John D. Bridgers M.D.
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Naval Stories
Not Quite a Knight - War's End and Marriage, 1943~1945

Not Quite a Knight
War's End and Marriage

Roulon burst into the squadron engineering office, the whole brawny six feet of him, more than noticeable even when he entered a room quietly

"By damn, Jig Dog," said he, "Why did you turn down 'Queen Mary' if you plan to be a newspaper man?"

I recalled no invitation from the Queen Mother, knew not what she had to do with journalism and couldn't imagine why she would be in the least bit interested in my post-war plans.

Further, I had not the vaguest notion of how to get from the edge of Virginia's Dismal Swamp to Buckingham Palace in the midst of World War II.

I was "so" addressed because I had recently been inadvertently re-christened.

Twenty-odd years before my parents had chosen to name me after my two grandfathers, John Bridgers and David Whichard. 

To avoid any show of partiality they had elected to call me by both names.

Double names were common in southern families, but were a custom usually resented by those of us on whom they were imposed -- at least I surely resented my double name.

A friend of mine once noted that I need not fret about a double name for those in the family pronounced it as one word:  "Zjondavid."

When I had entered the Navy some three years before I had decided that as I changed worlds it was a good time to change names.

I told my new acquaintances to simply call me "J.D."

That had sufficed until I joined Bombing Squadron 15 (VB-15), my having returned to the States after a year and a half in the Pacific.

Each of the pilots was charged with coming up with a personal radio call-name.

I had chosen "Jig-Dog," the two words representing my initials in the phonetic alphabet then extant in the armed services.

That was in a day before racial allusions were universal taboos and, though insensitive, they were not politically incorrect.

That said, my mates -- largely egged on by Roulon -- picked up on the irony and aptness of "Jig" as a nickname for one with the thick drawl of eastern North Carolina.

I was so called still when I met and wooed the lady I married, and from then on I was "Jig" to all except some die-hards in my family and hometown.

So it remains a half-century later, and it suits me so long as they don't go back to John David.

The drawl persists too, but is much abated.

Doubling up on a couple of letters yielded a nom de plume, which seemed to add to the fun. 

Lieut. Sumner (Ippy) Roulon-Miller, Jr., U.S.N.R. had been raised on the Philadelphia mainline.

He was a product of Princeton University, those "ivied halls" being a family tradition.

There he had been a full-back and line-backer in the era when all squad members played both ways on offense and defense, and when the Ivy League played a level of football with which there was need for other teams to reckon.

But back to the Engineering office …

Roulon had my attention and I asked, "Why would you think I don't intend to be a newspaperman?"

"Well," he said, "you chose a funny way to treat Queen Mary!"

I told him I couldn't see how I had affronted British royalty.

"I'm not talking about the Royal House, you red-neck," he replied, "I'm talking about Mary Reid, the widow of Whitelaw Reid, Sr. -- she's the owner and publisher of the New York Herald Tribune."

For the first time our conversation began to make sense.

I had never knowingly heard the name Whitelaw Reid prior to the day before.

An F4U Corsair fighter landing on our small airfield had nosed-up and ruined its propeller.

It was being ferried up the east coast by a Lieut. (j.g.) Whitelaw Reid, Jr. who had chosen to come down at our out-of-the-way place -- the U.S. Naval Auxiliary Air Field, Creeds, Virginia.

This facility was located among the swamps and farms below Norfolk in an area and airspace we shared with myriad ducks and geese on their Atlantic flyway back and forth from Canada.

It was the training base for VB-15, which was being readied to go to the Pacific aboard the U.S.S. HORNET (CV-15).

This was an Essex-class vessel and the second carrier of that name -- the first having been the Yorktown-class CV-8 that was lost in a sea-air action off Guadalcanal the year before.

The new HORNET had been recently launched from the nearby Newport News Shipyards and was, then, being fitted out for its shakedown cruise.

Air Group 15 was being prepared to facilitate the HORNET's mission.

The air group encompassed our squadron, VF-15 and VT-15, these later being the fighter and torpedo-bombing squadrons which were also training at other small fields in the Tidewater area.

"Whitey" Reid, as he introduced himself to me, was a well set-up and amiable fellow who appeared about my age.

