Red White Blue
originally posted January 24, 2010
The first time I saw Victoria I will never forget. Her big yellow Cadillac was perched at the top of the hill by the Post Chapel at the Presidio of San Francisco. A big American flag streamed from it announcing two remarkable women.
Over the years, I would often see that flag flying in the breeze, always with the same authority. That day, Victoria emerged from the car along with her Mom. She walked slowly because of a pretty severe case of osteoporosis. Her Mom held to her as they made their way under the chapel canopy and inside. They sat about two-thirds back. I would see them every Sunday.
Presidio was what we paratroopers called a "leg" post. Most military types thought getting assigned to the PSF (Presidio of San Francisco) was a dream assignment. Not me. I had arrived dragging my feet.
My original assignment was to 7th Special Forces at Fort Bragg. I actually was leaving
my all-time favorite assignment, the 82d Airborne Division, to take the assignment at the Presidio-I didn't know why I was being sent.
My good friend and boss at the Presidio, a Priest, says he didn't engineer the transfer, but I was skeptical. I was one of the few Special Forces trained chaplains in the Army.
I was a little disappointed because I had sacrificed, I thought-I had taken lots of risks to get Special Forces qualified. It involved a gruelling training regimen, culminating in a jump into the treacherous Uharrie Forest with an M60 machine gun straped to my back.
I went to Vietnam and it was macho and egotistical. When I got to Vietnam, I got siphoned off to the 101st Airborne. It turned out to be a great assignment not to mention a great ministry. This should have taught me a lesson. Go with it. I ended up having a great experience at the Presidio.
I didn't realize it much then, but came to realize later on, these two women with the yellow cadillac and the American flag were the epitome of patriotism. Red, white and blue coursed through their veins. Victoria was always dressed to the"nines"- 3 pins always donned her jacket: Two American flags and her WAC.
The Post Chapel was the second oldest building on the Presidio, It was a dynamic historical chapel with gorgeous flags hanging from high cathedral ceilings representing the units that served at the Presidio. Plagues adorned the walls as memorials to the decorated and famous military and the not so famous. It was almost like Victoria and her mother were born for that chapel.
Victoria's family was military through and through. Her Dad was a military man, retired with the rank of Major. He is shrouded somewhat in mystery. He served in Hawaii and Utah. He was in WW I.
Victoria and her family lived for a long time in Seattle and put down roots and somehow made their way to San Francisco where Victoria became a 4th grade public school teacher. They lived in this really nice apartment on Nob Hill and she and her mother spent their time riding around the Bay Area and hanging out on the Presidio.
The Presidio was a big part of Victoria and her Mom 's life. They were a familiar sight at almost every single event that went on: the chapel, the club, ceremonies, change of command. Someone said to me one day, "Who is that lady with the other older lady?" People remembered them because Victoria was beginning to suffer a little more from the osteoporosis and walked slower, but always with her Mom on her arm. "Must be somebody important." "Of course, I allowed."
For the vast majority of Victoria and her Mom's life, The Presidio of San Francisco was a hard charging military Post with active duty soldiers and a first rate teaching military hospital.
Victoria took it personally when anyone had the audacity to call the Presidio a base as opposed to a Post. And, when the "powers that be"decided to close the Presidio, Victoria again took it very personally and never forgave them, whoever "them" might be.
The love of Victoria's life was her brother Fred. Other than simply a sister worshiping a brother, Fred was pretty remarkable I think. He was in flight training in Southern California, preparing to be one of the Army Air Corp's finest.
Victoria was herself a WAC (Woman's Army Corp) stationed in Virginia. She was a clerk and waiting her turn to go overseas. It was WWII. Her Dad was an artilleryman and was somewhere in the Southwest. All were "ready" for what might come.
WWII meant going to war. Victoria never figured what might possibly happen. She got the call in the middle of the night and could describe it in intricate details-how the "Charge of Quarters"came to get her.
She fell to the floor. Fred had crashed and been killed. It was a training accident. He was on his final check-out flight before he got his wings. Later on he posthumously got them. Fred was dead. Victoria could not believe it.
Fred's funeral and the time of grief all ran together with life. A war raged on in Europe, Japan had attacked us and Fred was dead.
One day Fred's story took a turn, especially in Victoria's mind. Victoria's Mom went to get Fred's personal items. Someone whispered to her(Victoria thinks maybe the Red Cross) "Fred is the 4th one to die in a similar act. We think maybe sabotage. A German sympathizer was suspected of sabatogimg Fred's plane and the crash was the direct result of his actions."
This information was a blow to Victoria. The details of Fred's death and follow-up to such a heinous act as sabatoge disappeared in the mist of war.
Years later Victoria wanted to clear it up. She travelled to LeMoore Field where the "act" occurred and talked to people. She joined the Aces Organization which kept her on the edge of those who had been fellow students with Fred. Victoria was sure if Fred had lived, he would have been an Ace (pilot that shoots down at least 5 enemy planes).
Victoria actually located some who had flown with Fred. Over the course of years, She steeped herself in the history of Fred's contemporaries. Along the way, the sabatoge story faded; and, for Victoria, a kind of nostalgia set in. She would often cry when she talked about Fred. Her apartment had pictures of him and stacks of correspondence about his death everywhere.
After Victoria's mom died, the actual beginning of our personal involvement with Victoria began. She kind of fell apart, as there was literally no one to help. My wife, Jackie, stepped in and took her under her wing (Jackie is an angel) so to speak.
I pulled a few strings and got the commander to authorize her continued access to the Presidio and especially the Officer's Club where Victoria and her Mom were fixtures.
Victoria moved into the Sequoias, a retirement center. She continued to be a ubiquitous presence in the Bay Area, developing a cadre of good friends and driving that big old car around with flag flying(She drove around San Francisco and beyond until she was 88.) . She and Jackie made trips to Europe and numerous ones to Washington, DC and Arlington Cemetary to visit the graves of her Mom, Dad, and Fred.
A few weeks ago, Victoria had a heart attack. After her attack and subsequent hospital stay, she returned to the Sequoias and the next level down, the Health Center. In the Health Center, Victoria had a small room because she hoped to gain strength and return to her apartment. The room had a nice TV, but Victoria decided it was a place for the pictures of her family and mostly of her beloved brother.
Victoria died yesterday(January 24, 2010). Her pictures of her family are still up. God bless Victoria on her journey.
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