoon we hit the road for Ft. Smith, Arkansas.

Expecting something like the initial drive through Texas, we were pleasantly surprised by the lush Arkansas countryside. Judging by the coverage of hits on the windshield, which made visibility dangerous, I calculate there are more bugs per square inch in that part of Arkansas than anywhere I have driven a car in the world.

We were greeted at our hotel by the local historian, who escorted us to the museum the next morning, a place frequented by those interested in seeing where Elvis received his first GI hair cut. Several TV and print reporters questioned Charley in front of the POW exhibit and then, with rain gently misting around us, we drove out to the area where Charley was housed as a POW. The forest has reclaimed the land that was once cleared and covered with temporary barracks, so only foundations were visible, but it did his soul good to see the place he was first taken in July, 1943 and spent nearly a year at.

After our thanks and goodbyes, we drove several hours to the Watson Ranch, just outside of Okmulgee, Oklahoma. It was raining cats and dogs the whole way. Charley hoped maybe when we got to the ranch for our ride it would only be raining cats.

Which it was, but after 2 years of drought, you couldn't have found people happier about such miserable conditions. I had hoped for a chance to change into my jeans (too tight to wear on the long drive), put contacts in, and to fix my hair, which had reverted from long, straight and shiny in the rain to its natural state, a mass of disheveled curls. But at the turn from the muddy dirt road into the long drive of the ranch we were ambushed by a television producer who had been waiting for us in his car. Charley was miked up, and as we pulled up near the ranch hands' house, the fanfare began.

A television crew filmed Charley's every move as he exited our vehicle and  was greeted warmly by the Millers, who run the ranch, and Martha Watson Griffin, who inherited it from her father. After entering the heated little shack where some of the POW ranch hand laborers stayed during the war, Charley and the print and TV reporters began the question and answer dance, as he told stories of his time there in 1944.

You see, Charley had acted as interpreter between the ranchers and their German POW laborers for about 2 1/2 weeks in 1944. And after he had finished his duties for the day then, the very kind Doc Watson would let Charley (a lifelong passionate horseman) catch a horse from the paddock, saddle it up, and ride out on the prairie. Once out far enough, Charley would dismount and lay between the horse's front legs, looking up at the sky and wondering how his life would go, as one might expect a 20-year-old young man, captive, and far from home and the front, to do.

And although he was only at the ranch for a short time, the kindness Doc
Watson had extended to him as a young man, and the experience he had had there had made a strong enough impression on Charley that now, at 89, he dreamed of going back and riding again across the pastures and out under the open skies.

As the crowd of reporters surrounded Charley eagerly I returned to the car to find a wool beanie to cover the wet, disheveled mop now surrounding my head and layer on every t-shirt I had in my suitcase, and to bring Charley more of his sweaters as well. Once we had maximized our warmth potential, we all headed to the barn, where Charley, despite a fairly new hip, was able to use an improvised mounting block devised by our hosts to land in the saddle atop a white colt named Taxi.

As he headed out to the corral in the 40 degree rain, Dwayne Miller and I hurriedly jumped up on our horses to provide him escort, with no time for sundry, unimportant adjustments. And so as a television cameraman rode alongside, Charley and Dwayne enjoyed the 20-minute ride around, in the glorious fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

Meanwhile I: wet, muddy, bedraggled, freezing, in badly mismatched, soaking attire, rain-coated glasses, and bent knees and legs ending in mud-splattered, filthy $200 boots shoved into short stirrups on my trusty,
gentle, old steed did my level best to stay as much as possible out of the picture.

Which really, when I think about it, is how it should be.

With much love from Oklahoma City, and until the next adventure strikes,




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