History Class, Publishing, Uncategorized, World War 2, Writing Inspiration

Guest Post by Joy Neal Kidney: An Iowa Waitress Became and Officer’s Wife- In Texas

Today, I’m happy to welcome author Joy Neal Kidney! She not only runs a fascinating blog, but she is soon to publish a book telling the story of her family’s involvement in World War II, largely told through letters. (Sounds right up the alley of some of this blog’s readers, doesn’t it? 🙂 ) 

Today, she shares the story behind a beautiful dress, and a story of the changes wartime life brought to members of her family. 

Enjoy!

formal (2)

It was the only formal gown my mother ever owned. She bought it for the opening of the officer’s club at the Marfa Army Air Base in Texas. Doris had just become an officer’s wife by marrying Warren Neal, an Iowa farmer who’d earned his pilot’s wings.

WW II caused so many changes. Some were good. Some were heart-breaking.

After high school in Iowa, Doris Wilson played basketball for her tuition at the American Institute of Business in downtown Des Moines, worked at Bishop’s Cafeteria for two meals a day, but had to drop out when her Navy brothers couldn’t keep up with her $10 a month rent.

She ended up waitressing–for Parrish’s Cafe in Guthrie Center, and later in Perry at the McDonald Drug Store, which had a soda fountain and restaurant area. In fact, she was serving Sunday dinner to the after-church crowd at McDonalds when the announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor interrupted the background music playing on WHO-Radio.

One by one her five brothers left to serve–two in the Navy, three in the Army Air Force.

Dale Wilson and Warren Neal, both Iowa farmers, had enlisted as cadets in the Army Air Corps in 1942. They were awarded their “wings” and became officers (2nd Lieutenants) on the same day a year later–Dale at Roswell, New Mexico. Warren at Marfa, Texas.

A few months later, while working again in downtown Des Moines at Bishop’s Cafeteria, Dale stopped by, wearing his uniform, to see her there while on furlough. He was sent to North Carolina next for B-25 combat training.

Warren was retained at Marfa as an instructor for advanced cadets. He and Doris had dated off and on since high school and were writing each other during the war. Doris even wore his pilot’s wings on her coat.

But with four of her brothers already in the service, and calls for women to enlist to help with “the cause,” Doris collected recommendations from teachers and had begun the process to apply for the WAVES, the WW II women’s branch of the US Naval Reserve.

Warren was afraid they’d get separated forever so asked her to get married instead.

Doris, wearing an aqua suit, and Warren in uniform were married in May, 1943, in Iowa. Warren didn’t have a car yet so they caught a ride to Texas with another couple.

tint

Texas

Their first home was the Crews’ Hotel in Marfa, since everything else was full. Day after day, while Warren was instructing at the air base, Doris hunted for a cheaper place to live. But so did everyone else. Billy Crews, the hotel owner, said that he didn’t know what people did after he had to turn them away. Even the cots in the hotel halls were occupied.

(2)Billy Crews managed the hotel and coffee shop. The building also housed a central bus station for both the Baygent and Union Bus Lines, as well as the Marfa State Bank.

 

Some had to live in the hospital during those war years.

Right away Doris was invited to a tea for officers’ wives, then a luncheon. This Iowa waitress had all of a sudden become an officer’s wife.

The luncheon was quite a “henny affair,” she wrote home, but not as bad as she had feared.

She wrote home often, asking her mother to send hangers and other things they couldn’t buy–even sewing needles. “Imagine an army moving in on Adel”–a town in Dallas County–she wrote, “then you have an idea what Marfa is like.”

Doris wrote her brother Dale what she thought of Texas: “Well–take a lot of hot sun, hot sand, dust, sagebrush, a few mountains, tall lean men with western hats, tight pants, and high-heeled boots, a lot of Mexicans and there you have it–from the eyes of an outsider. . . . ”

A few weeks later, Warren and Doris found a home. For the next year and a half they lived in the First Christian Church.

MarfChr2First Christian Church, Marfa, Texas

They rented a small room in the front of the adobe church–$13 a month for room, water, lights, a bed, and two chairs. That’s all. The “bath” was unhandy since it was at the opposite end of the church, but they so thankful to find someone moving out so they’d have a cheaper place to live.

They’d just gotten settled when they were to attend the formal opening of the new officers’ club. Another wife invited Doris to shop in the town of Alpine for formal gowns for the dance. Doris’s was nearly the color of the suit she’d been married in a few months earlier–aqua, short-sleeved, accented with lots of small ruffles.

The other woman loaned Doris a pearl necklace and bracelet. She wrote her folks that at the dance she felt like Cinderella.

With the war really ramping up in Europe and in the Pacific, the Air Corps tried to graduate pilots as quickly as they could. Warren worked long hours, especially when they had night-flying and cross-country trips. By then all five brothers were in the service, so Doris wrote a lot of letters.

Early in December,  she wrote to Dale, then in combat in New Guinea, that she was expecting a baby, and that he was the first person in the family she’d told.

A few days later, she learned that he was Missing in Action.

Dale never got her message. The small V-Mail letter was returned to her, still sealed–marked “Missing in Action.” Decades later, I (the “boy” she’d hoped for) was the first person to unseal and read it.

missing (2)

—–

Doris lost all three younger brothers during the war.

There’s no picture of her wearing the aqua gown. I remember seeing the lovely formal as a child only a couple of times, among her keepsakes in the old farmhouse storeroom.

Now it’s been passed on to Doris’s firstborn–who eventually became the keeper of poignant family stories and treasures–to wonder about.

Did she ever get to wear the gown again?

To feel like Cinderella once more?

 

Once again, many thanks to Joy Neal Kidney for stopping by to share this story!

If you’d like to read more of the fascinating family history Joy has unearthed or other interesting topics she features, check out her site: joynealkidney.com

Thank YOU for visiting, too!

20 thoughts on “Guest Post by Joy Neal Kidney: An Iowa Waitress Became and Officer’s Wife- In Texas”

  1. You were right Anne when you said that your guest blogger’s story was right up my street.(I’ve just realised we use the same metaphor, but with one difference – you say ‘alley’ we say ‘street’!) I found three things particularly poignant – the returned letter with the hand-written ‘Missing in Action’, the fact that Joy was the first person to open and read it, and the comment that she was the “boy” her mother had hoped for. I hope – and feel sure somehow – that her mother loved her just as much as she would have had she been a boy, but it marks one of the many differences between ‘then’ and ‘now’ – where now pregnant women can, if they wish* find out the gender of their unborn baby. [*Personally I would not have opted to know had I been given the opportunity – but then I loved the anticipation and then the surprise when first my son, then my daughter were born] Thank you to Joy for sharing her story and good luck with her book

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alley or street (and I suppose street does sound a little nicer 😉 ) I was absolutely thinking of you with that comment! I’m glad you enjoyed Joy’s story- after the look at her book I almost came away feeling like I “knew” her family- poignant is the word!
      By the time my little ones came along, it was so hard to find baby clothes that weren’t strictly “boy” or “girl” that we found out- it helped too, because we were terrible about choosing names- having both been teachers, it took a long time to figure out a name that didn’t already have associations! But I can see the excitement of waiting

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      1. (Had to reread that to make sure it all made sense- I looked up halfway and accidentally clicked “send” lol– but I think it did… :D) Anywho, thanks for stopping by! I can’t wait to read the stories you discover in your letters when that book comes out!

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      1. The five-brother thing is both inspiring and scary. The scary/tragic part is losing so many family members. When my farther’s side of the family first arrived in America it was prior to the Revolutionary War. They were Scotch-Presbyterians with little love for the British. There were six brothers plus a sister. All six brothers plus their father fought in the war. Two were killed. Fortunately my great grandfather to the 6th wasn’t one, looked at from a rather self centered perspective. I wouldn’t be here. 🙂

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      2. Wow, what a fascinating snippet of family history- I’m glad your great grandfather made it through, too!
        (I don’t think I had any relatives here that early, though at least one made it in time for the Civil War…)

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      3. We had relatives in the Civil War, on both sides. 🙂 And that’s great, great, great, great, great grandfather. (Grin) My mother’s side showed up in the 1630s as Puritans. Someday, I will have to work out those greats.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Dennis. I kind of envy Joy all of those family letters- no one in mine was that organized! It’s been a privilege to read about her family’s experiences.

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  2. What an amazing story – our grandparents had it really tough, didn’t they? The picture gave me a lump in the throat – such lovely, hopeful young people… Thank you so much for sharing, Anne. Very moving…

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