We were married in March 1969. I had enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard and was waiting to receive orders for the initial 6 months active duty training. The orders came and I was off to basic training by the fall. It was a difficult departure from the airport as I left my bride of only a few months to spend the next half year in Army training.
The schedule would be basic training at Ft Gordon, GA, infantry training at Ft Jackson, SC and the last 3 weeks would be in Ft Benning, GA in Airborne school. (Yes, I know – who would jump out of a perfectly good airplane!?)
It so happened that the day we were to leave Ft Jackson was the eve of our first wedding anniversary. We boarded the busses that afternoon and drove most of the night to Ft Benning. Exhausted, we slept all the way and arrived at the post in the middle of the night. All of us were completely disoriented, exhausted and not even knowing if this was actually Ft Benning or not. As the bus stopped in front of a large gymnasium type building the fun began.
If you have ever been in the military, you can appreciate the confusion that ensued. When the doors opened, Army cadre began shouting commands and herding everyone off the bus.
When the confusion settled down and everyone was attempting to concentrate and fill out their forms, a PFC came out onto the stage and announced, “Is there a Private Johnny Adams here?” Now that was, to say the least, real strange because I didn’t even know where I was, much less was I acquainted with anyone there.
To say the most, it struck fear in my heart! In the military it is good to be in the background, out of sight and not making a name for yourself. So, I thought to myself, “What have I done now? This can’t be good.”
Hesitatingly, I followed the PFC behind the stage area to an office. He ushered me in and said, “You have a phone call.” Now this totally confused me. I didn’t even know where I was nor did I know anybody in the state of Georgia. How could anyone be calling me? Well…I just didn’t know what a determined and resourceful woman I had married.
When I walked into the office there was a Bird Colonel, a Major and more officers that were all focused on a lowly private entering from nowhere, answering a call on their office phone. Talk about intimidation!
I picked the receiver up and said, “Hello.” Then the strangest surprise I have ever experienced was when the voice of my wife said, “Happy anniversary! I love you!” My little pea brain was spinning by this time, wondering how in the heck she ever…Well, the fact was that she had located me and there I stood with all this Army brass looking down my throat and I am supposed to answer in a romantic and thoughtful way.
All I could do was to turn my back to them, cup the receiver with my hand and in a low whisper say, “I love you too.”
I don’t remember what we said after that, but I’m sure we talked for a minute or so. (She had convinced the Red Cross to find my whereabouts. What a gal! It’s been 45 years of surprises too!)
As Paul Harvey would say, there remains “the rest of the story.”
Army jump school was 3 weeks long. The first 2 weeks consisted of grueling training and conditioning and the last week is jump week. Each trainee makes 5 jumps before he graduates as a certified paratrooper. So, the first jump from a real live airplane is certainly unnerving and everyone is tense and anticipating the new adventure and pondering the question, “Why would anyone jump out of a perfectly good airplane?”
We chuted up and boarded the C130 and the engines were screaming. (You will never forget the engine noise of that airplane if you have ever been around one.) They sat us down and the crew began explaining the things we should be aware of in the aircraft. One such nuance was the signaling system between the cockpit and the crew members in the rear. It was a series of bells that were rung to signal for certain things. So they gave us a sample ring to demonstrate.
A very loud “Ring…Ring!” was heard and instantly one of my buddies about 10 guys down the row from me pretended to pick up a telephone, hold it to his ear, answer, “Hello” and in a very loud voice announced to everyone, “It’s for Adams. His wife’s calling!”
Little did my wife know that her anniversary surprise to her young husband would be the ice breaker 3 weeks later that every one of those nervous soldiers would need on that day when all nerves were raw and on edge.
It is ironic, however, that our jump went perfect for everyone except 2 particular individuals that managed to get their parachutes tangled up on the descent. Yes, one of those would be yours truly. O well, that’s another story.
God certainly has a sense of humor and he has blessed me with a wife that keeps me guessing.