He had landed at Creed's Field because his family owned a hunting lodge nearby, ostensibly located to take advantage of the annual migration of waterfowl.

He had planned for a layover on his ferry flight, which would allow an over-night visit with his mother.

The bad news for him was that his accident had been inescapably avoidable whereas the good news was that he would get to stay longer than he had intended.

His mother, of course, was the "Queen Mary" to whom Roulon referred -- an appellation she enjoyed in the world of big-time journalism and among the high society of New York City.

As our squadron's engineering officer, it fell to my lot to oversee the obtaining of another Corsair propeller from Norfolk and having it installed.

Roulon, a decade my senior, had been too old for pilot training.

He had come into the Naval Reserve as an aviation ground officer and was working with me in the maintenance of our aircraft.

He and his wife Sally had become my good friends, and my mentors as well.

I considered them to the "manor born" -- at least, compared to me -- and they took on the job of smoothing the rough corners on a rustic Tar Heel and to help him know and know about such people of the world as "Queen Mary" Reid.

"Whitey" made a phone call and told me his mother would have him picked up at the main gate.

While we waited I took him to lunch, such as it was, in the corner of a Quonset hut mess hall -- it only cost me a quarter and it was a dubious bargain.

The bachelor officers and crewmen lived in Quonsets and depended on the general mess for provender, usually escaping into Virginia Beach every possible evening for a meal decent enough to compensate for a mediocre lunch -- breakfasts weren't too bad, proving that it's hard to mess up an egg.

Anyway, in the late afternoon, I was called from the gate and told that a long limousine with chauffer was there and the liveried fellow wished to take me to the Reid Lodge for dinner.

I sent my regrets -- it happened that I had a date that night in Virginia Beach.

Those regrets were what Roulon would, the next day, consider my plebian treatment of "Queen Mary."

In all truth I knew not what I was turning down.

However, from the standpoint of face-saving, reneging on this invitation was probably fortunate, even if accidental.

I had essentially grown up in a small town newspaper office, an enterprise started by my maternal grandfather and during my formative years owned, edited and published by my mother's brother with the business end managed by my father.

"The Great Depression" had made my treasured dream of going to medical school seem impossible.

On the other hand, I was fascinated enough by newspaper work for this to seem a very acceptable alternative, though I knew the family paper would pass to my cousins, and I would need to make my mark elsewhere.

Roulon knew all of this and this was why he saw my getting to know some of the greats of world journalism as a sterling opportunity.

In retrospect, I saw it as another sort of opportunity -- the chance to make a fool of myself.

I could picture myself -- ignorant of the Reid's connection with The Herald Tribune of New York -- waxing eloquently about my connection with The Daily Reflector of Greenville, N.C.

After all was said and done, I wondered if the door of opportunity would ever again be so singularly rapped upon for me.

This all came to pass during Christmastime of 1943, and for most of the next year my near miss with "Queen Mary" and what I would do after the war gave way to worry as to whether I would even be a part of the post-war world.

We embarked in early February on the HORNET as scheduled but were relieved in favor of a more experienced air group which had been biding their time in Hawaii.

T though it was resented at the time, this event proved to be fortuitous for we were removed from a new ship being impelled into mediocrity by an incompetent despotic commanding officer.

Capt. Miles Browning was a man who had made his mark as Adm. Halsey's Chief of Staff and planner, but who would prove to be pitiably lacking at managing people and handling a ship.

In a short while, we were assigned to the U.S.S. ESSEX, its initial combat cruise just completed with signal success and climaxed by the first American attack on the Japanese naval base at Truk.

From my experience on several carriers the ESSEX proved an extremely efficient vessel and a very happy ship.

The commander of Air Group 15 was Cdr. David McCampbell who was to become the Navy's "Ace of Aces" and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his individual exploits as a fighter pilot and for leading our air group on an extremely productive campaign.

We were in combat almost constantly for six months, participating in the contest of the Palaus, the Marianas, the Philippines and raids against Formosa, the Bonins and the Ryukus.

These campaigns embraced two major fleet engagements -- the Battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf.

And then, toward the end of 1944, those of us fortunate enough to have made it through were on our way back to the States.

For me, waiting in the offing was the hinge of circumstance on which would swing the rest of my life.

I was assigned to the Operational Training Command in Jacksonville with different types of units based at various auxiliary air stations down the Florida peninsula.

I became Chief Flight Instructor of the scout-bombing training squadron at Cecil Field, just outside of Jacksonville.

Sometime during the previous year another Tar Heel had arrived there.

Lieut. (j.g.) Edith Holland Hamrick, after completing W.A.V.E. training in 1943, had been named Assistant Communications Officer for Cecil Field.

Undoubtedly one attraction between us was that we both were from North Carolina, though that was far from the whole of it -- she was a very pretty young lady, inside and out.

The W.A.V.E. barracks and Bachelor Officer Quarters were next door to one another.

The W.A.V.E. officers ate in the B.O.Q. mess, and a small bar in the corner of our B.O.Q. lobby served as an Officers' Club.

Once drawn together we were soon eating with each other three times daily, attending late afternoon "happy hour" in the bar and dating every night -- sometimes on the base, sometimes in town.

This intense courtship, however, was kept from the altar by the war's uncertain future.

VE Day came and went, and the Navy's plans promised that we instructors would soon be headed back for the Pacific as the full force of the country's might was to be focused on defeating Japan.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki and V-J Day changed all that and the wedding took place in the chapel at the main station in late August 1945.

It was a gala occasion for all, drawing most of the officers and their significant others from both our station and the squadron to the ceremony and reception at the "O Club."

Roulon served as our best man.

Edie and I had been born and raised in opposite ends of "The Old North State," in communities remote from one another and, in those days, little known to each other or the outside world.

Our forebears came to their respective nooks in colonial times, and, by and large, their descendents had remained there since, rarely wandering far from where their roots had been put down.

We were both fostered by warm extended families and shared the legacy of a rich sense of belonging, a gift that has extended to our own smaller family circle, still close in heart and mind though now widely dispersed.

After the war we lived in sundry places and followed various pursuits, these wanderings carrying us through homes in six states where were born as many children, though they were brought up mainly in North Carolina.

Then suddenly, in what seemed but a thrice, though it had spanned half a century, most of our children and their spouses and a few friends gathered in Connecticut -- a gleeful host come together to help us celebrate our golden wedding anniversary.

Our life together has followed a twisting path since starting in northern Florida in the closing months of World War II and the early post-war months, where was born our first child, John D. Jr. (Jock).

We then lived in Durham, N.C. until January 1950 while I attended Duke University School of Medicine, and where our second son, Samuel Leon II was born, he being named for my father.

After medical school I re-entered the Navy, this time as a medical officer, and we lived a year in Cambridge, Massachusetts while I was an intern at Chelsea Naval Hospital -- there was born our third son, Carl Hamrick, named for his mother's father.

With the Korean War underway, I undertook training in aviation medicine, and after being designated Flight Surgeon I was given refresher flight training in Pensacola, Florida and Corpus Christi, Texas -- at this later place was born our fourth son, Raymond Siebert, named after a close wartime comrade lost in the Central Pacific.

We then had quarters at the Naval Air Station at Pomona, New Jersey just outside of Atlantic City where I served as Flight Surgeon and as an active aviator in Experimental Squadron 3 (VX-3), and there was born our first daughter, Barbara Jean, so christened because we simply liked those names.

As the Korean War ran down I returned to inactive duty.

I entered pediatric training at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

We stayed there near a decade and I was a practitioner serving as director of the hospital's Outpatient Department and on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

We lived in the suburbs, first in Lansdowne and then in Mount Airy, and here was born our sixth and last child, Ellen Holland (Holly), named for her maternal great-grandmother.

In 1962, the string ran out on me  in academic medicine when my mentor, Dr. Joseph Stokes, Jr. retired as Chief.

Edie and I returned to North Carolina where I joined the High Point Infant and Child Clinic and there we remained for the next two-score-plus years, after which -- for several reasons -- wanderlust once more asserted itself in 1983.

Our brood having spread asunder we became true nomads, living on the road for three years while I traveled the country surveying hospitals for the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

Tired of living out of suitcases, I accepted appointment in 1986 as Medical Director of the Burdette Tomlin Memorial Hospital in Cape May, New Jersey.

