As I sat down at my desk to write this week’s column, an email notification popped up on my screen. I opened it to read of Audrey Bixby’s upcoming funeral.
I’d interviewed Audrey and her husband, Dick, several years ago for my Love Story series, and included their story in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”
The timing of the email stunned me. I’d already planned to write about the loss of so many of the people featured in “War Bonds.”
Seventy-two. That’s how many individuals made the final cut of the book.
Twenty-four. That’s how many people died before “War Bonds” made it into print.
Twenty. That’s how many goodbyes I’ve had to say since its 2015 publication.
A colleague shrugged when I bemoaned yet another loss.
“What did you expect when all your subjects are World War ll veterans over 80?” he’d asked.
He has a point.
It’s not that I expected them to live forever; it’s just that I’ve been unprepared for how much each loss affects me.
In the past few months, in addition to Audrey, I’ve said farewell to Jack Rogers, Dick Eastburg, Barbara Anderson and Myrt Powers.
It seems fitting to honor them today on the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Jack Rogers wasn’t at Pearl Harbor, but he enlisted in the Army in 1943, when he was just 19. He had a hard time believing we were at war against Japan.
“I grew up with a bunch of Japanese kids,” he said in “War Bonds.”
Before being shipped out to the Pacific, he traveled to California to see a Japanese friend from high school, only to find his friend and his family had been confined in an internment camp.
I met Jack many years ago when he taught art at Northwest Christian School. He taught all four of my kids, and each one remembers him well.
Eleven years ago, I wrote an article about his art career. Since then, I revisited him in print many times. A story about his 71-year marriage to Fran, a feature about how following a debilitating stroke, he still continued to give back – painting tailgates on Personal Energy Transporters through Inland Northwest PET Project.
And I wrote about one of his final art shows at Spokane Art Supply. That’s where I saw him last. He and Fran sat side by side, as friends, fans and former students perused his paintings, buying a piece of Jack to take home and remember him by.
My own piece of Rogers’ art watches over me as I write. It’s a whimsical print of a terrier that Fran sent as a thank you note, following the funeral.
Next to it is a photo of Louis Anderson and his flight crew taken in 1944, just before they shipped out to Europe.
The last time I saw Louis and Barbara at their retirement center apartment, she insisted I take home a memento – a water glass from Air Force One. She was so proud of her late grandson who served as President Obama’s pilot.
She also kept me grounded in real life. Every time I left their place she’d say, “Do you need to use the restroom? Are you sure?”
Audrey Bixby was strictly down-to-earth as well. When I interviewed her and Dick, he kept me in stitches with jokes and sly puns. While we laughed, Audrey feigned exasperation and then told her own funny stories.
When Dick enumerated her wonderful qualities, he said, “She’s an awfully nice person and she laughs at my jokes!”
Dick died five years ago. I like to think that now they’re laughing together again.
Dale Eastburg passed away last month. He and his wife, Eva, had been married 75 years. When last I spoke to them, they were still going to the gym every week!
They’d been married just a short time before he was sent to China as part of the famed Flying Tigers. The thought of saying goodbye to his bride proved unbearable to Dale, so he didn’t. He slipped out of their apartment while she slept.
I hope this time Dale was able to say goodbye.
And today, I think of darling Myrt Powers. I never thought I’d describe a Marine as darling, but that exactly describes this tiny dynamo.
Though already employed as a teacher, she enlisted in the Marines following the attack on Pearl Harbor, because so many of her students told her they were worried about their fathers who were going off to war.
“I wanted to take care of my students’ dads,” she explained in “War Bonds.”
She met Walt Powers, a sailor stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara. They were married 71 years at the time of her death.
I last saw Myrt two years ago, in Hawaii, of all places.
It was 8:15 in the morning at the Hale Koa Hotel, an Armed Forces Recreation Center resort on Waikiki. My husband and I were preparing to make our first pilgrimage to Pearl Harbor, and stopped for coffee before the tour bus picked us up.
Myrt was grabbing a cup while waiting for Walt to finish his regular swim at the hotel pool.
“Hello, honey,” she said, reaching up to embrace me.
It was the best hug I’ve ever received from a Marine, and sadly it was the last one from Myrt.
Today, while the world remembers the more than 2,000 lives lost at Pearl Harbor, I remember five souls who endured the trauma of a world war. The lives they led in its aftermath, the families they raised, the marriages they cherished, bear witness to the resiliency of the human spirit.
While I’m sad at their passing, I’m so very glad that their stories are now a part of mine.
Contact Cindy Hval at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval