And then there was one

James H. Bready

January 08, 1993|By James H. Bready

LAST month's wish list went not to St. Nicholas but to St. Louis. To round up the guys from World War II one last time, first they have to be located.

Maj. Gordon Sutherland Campbell, our commanding officer from Fort DuPont all the way to Pilsen, are you still living?

Capt. Frederick R. Rutledge, last heard of selling insurance in Texas, are you in retirement somewhere?

Lt. Pat Curry, the funniest man in the unit, are you still in law enforcement somewhere outside New York City?

Soon it'll be a half century since the l7 of us assembled at that staging area in Delaware, to form a corps intelligence detachment. In the autumn of '44 across the ocean we went to England and then the Continent. A year later, the Army shipped us back and passed out discharges. Still we were 17; our only fighting, so to speak, had been with the insufferable colonel who was staff G-2. Standing up under his insolence was, as much as anything else, what bonded us.

A couple of times, in the later '40s, the call went out and 10 or a dozen of us converged on a New York restaurant for an evening of recollections and civilian disorderliness. Then family responsibilities bore down on us, job obligations, money considerations. For awhile I sent Christmas cards to several of the other GIs, and heard back. Joe Kielty died, then Ted Levine, Phil Coulter and Pete Lukas. I still have Doug Chisholm's address. But Al Bock has retired and gone to live somewhere in the Caribbean. Hal Knapp? Herb Taylor? Swede Ohlin? By now, the circuits are silent.

Pratt Library's Reference Department has a sterling array of up-to-date telephone directories, U.S. and foreign. But people move. The major, a reservist, had given us to understand that before the war he was a yacht broker in Greenwich, Conn. No listing there for him now. I wrote to the one Rutledge insurance agency listed in Dallas; no reply. Patrick Curry? He said once he went by Frank as a civilian. In Greater New York, how many Francis Currys?

Whatever tabs the Pentagon keeps on us are in a building at 9700 Page Boulevard, St. Louis, Mo. (in the post-1945 manner, 63132-5100). As many a veteran is painfully aware, this National Personnel Records Center isn't what it used to be, not since the fire of July 12, 1973.

In May 1991, I wrote to St. Louis, relating my dream of one last get-together. I conceded the slimness of this hope (what a carouse, the day in Czechoslovakia when we celebrated the major's birthday -- but in 1945, he was turning 40). I was at least able to supply three serial numbers.

In January 1992, St. Louis wrote back: "$3.50 per person." I sent off a check for $10.50.

In November 1992, St. Louis sent a photocopy of my original letter with each man's Social Security number written in. A good sign; Campbell, Rutledge and Curry may not be alive, but St. Louis is.

Last month, another form letter arrived. This time there was a check mark in the box beside this: "We are forwarding your communication regarding the above-named person to the last address of record. We have no way of knowing whether this address is current or whether the letter will be delivered."

By now, the reunion is a fading prospect. I'd have settled, Santa Claus or Santa Louis, for just three Christmas cards. But as January elapses, from those buddies of so long ago -- nothing.

James H. Bready is a retired Evening Sun editorial writer.

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