Old Friends Remembered
October 2, 2011 § 2 Comments
This past week, Tom and I have been reunioning with a wonderful group of friends – makes for great story telling to get together once a year and remember old times. I’m a late comer to the group actually … a member by marriage. Nevertheless, I have been adopted into the fellowship with open arms.
The group – “The First Southern Baptist Church of Pearl Harbor Reunion” – represents the members of that mostly military church during the first 12-14 years of its life – 1957 – 1970.
The church building is built is on the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Members are from the Navy, Marines, Army, and Air Force. They are officers and enlisted and their families. Some have been members during more than one tour of duty there. One was not military at all, but CIA.
Tom joined the church while he served as an officer aboard the Tang, a diesel sub, between 1963-1966. He didn’t get to know many of the church members during that time as he was often at sea, but since 1990 we have met with the group for reunions each year and the stories shared are amazing.
Our reunion location this year was Pigeon Forge, TN, home to Dollywood, and a Branson-like atmosphere that’s just full of country music and fun. During the day some of us just visited, but others did Dollywood, and shopped at the outlets. One night a bunch of us did Dixie Stampede – Dolly Parton’s arena of entertainment and food. On Thursday morning most went to the Hatfield and McCoy Theatre to attend the breakfast show starring the Blackwoods – absolutely fabulous!
The rest of the time, we spent remembering and laughing, with a few tears for missing friends. We grow older every year.
One, a WWII vet, told of flying a B52 bomber with the test rocket-powered Jet Plane X-1 attached to the bottom. Inside that rocket was Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier in 1947.
Another WWII vet was a member of the ground crew for the Enola Gay – the bomber that dropped the A-Bomb on Hiroshima. His name was Shorty Vaughn. Shorty died this summer. This week we celebrated his life. He was a joy to know and he will be missed. Everyone had a “Shorty Story” to tell at the memorial service.
Although I haven’t known Shorty as long as the others, the “Shorty Story” I like best I actually witnessed …
In the late 1990s Shorty Vaughn’s wife Mary died of cancer, and he was lonely. He traveled everywhere on “Space A” – that’s military jargon for space available on transports from one base to another (and may be used by retired military). Mostly he carried his “Wal-Mart luggage” (a paper sack with just what he needed in it). He loved to hop a Space A flight to Hawaii and visit his son John, pastor of a church there, and then travel the world. But he never missed a reunion!
Another couple in the group were John and Jean Hipps. John was a Navy veteran of both Korea and Vietnam. He had served his country well, and suffered physically because of it. I met him whenhe volunteered to make the coffee at one of the reunions – seems I didn’t make it fast enough! I thought that was great – he drank most of it anyway!
In 2000 a group of us flew to Hawaii to tour the islands. We had a great time – John just kept saying over and over how much he was enjoying the trip. Not long after we returned, however, John became ill and died. Jean continued to come to our reunions. We are part of her family, after all.
Then, in 2002, we gathered in Gulf Shores Baptist Conference Center, Pass Christian, MS, for our annual reunion. Shorty asked Al to introduce him to Jean. He said he thought it was time to take Al’s advice and meet some of the single women in the group. Al thought that was great and agreed.
That night, before the actual introduction, I believe, Shorty’s son John walked into the worship service. He was to be our guest preacher. He wore a beautiful Hawaiian shirt and a lei of yellow
Next, I noticed two handsome men in dress white Navy uniforms take seats with their families. Who were they?
When the wedding march started, everyone gasped and turned to see Shorty Vaughn and Jean Hipps walking down the aisle in matching mu’u-mu’u and Hawaiian shirt – royal blue with white blossoms. They both wore leis and she carried a bouquet.
Al leaned over and asked me, “Is this for real?”
“Looks like!” I said.
Sure enough, Shorty and Jean were married that night, with their sons and daughters in attendance and John Vaughn officiating. When asked about the timing, Shorty and Jean said the Pearl Harbor church group was family and this seemed like the best place.
Shorty added, with a grin, that he thought it great to pull one over on Al, too!
Each year we celebrate and remember the “when’s” and “who’s”. This year we celebrated Shorty.
What a happy/sad post. The exit of old friends is a frequent sorrow in the later years of life–the good memories a constant joy.