In mid-December 1944, I received orders to report to Kelly Field, Texas. I was an Air Force captain, pilot and weather officer stationed in Alaska, and those orders suited me fine. Along the way I would take some leave and, with luck, spend Christmas with my wife and parents in Massachusetts. I got to Edmonton, Canada, and scrambled aboard an Army Air Force freight plane headed for New York. Things were looking good, but I was warned that I might be bumped en route for priority freight. Away we went, with me trying to sleep on top of boxes.
We landed in Chicago on the dark morning of Dec. 24. I was bumped, and, with no prospects of another military flight, went to the civilian terminal. I was reminded at the counter—as if I had forgotten—that this was wartime and space was at a premium. Maybe my hangdog look and unshaven face softened the heart of an agent, and she found me a ticket for Boston.
In those days, 45 pounds was the absolute maximum baggage allowance. I had my Alaskan flying clothing plus all the stuff that was carried from one base to the next, so my bag weighed more than 65 pounds. I had no option. I had to get rid of more than 20 pounds of luggage.
I asked the agent to hold my reservation and headed for the men’s room. I put on my winter-weight underwear, woolen shirt, dress shirt, sweater and arctic wool pants over my dress pants. With heavy wool socks and my flying boots on over my shoes, I wobbled back to the counter and carefully lowered my bag to the scale. I leaned it against the side of the counter hoping to let friction handle some of the weight. No luck. The scale registered 49 pounds and I thought I was in trouble. But I will forever be in love with that young lady who smiled at me and said, “Merry Christmas.”
My plane arrived in Boston about 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve. My parents met me at Logan Airport. So did my Navy ensign wife, whom I hadn’t seen since our wedding eight months before. It was a very merry Christmas.
The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Mark J. Brown, 91, is a reader from Greenbrae, Calif.