World War II - Year 1942
A Summer Evening... now so far away in my distant memory I can barely recall. Mostly... , I remember the closeness and the warm intimate feeling between the two of us as my youngest Aunt—Aunt Jeannie and I slowly meandered along the gravel road late that memorable summer evening so long ago.
After a short walk, we came to Porter's Lane, which angled off toward a beautiful wooded area. Strolling a short distance down the Lane we came to the old makeshift bridge that spanned Peach Run creek.
It was almost dark by then—twilight had descended. The quiet peaceful darkness finally enveloped the two of us, as we sat with our legs dangling over the edge of the old dilapidated bridge.
Our quiet voices were just a murmur as we mostly talked about Aunt Jeannie's husband who was away in the Navy. Like so many Navy wives, my Aunt Jeannie was lonely.
Uncle Keith had joined the Navy with his best friend, Daniel. They ended up with both of them assigned to the same ship. Friends since High School, they were now Shipmates aboard a heavy Cruiser somewhere in the Pacific.
I do recall little fragments of our quiet conversation. With World War II in full swing, our late evening conversation naturally turned to other friends and neighbors we knew who had also gone away and were now fighting overseas.
"Josh... ," Aunt Jeannie asked. "Do you remember Loren Shafter?"
"Yeah... , I think so. Wasn't he in the same class as you and Uncle Keith in High School... ?"
"Yes. Then you do remember him. See this fountain pen?" she said quietly, showing me a beautiful emerald green fountain pen.
"Yeah," I said, wondering what was coming.
"Loren gave this to me for my Birthday our freshman year. That was before your Uncle Keith and I started going around together."
"Did you go out with him, Aunt Jeannie?"
"I wanted to... ," she replied, her voice catching. Since it was dark, I had to wonder—could she be crying...
"Did he ask you... ?" I asked, with a young boy's naivety.
"Yes... , he asked me—and I really wanted to go out with him—but Pop said no.
"Pop knew Keith was also interested in me. His family has money and that huge farm which he's supposed to inherit. Pop was just trying to look out for me... I guess."
I couldn't see her in the darkness, but I could hear the poignant sadness in her voice, even though night had fallen and it was now pitch-dark.
"Josh... ," she whispered quietly. "If I tell you something will you promise me you'll never tell anyone—ever?"
"Come on... , Aunt Jeannie. You know you can trust me..."I said, feeling that special warmth a person feels when someone is about to entrust you with a special secret.
"Josh... ," she said, with her voice breaking, she took me into her confidence.
"The truth is, I was very much in love with Loren. Although I'm married to your Uncle Keith, I realize now, I'll love Loren always. I know my Pop meant well; but, I will always wish I hadn't listened to him."
"What ever happened to Loren Shafter?" I asked.
"He joined the Navy before Keith and Daniel did. I don't know where he was assigned. I do know... he was in love with me also..." she said with an indescribable sadness in her voice.
"I'll love him always."
End of Korean War Year - 1953
With the Korean War over, I was looking forward to going home. I longed to see my parents. After two years of Sea Duty, I felt beat up emotionally. Unstable...
That fateful day shortly after leaving the Port of Bremerton; because of a malfunction, the ship lurched out of control. I passed out at the helm. The Navy decided I should be sent to recuperate in the Naval Hospital.
Shortly after arriving there, I found myself spending time in a Ward with a number of other Sailors who were suffering from stress. Glad for the time to recuperate, I spent my days quietly, as I awaited the news on when I would be release.
Over the next few days, I gradually got to know many of the guys who were in there for everything from alcoholic problems to other stress-related problems associated with the stress of combat.
One morning, an older sailor I didn't know approached me. From habit, I immediately checked his sleeve. His Rating indicated he was a Second Class Radarman.
"Hey, I understand you're from Indiana," he said.
"Yeah, Howard County."
"That's where I'm from also."
"No kidding!" I was immediately excited to meet someone from home.
"Some one told me your last name was Stoffer."
"Yeah, Josh Stoffer," I confirmed as we shook hands.
"Did you ever by chance know a Jeannie Stoffer?"
"I sure did! I laughed. "She's my youngest Aunt."
"Did she ever mention knowing anyone by the name of Loren Shafter?"
How fast memory travels... ! Rushing toward me like a runaway Freight train was the memory of that evening long ago—sitting on the old dilapidated Peach Run Bridge.
"Yeah," I said, almost overcome with emotion. "She showed me a green fountain pen you gave her for her birthday when you and her were freshmen at Irwin High School."
"Josh. You're not going to believe this; but I remember you now. You're the little nephew that used to come up and sit at her desk with her whenever we had General Assembly," he laughed.