Roy dreaded the day his son would head overseas. In January of 1944, he’d been assigned to a B-24 bomber crew. Each day the news of the war, felt suffocating. Every battle reported meant someone’s cherished brother, spouse, son, husband, father, or friend would never return home. There were lists of local boys wounded, killed or missing in action in the paper each day.
At the end of April his son headed to Italy assigned to the 743rd air force and the 445th bombing group. Roy moved the big red pin for Verle from the United States to Italy.
Knowing Jack provided protection to the vital ships in the Pacific and Verle was on some of the bombing raids over Eastern Europe, he and Iva sat in apprehension in front of radio each night listening to news of the war in the Pacific and in the air over eastern Europe. Would they be the next house to receive the dreaded telegram? ‘We regret to inform you…’
In the meantime, they took the slogan make every trip count and rationing in stride. The list of the things to do without grew day by day. It became normal to see the barrage balloons over the bay or draw the blinds tight at night. Roy’s carpentry skills were in high demand as new workers swelled the town’s population to nearly 70,000.
On Thursday August 3rd Roy trudged up the steps to their house tired after a long day of work. Before he was halfway up the stairs. Iva flew out the screen door waving what looked like a telegram in her hand. “Daddy.”
Roy’s legs shook, a chill began to cross his shoulders. As he drew closer, he noticed she wore a smile.
Can’t be sad news.
He leaned onto the stair railing. “What is it?”
“Good news! Verle’s home, well not exactly home but back in the states.”
She waved the telegram in front of his face. “Here, read it.”
Roy took the thin page from her hand.
I arrived today in New York via the ship “Henry Gibbons.” Should be headed by train to Tacoma soon. More later.
Roy slowly exhaled and climbed the remaining steps, collapsing in relief on the chair nearest the door. His boy was coming home.
Iva stood in the doorway of the kitchen. “Just think, maybe by next Thursday, Verle might be here.”
The following week Roy, Iva and Jerry sat on a wooden bench under the domed rotunda inside Union station in Tacoma.
Jerry hopped from one foot to the other in front of them. “When will he get here, I can’t wait to see Uncle Verle.”
Iva took a toy car out of her purse. “Soon, in the meantime you can play with this.”
Moments later the loudspeaker announced his train was arriving on track five. They hustled out to the tracks.
Jerry jumped up and down. “I see him, I see him, Uncle Verle is getting off the train now.”
Roy patted his grandson’s shoulders. “Yes, I see him too.”
The three surged ahead and enveloped Verle in a group hug as soon as he stepped onto the pavement.
“I can’t tell you how good it feels to have you back home,” said Iva as the four of them made their way to the car.”
“Believe me I’m happy to be here too. Have you heard from Jack lately?”
“I got a letter 2 days ago. He says not to worry but daily we hear news of someone who has lost their loved one.”
Verle gave his sister a hug. “At least you can quit worrying about me for a while.”
Once home they peppered Verle with questions about his bombing missions and life in Italy.
“Most of our missions were routine. But there was one where we barely made it back after losing three of our engines. I was sure glad when we had safely touched down on the runway.”
“Did you live on the plane?” asked Jerry.
Verle laughed. “No, I lived in a tent under a grove of olive trees along with my crew mates.
“Like camping? “Asked Jerry.
“A little bit but we didn’t do our own cooking. Unless we were on a bombing mission, we sat around without much to do.”
“Did you see anything of Italy?” asked Iva.
“Not a lot unless the view from the air counts. You remember my friend Ralph, don’t you?”
“Of course,” said Roy.
“He was stationed nearby and I did get to see him a few times in a place called Foggia.”
Roy took a sip of his coffee. “Is be assigned to a bombing crew too?”
“No, he’s a mechanic keeping our planes in good running order. Once I did go over to the Adriatic for a swim.”
Iva set a plate of cookies on the table. “That sounds exotic.”
“It wasn’t. The beach was filthy, I had no desire to return. I was in Naples for a week before I left, but since we had no idea when the orders to ship out would come, I didn’t get much chance to sight see.”
Roy took a cookie. “How long did it take to cross the Atlantic?”
“A little more than 2 weeks. We were part of a convoy of troop ships. The ship I was on also carried wounded soldiers being shipped home and around one thousand refugees.”
Iva held up the latest issue of life magazine featuring a transport ship with refugees on its cover. “Goodness, were you on this one?
Verle peered at the cover. “That’s it all right. They kept the refugees pretty isolated from us. Nevertheless, we heard about the heart-breaking hardships they endured. Many of them were skilled workers, doctors, musicians, and actors. The entertainers put on shows for us. It sure broke up the monotony because beside reading and playing cards there wasn’t much to do.”
“Have you heard where you’ll go next?” asked Roy. “Will you be going back to the combat zone?”
“No, my rotation back to the states is permanent. After my leave I report to Santa Monica and wait for further orders. I hope they will send me to pilot training. Air travel is going to be the future of travel after this war is over. There will be a need for pilots.”
Roy slumped down in his chair; he preferred his son stay grounded once the war was finished.
All too soon Verle’s leave ended. From Santa Monica he sent news he was going to Colorado for pilot training.
Roy let out a huge sigh of relief when a letter arrived a few weeks later.
Dear Daddy and Iva,
I am being sent to Long Beach to become a trainer for navigators. It seems I have a bit of a depth perception problem. I could take off in a plane fine but my landings left something to be desired. I am a bit disappointed but looking forward to going back to my original plan and finish engineering school when this war is finally over.
On May 5th of 1945 Victory in Europe was announced. While Roy and most of the people in town were relieved to hear the news a deep sense of foreboding still pervaded the Northwest. The war in the Pacific still needed to be won. While Verle was safely state side his son-in-law wasn’t.
On August 15th President Truman announced the war was over. The streets of Bremerton immediately filled with the sound of automobile horns honking.
Roy joined his fellow workers out on the street as confetti rained down, camera shutters clicked, and girls – hundreds of them – kissed sailors. Everyone hugged and shouted. Roy felt happier than he’d been in a long time.
By late September Verle had been discharged and had resumed his college studies. Soon after Jack returned.
Roy thought about returning to Puyallup but he’d grown comfortable living with his daughter. He had become good friends with his boss and his wife at the housing authority. He enjoyed going on outings with the two of them but bulked whenever they brought up the mention of his dating someone they knew. Mae was the love of his life, he had no need for another.
He decided to stay in Bremerton. Mae’s parents could stay in the Puyallup house. From now on he’d just be an occasional visitor there.
On December 12,1946 he became a grandfather again when Jack and Iva welcomed a new little boy into the family. They named him Jack Leroy Bailey. Life had settled into a new normal.
In July of 1947 the new Ford Sedan Roy had ordered after the war arrived in Tacoma. Verle had also ordered a car but it hadn’t yet arrived. Roy decided to let him have the Ford. At 62 he was getting old, he could make do with his old car for his remaining driving years. In all likelihood Verle would soon need one for work.
Roy was bursting at the seams with pride when in late August of 1947 Verle earned his engineering degree from the University of Washington. A dream that once seemed unattainable. Born to a father, grandfather and great grandfathers who had never gone beyond the eighth grade he was the first Caple to graduate from college.
The downside of him graduating was he’d accepted a job with Allis Chambers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“How are you planning to get there?” Roy asked, wondering if he’d end up with the Ford after all.
Verle twisted his hands. “I’ll drive, the Ford is brand new and I have done plenty of moving in the last few years. He hesitated before adding “except then I always knew Uncle Sam had a place for me to stay.”
Roy sensed his son was nervous about making this trip on his own. “How about I ride along and help with the driving? I’ll take the train back home.”
Verle stopped twisting his hands. “That’s a great idea. We could make a trip of it. I was thinking if trying to see the sights along the way.”
The two of them got out a map to study.
Roy pointed to an area on the map. “If we went this way we could stop and see Yellowstone.”
Verle stretched his arms above his head. “Yes, let’s. I’ve always wanted to see Old Faithful.”
Roy pointed to the map again. “If go out the parks eastern gate we can visit your mother’s Aunt Sadie and Uncle Bert in South Dakota. I could show you where your mother grew up. The Black Hills are beautiful. “
After they studied the map a bit longer, they decided to give themselves two weeks to get to Wisconsin and they’d camp when they could to save money.
On Labor Day weekend the family gathered together at the Puyallup house to celebrate Verle’s degree and new job. The women of the family filled the dining room table with ham, heaping bowls of mashed potatoes green beans, peas, homemade rolls and all sorts of salads. On the sideboard sat Roy’s mother-in-law apple pies. As they sat down to eat Roy’ father-in-law rose. At age 80 he still stood tall and slim.
He raised a glass of apple cider. “Too our Verle, congratulations on your degree and new job.”
The family clicked their glasses together. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” said Verle, “now let’s eat.”
Two days later Roy loaded his suitcase into the black Ford ready to set off on his journey with Verle. He gazed up at the sun just peaking over Mt. Rainer turning shading it into hues of pink.
He turned to Verle. “Looks like the mountain giving you a royal send off.”
Roy’s in-laws joined them beside the car to wave them goodbye.
His mother-in-law handed Roy a small box. “Be sure to give this to Sadie when you see her and give her a big hug. It’s been too long since I saw my baby sister.”
Roy placed the box inside the car. “I sure will.”
Roy climbed into the driver’s seat as Verle gave his grandparents a last hug goodbye. As he settled into the seat next to him. Roy turned the key in the ignition.” Let’s get this this show on the road.”
Most of the information for this piece came from my father’s written memories of his war experiences, college and acceptance of his new engineering job after the war.