After five plus years in New Jersey, we found ourselves in our mid-seventies, extended beyond retirement age during which time Edie had survived two bouts of major cancer surgery and chemotherapy and I had developed Type II diabetes.

Our plans had long been to return to North Carolina, but with these health problems in the wings it seemed prudent to settle near one of our children.

My son, Sam, and his wife, Tina, found and refitted a cottage for us in the woods of Connecticut and, for the second time, we folded our tent and left New Jersey.

Our children not only left North Carolina, but were now living up, down and across the land.

They have given us nine grandchildren and one (now two) great grandchild to date.  Among the vignettes to follow will come their stories in time, in turn and in part.

More to the point right now is what has happened to those mentioned here who will not be re-visited, and how the experiences we shared have woven themselves into the tapestry of history.

Writing of them reminds me of the many winsome folk whom I have called friend, but, at once, have made me rue the lost opportunities to stay in touch.

However, in all truth, if one's circle is at all wide then it is ever remain difficult to maintain contact in any inclusive sense, but thinking of old friends reminds one of their great good fortune of having shared time with each other at points along the way.

We saw Sumner and Sally Roulon-Miller only a few widely scattered times after the war, a trickle of encounters which dried up entirely some three decades ago.

We learned that they had drifted apart and that Sally had married a former friend of theirs who was an international banker.

We had a letter from her many years ago when she and her new husband lived in Singapore, but somehow no follow-up materialized and we know not where she is or if she's still with us.

We heard that Roulon remarried and moved to California, or vice versa.

We know that he has since passed to his reward.

Several years ago my old friend, Warren Parrish, sent me a copy of Roulon's obituary.

It was ironic.

The dateline was from Southern Pines, North Carolina, a sand-hill community near High Point where we lived at the time, and a place where I had frequently played gold.

A lost opportunity.

"Queen Mary" sailed in and out of my life at the same time though I never quite became a courtier.

The Herald Tribune had started a European edition during the war that was published out of Paris.

After the war, in the face of rising labor and production costs and several unsuccessful mergers with other New York publications, the venerable journal decamped to France where the wartime adjunct became The International Herald Tribune -- now published for and mainly read by Americans abroad.

Somewhere and sometime back, I read that Whitelaw Reid, Jr. was heading that enterprise.

All the while The Daily Reflector thrived and became a much more urbane and regional publication, still under family direction, and now a true "daily" published everyday of the week as a morning edition.

After many years under the guidance of my cousins, Dave and Jack Whichard, it was recently sold to Cox Publications.

However, Dave's son, "Jordy," remains the editor and president.

He is David Jordan Whichard III, great grandson of the founder and fourth of similar name to head the venture.

His successor, though, is likely to be chosen through corporate decision rather than dynastic progression.

It turns out that it would not have been so absurd to mention The Tribune and The Reflector in the same breath -- no matter how it may have seemed while "Whitey" Reid awaited his propeller.

After World War II, Mayport, Florida - a sleepy fishing village and resort suburb of Jacksonville when we were stationed there -- became the fleet's "warm water port" of the Atlantic, matching San Diego on the west coast.

Cecil Field was enlarged to a master jet base to accommodate the air groups of the carriers stationed at Mayport.

When I visited several years ago, the town was scarcely recognizable as the small out-of-the-way place of our courtship.

Our generation was the adolescence of carrier aviation -- we brought carrier warfare to age.

We have lived to see propeller driven warplanes almost entirely replaced by jets, guns and aircraft bombs all but replaced by airborne rocket, and, it appears, rocket-driven missiles may soon replace planes.

Today's small ships promise to replace the mammoth carriers as the launchers of missiles, and it may prove that our lifetimes encompassed the life span of Naval aviation.

The explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki not only changed the Navy's plan to send us back to the Pacific, but changed the world as well.

We have since lived in the shadow of  atomic power, only recently beginning to lighten.

But the Nuclear Age is in its infancy and it is far from over.

Is this our final stop -- who knows?

If we enjoy the longevity of our recent forebears we may still have a while before us.

Rather than having to repair to certain places and to live among chosen people -- as pleasant as this might be -- we will have to revisit them through the scrolls of a "Shaggy Dog."





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John D. Bridgers M.D. by Carl Bridgers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Copyright ©