My father enlisted in the Navy right out of high school. He was bound for a stint in the military anyway, his number came up on the draft board later that year. He served in the Navy from 1946 to 1948. He was an amazingly lucky man when it came to timing. He joined just after World War II ended, and left 3 years before the start of the Korean War.
After basic training, he was stationed in Key West where he worked as an airplane mechanic taking apart scores of now redundant military surplus aircraft, everything from fighters to bombers. He loved the work, and came away with a lifelong love for the military planes from that era.
My father remembered his tour of duty in Key West in glowing terms. It was one of the happiest times of his life, and he talked about it for years. I remember all the old stories: about barracuda fishing; about the huge stingray pulled into a small wooden row boat that turned out to be not quite dead and thrashed about reducing the boat to splinters; about watching waterspouts in the distance dancing about on the water; about the amazing sunsets; about flying planes large and small.
While digging through accumulated family history in Dallas over the past few days, I discovered a trove of snapshots from that very period in my father's life. These were all small photographs taken on a cheap camera by my father, or by buddies or girlfriends.
My father out on leave; he's in the center wearing the sailor suit and surrounded by girls and buddies.
He took his camera with him on those many plane flights, and took a lot of pictures. He took this while riding in what appears to me to be a bomber.
This looks to me to be a massive sea plane. It appears as if he was leaning out of a window to take this picture.
He took a lot of pictures of the view. This appears to me to be downtown Miami in 1946 viewed from a plane.
I'm not sure, but I think this is Key West from the plane. That appears to be the base down in the lower left. I should point out that I've never been there, so I'm only speculating.
Sunset somewhere over the Keys in a plane.
A lot of these pictures were taken on leave. He took this picture somewhere down beneath the sheltering palms in Florida.
And here's a day at the beach somewhere in southern Florida.
Evidence from these photos (and from some other items we found) suggests that Dad was quite the ladies' man, and a much coveted item. This appears to have been taken by a buddy or another girl with his camera.
My father with friends on the beach.
Dad on the beach photographed by a buddy, or more likely, by a would-be girlfriend. He was only about 18 or 19 at the time.
He was reassigned sometime in 1947 to Texas A&M for some kind of training, and then honorably discharged in 1948. After that, he very reluctantly went to college, to SMU where he sweated through an undergraduate degree in engineering, bankrolled by a wealthy friend of the family. He barely graduated. His next adventure was in Colorado where in the early 1950s he helped his mother and step father build one of the first ski lodges in Aspen. And the stories started up again.