This year will add a new experience to my “arsenal of memories.” It so happens, I have a darn good buddy who happens to own a WWI 75mm field piece. It has been rechambered to fire .50 caliber blanks. So, we are going to unleash a day-long barrage, pulling the lanyard until our arms are sore! I love the Fourth….
This Week’s Militar-E-News
My co-workers seem to like the Fourth as well. In fact, the good folks at KP are taking the day off! Our master of intriguing stories, Matt Gergeni, is taking some much-needed time to spend with his wonderful family.
So, they asked me to fill up the newsletter this week. After I scratched my head for awhile, I thought I would share one of my favorite stories that I frequently heard when I was a kid.
“Blame it on the Blouse…”
During a 1943 furlough, Sergeant John “Milton” Graf took the train from his station at Camp Hale, Colorado, back to his hometown in Caledonia, Minnesota. He looked forward to seeing his parents, stopping by Henry Blexrud’s grocery store, doing some trout fishing on Crooked Creek, and reconnecting with old friends. One of his closest, high school buddy, John Trish, had plans for Milton’s return. He decided that the best thing two young men in time of war should do first was find dates.
It so happened that John T. was sweet on Sgt. Graf’s cousin, Bernadette (“Bernie”). The romance was stunted, however, because Bernie was a student at the all-woman College of St. Teresa, 45 miles away in Winona, Minnesota. He knew that the college rules mandated that any student who left campus with a boy in a car must be accompanied by a second couple. A plan began to emerge.
John called Bernie, telling her that he was pretty certain that Milton could borrow the family Chevy. The two boys would drive up to Winona for a visit if Bernie found a date for her cousin.
Bernie went the length of her dormitory bragging up her “soldier-boy cousin” in the hopes that someone—anyone—would agree to be his date for the evening. Finally, she thought the deal was cinched when Barb Wynkoop agreed to give Bernie’s cousin a chance. But, when she learned that Milton was in the Army, Barb wanted nothing to do with him! She knew that army soldiers came home on furloughs infrequently. “In fact,” she informed Bernie, “I prefer a sailor to a soldier.” Bernie was distraught. Who would she find to double with her cousin on such short notice?
After visiting every room on her floor, Bernie tried to give her friend, Helen Robertson, one last try. Helen had already turned down the potential date, stating “she had nothing to wear.” Desperate to find a girl with whom to double, Bernie pleaded, “You have that new Easter suit that your mother sent to you!”
Bernie knew that Helen’s mother had sent her money to buy a new suit for Easter. In fact, Bernie had gone with Helen to Choate’s Department Store in Winona to buy it. She assured Helen that the new, two-piece, gabardine suit was just the thing to wear for a date with a soldier! The sharply fitted jacket with padded shoulders and skirt would be a treat for any soldier or sailor to see.
Not really thrilled at the idea of a blind date, Helen tried to reinforce her resolve to not go by declaring, “Yes I have a new suit. But you know, Bernie, I don’t have a blouse to wear with it!” “No problem,” insisted her buddy as she disappeared running down the hall. Returning moments later, she presented Helen with a freshly pressed white silk blouse. “Now, you have no excuse!”
The appointed day for the double date arrived. Bedecked in her new two-piece suit, borrowed blouse, hat, and white gloves (all St. Teresa students were required to wear the latter two components whenever they left the campus), Helen sat in her room waiting for her blind date.
Meanwhile, the boy’s plan had evolved. John convinced Milton to borrow his dad’s 1939 Chevy. Milton had a 5-gallon coupon that the Army gave him with his furlough. If they wanted to have any fun on their date, they would need more gas. Milton didn’t know it, but his dad had been saving gas ration coupons for the day when his son came home from the Army. Along with the keys to the car, he gave Milton enough stamps for a few gallons of the rationed gasoline. Nothing stood in their way now!
The two boys—Sgt. Graf in uniform, and John in a freshly pressed suit—rolled up to the Lourdes Hall at the College of St. Teresa. Walking up the long steps, the two were excited to meet their dates. The attending nun told the boys to take a seat while she went for the girls. Finally, Bernie and Helen (escorted by the nun) appeared. Both were wearing the requisite hats and gloves, and Helen had on her new suit (with borrowed blouse). John and Bernie were delighted to see each other again. Bernie introduced Helen to her cousin, Sgt. John Milton Graf. Milton and Helen exchanged awkward pleasantries before the four decided to go out “on the town.”
The two couples climbed into the Chevy and drove to a favorite Winona young-couples spot—the Candy Box. There, they enjoyed renewing old acquaintances and making new ones over pieces of the Candy Box’s specialty—chocolate cake. Time flew and before they knew it, it was nearly 10:00 PM—St. Teresa’s curfew. The boys delivered the two college coeds back to campus on time, and couldn’t stop talking about the day as they drove the 45 miles back to Caledonia.
Soon thereafter, Sgt. Graf’s furlough came to an end. He had to return to Colorado and his duties with Camp Hale’s MP Company. Even though she was hundreds of miles away, Milton decided to stay in touch with Helen—after all, every soldier needed a “girl back home.” Every day, he sent her a letter detailing his duties, thoughts, and ambitions. Near the end of the war and after graduating from the College of St. Teresa, Helen boarded a train to California where Milton been stationed awaiting shipment to Japan prior to V-J Day. On July 11, 1946, in Torrance, California, the two were united in blessed matrimony.
Today, after nearly 62 years of marriage, Helen still insists that if it wasn’t for that borrowed blouse, the two would never have met. When asked how the six decades have been, she just smiles and says, “Blame it on the blouse!”
Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad! And happy and safe holidays to all of our fantastic MVM and MT readers,
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine