73: R&R

73: R&R

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life!

R & R

Half of my heart is deployed.

~Author Unknown

Joyfully, I watched the 707 slip out of the sky and touch down on the runway at the Honolulu International Airport. The terminal was filled with excited people eager to greet their loved ones. Eight long months of waiting, wanting, hoping and praying were over, at least for a while. My husband and I would have one glorious week of R&R before he went back into harm’s way. Hawaii was the perfect place to meet since it was situated between the West Coast and Vietnam, not to mention that it sounded very romantic. I had purchased a new outfit for the occasion and invested in contact lenses so my black-rimmed glasses wouldn’t get in the way of the long passionate kiss that I anticipated.

While waiting for the plane to turn around, I couldn’t stop smiling as I thought of our whirlwind courtship. Two years earlier, with my teaching degree in hand, I had accepted a position in Laguna Beach. In 1966, young people from the Midwest were flocking to the West Coast, where there was a golden promise of plentiful jobs and higher salaries. Having grown up in South Dakota, the weather in California sounded heavenly and the opportunity was too exciting to pass up.

Camp Pendleton and other military bases in Southern California were teeming with soldiers preparing to go off to the “little” war. The teachers and officers gravitated toward the same parties and bars. My friend invited me to a beach party where I met Michael Reilly, a handsome lieutenant with a shy smile, and I was smitten. Days filled with teaching, beaching, playing darts at the Sandpiper pub, and moonlight walks led to his proposal of marriage and my heartfelt acceptance.

When school recessed for the year, Michael and I were married in the little chapel on base. The military ceremony with the archway of swords made me feel like Cinderella. We were settling down to live happily ever after when Michael received orders for Vietnam. Marines accepted the thirteen-month tour of duty with a week off for Rest and Relaxation as just part of their job. However, as a young bride, I was very apprehensive. The wait became excruciatingly long as the war news worsened. My friends told me “war changes people” and I began to wonder how and if Michael would change.

After taxiing up the runway, the plane stopped on the tarmac in front of the terminal, and the steel stairway was wheeled out. The doors opened and as the Marines began to disembark, I stared in disbelief! They were all dressed in khakis and looked “lean, mean and combat ready.” From my vantage point, they all looked alike! Tears welled up behind my contact lenses and blurred my vision. I began to panic. In my mind I tried to conjure up an image of Michael’s face, but I couldn’t remember what he looked like. We had been apart for more months than we had been married.

The atmosphere inside the terminal began to resound with excited shouts, cries and celebrations as Marines and their loved ones found each other. Michael had told me that planes arrived at this airport every hour, bringing troops for R&R. What if his plane had been delayed? What if we had missed each other! By now, tears were dribbling down my cheeks and my vision was completely obscured. I had come so far, I didn’t know a soul and I had nowhere to turn. Doubts and desperation overwhelmed me. I wanted to shout his name, but no one would hear. I suddenly felt completely alone and helpless.

“Hello, pretty lady,” said a familiar voice at my elbow. I couldn’t see him, but I felt Michael’s presence, and I turned and melted into his arms.

 

~Cherie Brooks Reilly

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