He wrote the letter on blue paper during a rowdy celebration with his Army buddies at the air base in India, starting it, "My precious wife," and telling her how utterly happy he was. His first child, Michael, had been born Jan. 7, 1944, half a world away, in Austin, Texas. Now it was Jan. 24, and the telegram containing this news had just arrived at his thatched hut in Jorhat, giving Frank Ramos reason to crow and to break out the V.O., the Australian gin and the cheap cigars.
He and the other flyboys were all "a bit tight" from celebrating, Frank wrote his young wife, and they were pulling him away from letter-writing for more. He closed by saying he was proud of her and so happy to be a father. "Take good care of yourself and Mike and when I get back we will be the happiest people in the world. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you."
One week later, Frank Ramos disappeared into the clouds of the Himalayas.
More than half a century would pass before he returned to American soil.
They met in 1940, a year before the United States entered the war. Doris was the daughter of Charles and Emma Grace Sawyer, proprietors of the popular Union Seafood Market in Austin. Frank Ramos was a tall, good-looking fellow who had been raised by his grandmother in the same city. He was 23, selling shoes in E.M. Scarborough & Sons department store when he spotted Doris, who worked in the manager's office. He asked her to dance at a company party. They started dating and fell in love.
In December 1941, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Frank, who was in the Texas National Guard, went on active duty. He was selected for officer training and flight school. He shipped out to Lubbock and earned his wings there in November 1942. Then the Army Air Forces assigned him to a base in Denver. That's when he asked Doris Sawyer to marry him.
"So I got on the train to Denver," she says. "I was 19 and had never been out of Austin, and here I was coming into Denver on the train. There was snow on the ground, and I had never seen snow before. It was wonderful."
They were married Dec. 19, 1942, in the little, white, clapboard chapel at Lowry Air Base. Frank Ramos' buddies threw a party for the couple at the officer's club. "We lived in the Mayflower Hotel in Denver," Doris recalls from her home in Baltimore. "All the officers and their wives stayed there. We had a good time. We went skiing and ice skating, things I'd never done before. We went out dancing, too. We loved to dance."
They bought a small Christmas tree, set it up in the hotel room and decorated it.
Later, they traveled to Memphis, Tenn., where Frank continued his flight training with the AAF. Then they were at a base in Florida, where Frank waited for the overseas assignment he knew was imminent. It came in May 1943.
That's when Doris left Frank in Florida and drove home to Texas with the wife of another Army aviator. "I was scared," she says. "I didn't know where he was going, and I don't think he did, either. We'd had five months together."
Shortly after she returned to her parents' house in Austin, she discovered she was pregnant. The baby was due in January. She wrote to Frank frequently, and he did likewise, scratching off fast letters with a fountain pen, using long dashes to punctuate ++ thoughts. Doris sometimes received letters with small squares cut into them by Army censors who deleted references to places Frank had visited. Eventually, Doris learned that her flyboy was stationed thousands of miles away, somewhere in India.
Lt. Frank Ramos co-piloted transport missions over th Himalayas -- "The Hump," as the flyboys called it -- to bring arms and supplies to the Chinese National Army of Chiang Kai-shek, ** an American ally fighting Japanese invaders. Through most of World War II, Hump crews flew by night and by day, at high altitudes over cloud-shrouded, snow-capped peaks, through treacherous air currents known for turning planes upside down or blowing them miles off course. The sometimes ferocious weather of the Himalayas forced crews into long periods of flight on instruments. Planes iced up and crashed. Some flew off course to avoid storms and ran out of fuel. Some were shot down.
On Jan. 31, 1944, Ramos and his crew were scheduled to make the 550-mile return trip to their base at Jorhat, in northeastern India. They took off from Kunming, in southwestern China.
Ramos was co-pilot on their C-87 Liberator Express, the cargo version of the B-24 bomber. The pilot was Lt. Fulton P. Lanier from North Carolina. Their radio operator was Cpl. Joseph Petrella, whose hometown was Belleplain, N.J. The assistant radio operator that day was also from New Jersey -- Pfc. Bartholomew "Bennie" Giacalone. The crew chief was Pfc. Eugene E. Beebe, from Minnesota.
They headed into a mountain range with 12,000-foot peaks. Weather conditions were reported to be "overcast at 30,000 feet, with bad icing conditions at 10,000 feet and up."